Debate over e-voting is still plaguing elections

When George W. Bush was elected president in 2000 amid controversy over paper ballots, the nation quickly moved toward electronic voting systems. Ever since then, the controversy has focused on e-voting, and the battle shows no signs of receding this year.

Complaints surfaced anew Tuesday in Georgia, where Rep. Cynthia McKinney was soundly defeated in a Democratic primary. Any e-voting problems that might have existed would not have changed the outcome of the race, but McKinney still decried the technology.

"Electronic voting machines are a threat to our democracy," she said in a post-election rally. "So let the word go out: We aren't going to tolerate any more stolen elections."

David Bear, a representative from the Diebold e-voting company, reiterated that the technology is reliable and accurate. And as the technology is being deployed, much of the focus now is on making sure it is properly used and administered.

Some states and jurisdictions still have not complied with federal e-voting deadlines for the November election, according to a national panel.

The Committee on a Framework for Understanding Electronic Voting, a body of the National Research Council, said in a July 20 paper that it expects some states will use equipment and systems that fail to satisfy standards imposed under a 2002 federal law.

The statute includes guidelines for implementing e-voting technology. The United States has enforced the act through litigation and by helping jurisdictions interpret the requirements.

According to a June update from VerifiedVoting.org, 27 states now require voter-verified paper records to confirm votes cast electronically, and Arkansas requires paper trails in most counties. Only 15 states require manual audits to check for voter accuracy, according to the group.

The research council's e-voting committee said that for some states, this year's primaries, most of which have been conducted, mark the first large-scale use of electronic systems redesigned for paper verification. For many voters, it will be their first experience with e-voting technology.

The panel said election officials' relations with equipment vendors and service providers have become "increasingly adversarial."

The committee said top election concerns include security, such as physical security for the machines, and the electronic equipment's ability to perform its job. The committee also noted that properly trained poll workers could become an issue this fall, and it recommended that election jurisdictions have backup voting mechanisms available.

The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University also noted security vulnerabilities in the most common e-voting systems. It released a report on the topic in late June, specifically raising concerns about wireless components.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology played a role in developing voluntary e-voting guidelines, and Director William Jeffrey testified about those principles before the House Science Committee in July. NIST is working on a more comprehensive 2007 e-voting standard and a way to test the new requirements, he said.

The agency also is involved in the testing of election hardware and software.

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