Republican trio signs on to voter verification bill

Three House Republicans signed on to co-sponsor a bill that would require a voter-verified paper trail for electronic voting machines. Rep. Thomas Davis (R-Va.), chair of the Government Reform Committee, joined Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) and Rep. Charles Bass (R-N.H.) as co-sponsors of legislation first proposed by Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.)

The bill, called the Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act of 2003, calls for all voting machines to produce an actual paper record by 2004 that voters can view to check the accuracy of their votes. Election officials would keep the ballots to use if a recount or audit is needed.

Davis, Shays and Bass are the first Republicans to sign on to the bill, bringing the total number of co-sponsors to 74. Holt's office announced their participation late last week.

Touch-screen electronic voting machines have come under fire recently. Computer scientists who analyzed the software code of Diebold Election Systems identified security holes that critics say could allow election results to be compromised or falsified. Critics have also noted that the machines, which provide no paper record unless specifically equipped to do so, offer no way for voters to be sure their votes are recorded correctly.

"I am very pleased that my Republican colleagues have joined my effort to protect the future integrity of our elections," Holt said in a statement. "There's clearly momentum building in Congress and across the country to see this legislation pass."

Diebold officials have said that computer scientists at Johns Hopkins University, the first to call attention to the issue earlier this year, used an old version of code and made faulty assumptions about election procedures. However, some of the university findings were later confirmed by a Science Applications International Corp. assessment that Maryland commissioned before finalizing the purchase of Diebold machines. SAIC's report noted that scrupulous security procedures at polling locations could mitigate many concerns of the Johns Hopkins scientists.

Also late last week, California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley issued an order that will require all touch screen machines in that state to produce a paper record by 2006. Counties will not be allowed to purchase new machines that don't generate the record after July 1, 2005. All machines in use will have to produce the record by July 2006, no matter when they were purchased.

The Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act of 2003 would require:

* All voting systems to produce a voter-verified paper record for use in manual audits and recounts.

* All voting systems to meet these requirements in time for the general election in November 2004. Officials from jurisdictions that feel their new computer systems may not be able to meet this deadline may use an existing paper system as an interim measure — at federal expense — in the November2004 election.

* Electronic voting to be provided for persons with disabilities by January 1, 2006. Machines used by disabled voters must also provide a mechanism for voter-verification, though not necessarily a paper trail.

* Mandatory surprise recounts in a small number of jurisdictions.

The bill also calls for banning the use of undisclosed software and wireless communications devices in voting systems.

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