E-voting snags common but not disastrous

Election Day 2006 is over, providing the largest use of electronic voting technology yet. Watchdog groups logged complaints about the machines, particularly instances in which voters had trouble getting touch-screen machines to properly record their intended votes and system failures that led to polls opening late or staying open later in some locations.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation said it had received 17,000 complaints on a toll-free hot line by 8 p.m. on Nov. 7. Common Cause reported 14,000 calls to its hot line by 4 p.m.

"Not surprisingly, we are experiencing the same problems," said David Dill, a computer science professor and founder of the Verified Voting Foundation. "This kind of problem, I think it's a national disgrace."

Dill's organization urges the use of voter-verified paper records with e-voting machines. The paper records -- whether a ballot the voter fills out to feed into an optical scanner or a receipt generated by a touch-screen machine -- would be kept securely at the polling site and used for recounts or audits of the electronic tallies.

Overall, the kinds of problems that happened were the problems that were expected, said Dan Seligson, an editor with the nonpartisan Election Reform Information Project.

“There were anticipated problems before, and they happened," he said. "A lot of what went on could be attributed to the inexperience of poll workers. There were software errors and errors that we can pin on the machines, but overall it wasn’t a meltdown.”

However, Seligson said, security concerns that computer scientists have raised about some electronic systems still need to be addressed.

“I don’t think this election gave people anything to grab onto and say, ‘It’s not as bad as we thought,’" he said. "Those are questions that need to be answered."

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