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Bradley in DC
01-30-2008, 11:14 AM
http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/08030/853158-35.stm

Trust and verify: Electronic voting machines pose problems
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The excitement generated by the presidential primaries is a fresh vote of confidence in American democracy but with hope comes high expectations that the electoral system will declare the people's intentions efficiently and honestly come November. Shamefully, that is not guaranteed.

The reason for possible despair is ironically the supposed remedy for America's voting ills -- electronic voting machines. After the fiasco in Florida in the disputed 2000 presidential election, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act. It was supposed to set uniform voting standards across the nation, eliminating hanging chads and the like in a new era of computerized voting machines.

But many of these machines do not provide paper trails as a back up. Voters are often forced to take the process on trust. Even if this were not a distrustful partisan age, some infamous breakdowns -- in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, and in a congressional election in Sarasota, Fla. -- show that it would be naive to have full confidence in computerized voting machines in the absence of a good way to verify the results.

U.S. Rep. Rush Holt, a Democrat from New Jersey, has recognized the problem. Last year, he introduced a bill (H.R. 811) that would require a voter-verified paper ballot for every vote cast and routine random audits in time for the 2008 election.

Unfortunately, the bill has languished. Without giving up on it, Mr. Holt has gone from mandating change to encouraging it. Earlier this month, he introduced the Emergency Assistance for Secure Elections Act (H.R. 5036). It would provide $500 million to jurisdictions that before the November election convert to paper ballot systems as well as those that don't fully convert but provide emergency paper ballots to be used in the event of machine failure. Another $100 million would be made available to jurisdictions performing audits, including comparing paper ballots with electronic tallies.

Unfortunately, the latter check couldn't be done in Pennsylvania. The Rendell administration has taken the view that keeping a paper trail of how voters cast their ballots would offend statutory and constitutional requirements for voter privacy -- in our view, a theoretical concern that could easily subvert the more important right of citizens that their ballots not be lost to technical malfunction or worse.

That most places in the state -- including Allegheny County -- have not had serious problems with electronic voting is reassuring only up to a point. It would be better if trust and verify were the watchwords of the process.

As it is, unverifiable electronic voting machines are still a possible national crisis in the making.