Commission proposes e-voting options

Report: "Recommendations for Improving Reliability of Direct Recording Electronic Voting Systems"

Using independent experts and permanent advisory panels are among the recommendations in a new report on how to improve the security of many electronic voting systems going into place around the country.

Ensuring the security of e-voting machines and of the votes they record is critical to improving public confidence in the new systems, and that is what is needed in the short time left before the November presidential election, experts said.

"These recommendations represent important options that address the nation's need for strategies to enhance security and public confidence in electronic voting systems," said DeForest Soaries Jr., chairman of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, in a statement.

The commission is charged under the Help America Vote Act of 2002 with helping state and local governments move to e-voting systems, including the Direct Recording Electronic (DRE), or touch-screen, systems that are the focus of this report by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.

There are many other e-voting technologies in use and security is far from the only concern with any of them. But Soaries said he also will recommend that the commission's Technical Guidelines Development Committee review the report and determine "how we may consider incorporating the report's conclusions in our efforts to assist local election officials prepare for the November election."

Other recommendations in the report include providing thorough training for all elections officials and workers on the security steps, and developing procedures for random testing of the e-voting systems.

Congress passed HAVA to foster the switch to the new systems following the confusion over paper ballots in the 2000 presidential election. The e-voting systems also provide far greater access for citizens with disabilities and those dealing with other barriers, such as language.

Since then, however, there have been many other concerns raised about touch-screen machines. California's secretary of state decertified all of the state's e-voting systems after mix-ups in an election earlier this year and only last week issued a new set of standards that must be followed when using DRE systems.

The new report does not address whether states should stop using e-voting. Instead, it identifies specific actions that can be taken by the approximately 675 counties trying to implement touch-screen systems before the November presidential election.

With limited time left, the report's recommendations are ones that will ensure officials discover the problems in their systems and also find practical ways to mitigate the risks, said Avi Rubin, technical director of the Johns Hopkins University Information Security Institute and author of a study on DRE voting machines.

"The LCCR/Brennan Center recommendations explain how to go about this process and supply a model [request for proposal] to speed the work of the states," he said in a statement. "Election officials should move forward rapidly."

The report also received the endorsement of many organizations focused on privacy, civil rights and voting, such as the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the National Committee for Voting Integrity and the American Association of People with Disabilities.

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