Vegas voters favor electronic system--with a receipt

Given a choice between an electronic voting machine that produces a take-home receipt of their election choices or a paper ballot that goes into a ballot box, Las Vegas voters chose the receipt by a nearly two-to-one margin.

That was the finding in an Election Day survey of 362 voters in Nevada’s most populous city.

As many as one third of the nation’s voters used electronic voting machines in the Nov. 2 election, but there are no national standards for the technology and questions have been raised about its security and reliability. Nevada is the first state to require direct-recording electronic voting machines to produce paper ballots that can be used in a recount.

But 31 percent of those questioned in Las Vegas did not know their machines were producing a paper ballot. Only 59 percent examined the ballot to confirm their choices.

Asked to chose between the ballot and a receipt, 60 percent chose the receipt.

The survey, conducted by Lombardo Consulting Group LLC, was funded by VoteHere Inc. of Bellevue, Wash. VoteHere, not coincidentally, sells technology that produces a take-home paper receipt.

“We found the results gratifying,” said VoteHere founder Jim Adler.

The product, called VoteHere Technology inside, produces a paper receipt with a ballot sequence number generated by a cryptographic engine and unique to each vote cast. “You know that number stands for Bush,” for example, “but nobody else does,” Adler said.

The list of encrypted ballot sequence numbers can be published online so voters can check that their ballots were included in the count.

Because of security flaws identified in one company’s voting machine software, a number of computer security experts have said that direct-recording electronic machines should not be trusted with the nation’s elections. Proprietary software cannot be independently evaluated to ensure security, and meaningful recounts are not possible without a paper ballot, they say.

“Paperless electronic voting systems are completely unacceptable,” Dan Wallach, assistant professor of computer science at Rice University, said Tuesday in Washington. “Probably the best voting system we have today is the optical-scan system with a precinct-based scanner.”

Wallach suggested that a hybrid system such as that used in Nevada, which produces a paper ballot, can be as reliable as optical systems, and provides convenience and accessibility for disable voters.

Michael J. Burton, professor of political science at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, oversaw the survey. He said the erosion of public confidence in elections is a larger problem than the type of technology used.

“The lack of confidence is not widespread, but it is a subtle harm,” Burton said. “We need to explore new ways to rebuild this confidence.”

He said the controversy over the reliability of electronic voting is valuable because it draws attention to the need for meaningful national standards for voting technology.

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