Holt renews call for paper backups to e-voting

Following a week in which electronic voting machines faced challenges in at least two states, Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) called for passage of a bill that would require the machines to generate paper records.

Holt introduced the Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act last year, but although it has attracted more than 135 co-sponsors — more than 25 percent of the House — it continues to languish. In addition to mandating a paper trail, it would forbid the use of undisclosed software and wireless communications devices in voting systems, require surprise recounts in half of 1 percent of all jurisdictions to spot-check accuracy, and require that all voting systems meet the requirements in time for the general election in November.

At a press conference today, Holt, flanked by supporters, said he believes in the promise of electronic voting, but considers the lack of paper records that voters can inspect a fundamental failing. Paper receipts kept at polling places could be manually counted in the event of a contested election, he said. Opposing them is tantamount to opposing the right to a recount, he said.

Last week, a group of Maryland voters filed suit to request that state officials decertify the Diebold Inc. Election Systems touch screen machines that were used statewide in the March 2 primary election.

Also last week, California's Voting Systems and Procedures Panel voted 8-0 to recommend that the secretary of state revoke conditional certification that had allowed Diebold's TSx touch screen system to be used in the March primary in four counties. The panel also recommended that the secretary forward the matter to the state attorney general's office for possible criminal prosecution after company officials installed software that state officials had not approved.

However, the panel did not recommend forbidding use of other Diebold machines.

Holt said he used a Diebold touch screen machine for the first time recently, in a school board election in his home district. "They were, as I expected, clean, simple, easy to use — and unverifiable," he said.

Although he said the issue is not a partisan one, only seven of his bill's co-sponsors are Republican.

The issue has become contentious during the past several months. Advocates of the machines say they make voting more accessible to people with disabilities and eliminate problems such as the chads that sent the 2000 election in Florida into turmoil. But opponents, including many computer scientists, say the machines are not secure enough against deliberate fraud or simple error.

Problems have been documented, said Jeremy Epstein, director of security architecture at webMethods Inc., who supports Holt's bill. In a Virginia precinct earlier this year, he said, an analysis showed that one in every 100 votes cast was subtracted rather than added in a school board race that was decided by a 1 percent margin, he said. In Lebanon, Ind., in 2003, according to the Indianapolis Star newspaper, software from MicroVote General Corp. registered more than 14,400 votes in a precinct where only 5,300 people voted, he added.

"These problems were found because they were spotted by a voter or were obvious," he said. "Subtle problems may go undetected."

Diebold spokesman David Bear said that company officials would add printers for paper records only if election officials demand them, or if laws require them.

"Whether you should or shouldn't have them isn't a decision for vendors to make; it's a decision for election officials to make," he said. However, he said there are no federal or state standards for such a paper record.

As for the California board's recommendation that Diebold be investigated for possible criminal violations, Bear said that company officials have admitted their mistake and changed the software to reflect changes in state laws, but they neglected to notify the Secretary of State's Office of all the changes.


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