No need to rush

The prospect of hanging chads may cast a shadow on next year's presidential elections, yet the solution being considered by some states — electronic voting machines — could introduce new and equally troubling uncertainties into the voting process.

It's a healthy reminder about the problems that arise whenever agencies introduce technology into the field.

The latest generation of touch-screen systems, immediately familiar to people who use automated teller machines, could make it easier to design user-friendly ballots and avoid the problems that confounded voters in Florida during the 2000 presidential election. Such systems also should make it easier for states to tally and manage voting data.

But as election year approaches, some experts are raising questions about those systems that must be answered before states rush to embrace this technology.

As might be expected, the main concern is security. Is it possible for a hacker — or an election worker — to tamper with votes and alter election results? Such a concern is not unique to electronic voting, but the protocols used to minimize such risks in the past do not necessarily apply to the newest systems.

Proponents of electronic voting systems say any concerns can be addressed with a mix of technology and procedures. Such solutions, though, are contingent on election staff being trained to install, manage and operate those systems. However good the technology is, that contingency should convince states to take a slow and methodical approach to adopting new systems.

It's not just a question of the security of the systems, but the integrity of the vote. That makes it all the more puzzling that Congress would stall an effort to require electronic systems to generate a paper record that can reviewed by the voter and state officials. Such verification could play a vital role in inspiring voter confidence in the system.

In the long run, electronic voting systems are likely to emerge as the option of choice for many states. But people making that choice should make sure they have all the information they need before electing to make the switch.

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