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Sen. Clinton questions e-voting security
She's concerned about the integrity of the upcoming presidential election

 News Story by Dan Verton

JUNE 21, 2004 (COMPUTERWORLD) - Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) last week urged a group of high-profile IT vendor CEOs to help ensure the integrity and accuracy of the millions of votes that will be cast electronically in this year's presidential election.

"This has to be an issue for us," said Clinton, who attended a June 16 event on Capitol Hill sponsored by the Business Software Alliance, a Washington-based IT vendor advocacy group. "No matter who one supports in any election, I think it should be an American imperative to ensure that our elections are conducted transparently and accurately. Because as much as I care about who wins an election, I care more that we run elections with integrity and accuracy."

Clinton's remarks came on the same day that California approved the nation's first set of standards governing how e-voting systems are to produce a verifiable paper audit trail - a central issue in the now-heated debate about the security and accuracy of electronic voting machines that will be used throughout the country in the November election (see story). IT security researchers and grass-roots organizations are calling for voter-verifiable paper ballots to ensure that any questions about the outcome of voting at local polling stations can be resolved.

Among the standards outlined in a report issued by California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley are mandated printouts in both English and any necessary foreign language, and audio signals for visually impaired voters.

Clinton, meanwhile, cited the recent elections in India as an example of what needs to happen in the U.S. She said India's election results demonstrated how 550 million people, many of whom may not have been as technologically savvy as the average American voter, "voted electronically in a political earthquake that changed the government, and there wasn't a single protest, because the system in place had the respect and the trust of every level of society."

But some IT security experts and proponents of verifiable paper balloting said Clinton's use of the recent Indian election as an example may not be appropriate for the debate now raging in the U.S.

Avi Rubin, a professor at Baltimore's Johns Hopkins University Information Security Institute and a central figure in the debate about the security of e-voting systems in the U.S., said there's a big difference between the electromechanical systems that were used in India and the Windows-based computers being used for e-voting in the U.S.

"While the India system does have some weaknesses, such as not allowing for recounts or voter verifiability, and being vulnerable to possible rigging by a system manufacturer, their simplicity makes them much more secure and reliable than the systems [vendors] are putting out in the U.S.," said Rubin.

At least 20 states are debating the use of verifiable paper ballots. The San Francisco-based Verified Voting Foundation plans to hold a rally on June 22 in Washington to push for support of the Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act. Introduced in May 2003 by Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.), the bill would require voter-verifiable paper ballots.

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