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New U.S. legislation would require e-voting paper trail
It calls for printed ballots voters can check after voting 

News Story by Grant Gross

FEBRUARY 09, 2005 (IDG NEWS SERVICE) - A group of U.S. lawmakers has introduced a bill that would require electronic touch-screen voting machines to allow for a so-called voter-verifiable paper trail.

The Voting Integrity and Verification Act (VIVA), introduced today, would require printed ballots that voters could check after they used an electronic voting machine. VIVA, introduced by Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), would add clarifying language to the Help America Vote Act, passed by the U.S. Congress in 2002 after complaints about paper ballots during the 2000 presidential election.

Ensign, who counts four Democrats and three Republicans as co-sponsors of the bill, noted that Nevada required a voter-verified paper trail during the 2004 presidential election. "Not only did our election go off without a hitch, but voters across Nevada left the polls with the knowledge that their vote would be counted and that their vote would be counted accurately," Ensign said in a statement. "Every American should have that same confidence."

A voter-verified paper trail would allow voters to review a printout of their ballots and correct any errors before leaving the voting booth. The printout would stay at the polling place for use in any recounts.

The goal of the new legislation is to correct some states' misinterpretations of the Help America Vote Act that printouts are necessary only after polls are closed, Ensign said. Rep. Jim Gibbons (R-Nev.) introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives.

Critics of e-voting have complained that voters using electronic touch screens can?t know whether their votes are being cast properly, and recounts can?t be conducted without some kind of voter-verifiable paper trail in place. In November's general election, e-voting machine problems caused about 4,400 votes to be lost in one North Carolina county and gave U.S. President George Bush more than 3,800 extra votes in an Ohio county. E-voting observers noted hundreds of other problems across the country.

The lost votes in Carteret County, N.C., resulted from confusion over how many votes could be stored on e-voting machines made by UniLect Corp. In December, the state Board of Elections ordered a new election in the county.

The Information Technology Association of America (ITAA), which has defended the security of e-voting on behalf of machine vendors, expressed opposition to Ensign's legislation. The ITAA and e-voting machine vendors have suggested that adding printers will raise the cost of machines and that they could jam or break and cause long lines at voting booths.

"[A paper trail] does present certain challenges in terms of the user experience at the polls," said Bob Cohen, senior vice president at ITAA. "It's not a perfect solution, and we think legislation is not the way to go."

If e-voting machine buyers want paper-trail options, vendors will comply, Cohen said. "If customers want the printers, that's fine," he said.

Some e-voting machine vendors have begun offering paper-trail printers. Nevada used machines from Sequoia Voting Systems, partly because Sequoia offered paper-trail technology. In January, Diebold Election Systems Inc. announced that it plans to offer printers that can attach to its existing e-voting machines.

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