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Criticism grows as House e-vote debate delayed

Co-sponsor Kucinich withdraws support for bill that mandates paper trail

By Marc L. Songini
June 14, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Criticism of legislation that would require that all touch-screen voting machines provide a paper trail is mounting as its wait for a congressional vote grows.

The Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act, which addresses security and reliability flaws in electronic voting machines, has even lost the support of a co-sponsor, presidential hopeful U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio).

In a statement last week, Kucinich described the legislation as “a voter reform bill rapidly losing support.” Kucinich said he plans to introduce a separate bill that would require all ballots in a presidential election to be counted by hand.

A spokeswoman for Kucinich declined to provide more details about his opposition to the bill or the new legislation.

The bill was approved  by the U.S. House Administration Committee in May, but it has yet to be debated by the full body.

A spokesman for the bill’s primary sponsor, U.S. Rep. Rush Holt (D-New Jersey) blamed the debate delay on other congressional priorities, such as supplemental funding for the Iraq war and for a debate on stem cell research legislation.

He wouldn’t predict when debate on the e-voting bill will begin.

The Holt spokesman added that he doesn’t expect  Kucinich’s change of heart will lead to further defections by supporters.

But as the bill languishes, criticism from voter advocacy groups and analysts has risen sharply. Some critics contend that the proposed legislation should ban touch-screen systems outright. Others say it protects e-voting machine vendors at the expense of the public.

“The biggest concern is the fact that it continues to allow the use of DREs,” or touch screen direct-recording electronic machines, said Brad Friedman, a political blogger and voter activist based in Los Angeles.

Friedman is one of a handful of activists who oppose passage of the bill.

“In my opinion the danger is that it will institutionalize DREs and put some sort of federal blessing on them,” Friedman said. “It will serve to give a false sense of security to the voter.”

The bill also will only allow experts to review the  source code of machines, and forbids them to share any information about investigations unless “egregious flaws” are discovered. 

This is not a transparent system, Friedman claims. “It’s a grave danger. I’d be willing to accept a less than perfect bill as long as it gets DREs out.”  He noted Florida recently passed  legislation banning DREs. He  leans toward the use of a paper based system, such as optical scan.

Holt’s spokesman emphasized that the bill’s intention isn’t about selecting a single e-voting technology.

“It is agnostic on equipment choice, as long as the voting system meets the principles of verifiability and auditability,” he said.

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