Electronic-Voting Debate Heats Up

Electronic-voting machine manufacturers are circling their wagons trying to ease the security concerns raised in the last few months that their machines are susceptible to being hacked and subject to voter fraud.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University analyzed the software that runs on the voting machines of industry leader Diebold. In their report they stated, "We found significant security flaws: voters can trivially cast multiple votes with no built-in traceability, administrative functions can be performed by regular voters, and the threats posed by insiders such as poll workers, software developers, and even janitors, is even greater."

Diebold claims that their system is secure and they are working with the Information Technology Association of America to further the discussion on electronic-voting machines and the security concerns. Diebold, and other electronic-voting machine manufacturers, are seeking input from academics, local elections officials, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology – hoping to ease concerns over security through the creation of standards and further open discussion of the issues of security. Diebold was unavailable for comment.

The primary concern of many is the lack of a printed permanent record of the voter’s ballot. The Help American Vote Act of 2002 requires all voting systems print out a paper ballot that can be verified by the voter and corrected if necessary.

Title III of the Help America Vote Act of 2002 states, "The voting system shall produce a permanent paper record with a manual audit capacity for such system. The voting system shall provide the voter with an opportunity to change the ballot or correct any error before the permanent paper record is produced. The paper record produced under subparagraph (A) shall be available as an official record for any recount conducted with respect to any election in which the system is used."

All 159 counties in Georgia use the Diebold voting machines. These machines were used during the 2002 elections. When asked whether their Diebold voting machines provide a permanent paper record of the voter’s ballot, Public Information Officer Cara Hodgson said that they do not print out a receipt for each voter, but "We can print the results at the end of the election." When asked if she was aware of the provision of the Help America Vote Act regarding the printing of a permanent paper record for each ballot she said, "We have met all of the HAVA requirements."

The HAVA requirements are open to interpretation. Voter advocacy site VerifiedVoting.Org states, "Mr. Darryl R. Wold, former chairman of the Federal Election Commission (FEC) believes that HAVA requires a voter-verifiable paper trail. However, many proponents of touch screen voting systems are claiming that the HAVA requirement does not mean the system must allow the voter to verify the paper record. They claim the HAVA requirements are met if the voter verifies a screen version of the ballot, and if a paper report can be printed later for audit purposes."

Republican House Representative Rush Holt of New Jersey has introduced The Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act (H.R. 2239) that would require all states to use election equipment that provides a voter-verifiable paper trail.

Regarding the need for the bill, Rush Holt Press Secretary Jim Kapsis said, "HAVA is vague and does not specifically require a voter-verifiable paper audit trail. HAVA only calls for the ability for an audit, but does not define audit – it could be computer not paper."