Democrats may give voting machines more scrutiny

Concerns about the security of e-voting systems might be given more airtime in Congress in the wake of last week's election, which vaulted Democrats into control.

Voting-rights activists are hopeful that the newly elected Democratic Congress will be more inclined to examine e-voting security issues, especially in light of glitches that complicated several races Nov. 7.

The House Administration Committee this past fall held a hearing to examine the security of paperless voting systems, but some lawmakers were frustrated that it was held so late in the session. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, was the chairman of that committee until January, when he resigned amid a corruption probe.

More than 200 House lawmakers have co-sponsored a bill by Rush Holt, D-N.J, that would require voting machines to produce paper trails. Spokesman Patrick Eddington said Holt plans to reintroduce the measure next session with only minor changes, if any.

"It will be a different environment," Eddington said of the prospects for the bill under Democrats.

Ney was one of the original co-sponsors of a 2002 federal law widely known as the Help America Vote Act. He and the other principle authors of the statute said in a 2004 letter to Holt that the law needed to be fully implemented before measures like his should be considered.

Doug Chapin, the executive director of Electionline.org, said proposals for paper e-voting receipts might receive more attention next Congress, but it remains to be seen how high it will rank among Democratic priorities. "If I were Rep. Holt, I would feel better about my bill's chances in light of this past week's events," he said.

Chapin also noted that John Conyers, D-Mich., who is likely to become chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, has been active on the e-voting front. He played a key role in investigating voting irregularities reported during the 2004 presidential election in Ohio.

In the other chamber, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., is likely to take the leadership post on the Rules Committee. Feinstein this fall pledged to introduce a bill similar to Holt's, H.R. 550.

Feinstein's proposal also would mandate that voting machines produce paper records, and it would require that those paper trails be audited by election officials. Furthermore, the measure would require that all voting software be certified by the Election Assistance Commission.

A flurry of e-voting-related bills was floated in both chambers earlier this fall. Among them was Senate a bill to provide funding to states and counties to purchase emergency paper ballots for the election that was just held.

Brad Friedman, a critic of e-voting and the author of the Web log BradBlog.com, said he is encouraged that the issue appears to have gained momentum. But he said paper trails alone will not solve the problems posed by electronic machines. He warned that if Holt's bill fails to address that, it would become a sequel of the 2002 act rather than a solution to it.

"What we need is a paper ballot for every vote cast, not a paper trail," he said.

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