PC voting software passes test

A leading technology testing lab says a software system that permits voting

on ordinary desktop computers meets Federal Election Commission standards,

a critical step for technology to be deemed usable for public elections.

The finding by Wyle Laboratories Inc. comes as many states and localities

seek new technology to replace decades-old voting machines, including controversial

punch-card systems. But it is uncertain whether the software package, called

VoteHere Platinum Election System, will win approval from many states and

localities in time for this fall's congressional, state and local elections.

Although the system has been "qualified" by Wyle as meeting FEC standards,

most states require additional testing and verification before they will

permit use of new election systems, said Jennifer Curley, government affairs

director at VoteHere.

By developing software for a voting system that runs on ordinary computers,

VoteHere says it has produced a product that is more economical and reliable

than many methods now used.

"They have done their homework very well," said Doug Lewis, director

of the Election Center, an organization of election officials. But it remains

to be seen how well election officials will take to a software system as

a replacement for traditional voting machines, he said.

With the VoteHere system, voting officials could set up a polling place

using desktop computers as voting machines and a server as a vote counter.

A check-in computer and a check-out computer are also needed, according

to VoteHere.

Voters would be handed one-use digital certificates when they check

in. The certificates ensure that each voter receives the correct ballot

and that his or her vote cannot be tampered with after it has been cast.

The system provides greater security and accuracy than existing voting

technology, Curley said. Current technology enables "process audits," but

VoteHere's system permits "data audits," she said.

Vote data is encrypted for security, Curley said, adding that "We can

prove that only valid voters voted, and we can show that only valid votes

were counted."

Although designed now for use in polling places, the system would also

permit election officials to take some intermediate steps toward Internet

voting, Curley said.

The software "is portable," Lewis agreed. "It can be moved to the Internet

when Internet voting is made possible — if we can ever resolve safety and

security issues of the Internet." The system also could be the base for

such innovations as voters being able to cast ballots from any polling place;

kiosk voting, in which polling places are replaced with automated teller-like

machines; and, ultimately, voting online from home or work computers.

However, VoteHere does not expect those developments for several years,

Curley said.

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