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Article published Nov 30, 2003
Paper trail is a must for voters

Concerns continue to grow about the reliability and security of electronic voting machines, and more reasons for those concerns continue to present themselves regularly.

From some quarters, that concern borders on hysteria. Conspiracy theories abound that those who own the companies that make these machines are in cahoots with Republicans.

That reminds me a bit too much of the black helicopter crowd. Though every once in a while you hear something that makes you wonder, like when the chief executive of one voting-machine maker says he is "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to /[President Bush/] next year."
But not all the concerns raised about voting machines come from folks you suspect might wear tin-foil hats.

For instance, Stanford University professor David Dill organized a coalition of computer scientists to oppose the use of electronic voting machines in California that don't produce a verifiable paper trail.

Other computer scientists, including a group from Johns Hopkins and Rice universities, have expressed serious concern about potential security holes in elections software.
The problem is this: When you vote on direct-recording electronic voting systems, or DREs as they're known in the industry, there is no way to know for certain that the machine records the vote you've actually made.

The concern is not just the potential for vote fraud. Unintentional errors are also a distinct possibility, as a couple of recent high-profile glitches proved.

In Boone County, Ind., the electronic voting machines showed 144,000 votes cast in a county with only 19,000 registered voters.
In Fairfax County, Va., School Board candidate Rita S. Thompson cried foul after several supporters said that after they voted for her, the "X" beside her name disappeared. An electoral board secretary said the glitch appeared to occur about one out of every 100 times in tests after the election.

That easily could have cost Thompson the close election.

As the Web site for computer expert Dill's coalition, VerifiedVoting.org, says, simply fixing glitches and security holes as they are exposed isn't a solution because of two "unfixable problems." First, it's impossible to write bug-free software. Second, there is no way to guarantee that malicious code hasn't been imbedded in the software.
Elections officials seem very defensive when questions are raised about the reliability or security of electronic voting machines.

After a Herald-Tribune editorial raised concerns based on computer security experts' critique of the software code of one company, Diebold, Sarasota County's supervisor of elections, Kathy Dent, wrote in to defend the electronic voting machines used by the county.

"Our system is secure," she wrote, "and I want the voting public to have the same comfort level with the iVotronic as my staff and I do."
But a recent report by the Congressional Research Service concluded that the use of DRE machines poses "potential but not demonstrated risks to the integrity of elections."

The fact is that so long as there is no verifiable paper trail to serve as a backup to the computer tally, there is no guarantee that glitches accidental or malicious haven't affected the outcome of an election.

U.S. Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., has introduced legislation that would require a voter-verifiable paper trail for electronic voting machines.
The Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act of 2003 has bipartisan support. But it shouldn't take passage of a federal act for local elections officials to ensure that the integrity of elections can't be called into question because of total reliance on a computer to record and count the votes.

Printers are available for the voting machines used in Charlotte, Sarasota and Manatee counties that produce a printed receipt, which voters can verify, then place in a lockbox. If there are any questions about the reliability of the electronic vote, those receipts can be counted.
The integrity of our electoral process is far too important to completely trust machines open to mistakes or mischief.

Dan Radmacher is an editorial writer based in Charlotte County. He can be reached at 627-7521 or by e-mail at dan.radmacher @heraldtribune.com.

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