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Congressman renews push for e-vote paper trails

Holt wants to mandate transparency, chain of custody, verifiability

By Marc L. Songini
February 6, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - The U.S. Congress is again being asked to require that every e-voting device used in U.S. elections produce a paper receipt that a voter can use to confirm his ballot selections.

Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) today reintroduced the Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act. The measure is aimed at ensuring that elections outcomes can be verified with a paper trail that can be used for auditing purposes. It would also require that a percentage of precincts in every Congressional voting district be subjected to routine random hand counts to eliminate any chance of fraud or error.

Holt, a longtime critic of paperless e-voting gear, was unable to get Congress to take action on his bill last year, despite widespread fears of fraud or mechanical error leading up to the November elections. With Congress now under the control of Democrats, Holt is trying again.

"Until we require that voting systems produce a voter-verified paper ballot, the results of our elections will always be uncertain," Holt said in a statement. "All Americans deserve to be confident that their vote will be counted, and it is my hope that the 110th Congress will act soon to pass legislation that will ensure elections are fair, accessible, and auditable."

Holt said his bill would force e-voting machine vendors to allow their proprietary software to be examined by independent inspectors, making the elections process more transparent. It would also demand that voting officials be accountable for the security of their hardware by documenting the chain of custody for the devices during an election.

The reintroduction of the bill seems especially apropos. In Florida last week, Republican Gov. Charlie Crist announced plans to spend $32.5 million to swap out touch-screen e-voting devices with optical-scanning gear that produces a paper record.

A spokesman for Holt noted that in last November's election, e-voting glitches allegedly caused 18,000 undervotes that may have tipped the outcome of a hotly contested race in the 13th Congressional District in Sarasota County. The loser in that race, Christine Jennings, a Democrat, was defeated by Republican Vern Buchanan by a mere 369 votes. Claiming that the undervotes were caused by an e-voting machine error, Jennings sued to have the race results invalidated or a recount. The lawsuit is still pending.

Holt's spokesman noted: "The situation in Florida-13, where 18,000 voters were disenfranchised, was Exhibit A of the importance of ensuring the verifiability of elections. It demonstrates how necessary it is for Congress to enact this legislation in time for the 2008 election."  

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