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Worries Persist Over U.S. Electronic Voting
Fri Oct 15, 2004 By Andy Sullivan  Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Florida officials will not worry about hanging chads when voters make their choice in November's presidential election but they'll be on the lookout for software glitches, hackers and other less visible plagues.

Across the United States, election officials have embraced sleek touch-screen systems as a way to avoid a replay of the 2000 election, when problematic paper ballots in Florida led to a protracted recount battle that ended up in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Skeptics say that officials may have simply traded hanging chads the incompletely punched holes in paper ballots for a new set of problems familiar to any home computer user.

"A lot of people, I think, saw it as a solution to the problems we had in 2000 but have now found that it has its own set of problems," said Sean Greene, research director for Electionline.org, a nonpartisan research group.

Electronic voting will undergo its biggest test yet on Nov. 2, when one in three U.S. voters is expected to cast their ballots on systems like Diebold Inc.'s (DBD.N: Quote, Profile, Research) AccuVote-TSx.

Touch-screen systems prevent balloting errors and can be used by disabled voters, a requirement of the 2002 Help America Vote Act, say election officials and other boosters.

But computer scientists have highlighted security holes in a series of well-publicized reports over the past two years, and blank screens, misconfigured ballots and other technical glitches have marred elections across the country.

Without a paper trail to verify ballots, officials cannot determine why, for example, 134 voters in Florida's Broward County showed up to the polls but left their ballots blank in a January election, critics say.

The controversy has prompted some states to postpone upgrades until after the election, even though the federal government has earmarked $3.9 billion for that purpose.


In California, four counties have shelved their AccuVote-TSx machines after an investigation found that Diebold had installed software that had not been approved by the state. California authorities have said they plan to sue Diebold for making false claims.

Ohio authorities had hoped to install touch-screen systems in every county by November, but postponed their plans after an independent review found 57 security flaws in the four systems that had won state approval.

"We moved forward to deploy new systems and do away with punch cards, and then a variety of security concerns arose," said Carlo LoParo, a spokesman for Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell.

Iowa, Montana, North Carolina and Wyoming were also waiting to purchase touch-screen systems until the U.S. Elections Assistance Commission releases national standards next year, Greene said.

In some states, touch-screen systems will print out ballots when they are cast so voters can verify that their choices have been recorded properly.

Voters in Nevada will see this system in operation on Nov. 2. California and Ohio plan to have printers installed on their touch-screen machines by 2006.

But activists have been unable to get courts in Maryland and Florida to require such printers by November, and efforts to require them nationwide have died in Congress.

Activists in Maryland plan to monitor 200 polling places to make sure that improperly programed screens, blank ballots and other problems don't go unreported.

In Florida, challengers say it's too late to sideline the machines or install printers on them. Instead, they hope courts will require election officials to take other steps, such as independent polling monitors, to ensure accuracy.

"Basically, we're talking about some things to make a bad system slightly better," said Eric Johnson, chief of staff to Democratic Rep. Robert Wexler, who filed the suit.

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