Editorial: Six months and counting

Three years ago, the presidential election was marred by outdated, confusing systems. At that time, electronic voting systems seemed like the solution, because they are cheap, secure, accurate and easy to use. Proponents also promised that commercial products would be ready by the next presidential election, thereby avoiding another debacle of hanging chads that could throw the presidential election into limbo.

As we often learn, however, generally there are no easy answers to complex problems. Today, with less than six months before the next presidential election, the situation is largely the same as it was three years ago.

E-voting initiatives were doomed from the start, handicapped by problems that plague many large information technology projects: a lack of leadership and a lack of planning.

This issue is complex because it cuts across federal and state jurisdictions, yet no entity has stepped up to provide overall guidance.

An even more glaring illustration of the lack of attention to this issue is the fact that the Election Assistance Commission just held its first public hearing this month. The commission was created by the Help America Vote Act of 2002, which was passed in response to the Florida voting fiasco in the last presidential election. Yet it held its first public hearing only six months before the latest election.

E-voting has been further hindered by the lack of requirements for these machines. The discussion has devolved into debates about basic issues such as whether e-voting systems need to create a paper audit trail of votes and whether the systems are secure.

The result: Nobody has laid out the goals for e-voting systems. The purpose has never been to do away with paper. The objective should be to create an easy, more efficient, more secure process.

It is clear that e-voting systems will not be fully ready for prime time this year. And we should not rush their development if it means possibly overlooking problems with electronic systems.

We can only hope that officials will take the necessary steps so the government will be ready for the 2008 presidential election, with workable systems that can simplify and improve the voting process.

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