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E-voting activists praise Ohio plan to fix e-voting system

But they fear quick 'cures' might worsen problems before '08 presidential vote

By Todd R. Weiss
December 18, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - While lauding Ohio officials for a new report that calls for major security and election integrity-related changes in the state's e-voting systems, several e-voting activists today urged state officials to go slow when making wholesale changes ahead of next year's presidential primary and general election.

Their concern, they say, is that moving too quickly without adequate analysis could lead to a new set of problems without solving any of the current ones.

In a telephone briefing with reporters today, representatives of three e-voting watchdog groups praised the e-voting security report released Friday by Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner. But they said they fear that that many of the recommendations in the 86-page document can't be implemented fully before the 2008 elections.

"We're hoping that the secretary's recommendations will be the beginning of a conversation ... to make Ohio's elections more secure and not the end of that conversation," said Lawrence Norden, counsel in the Brennan Center for Justice Program at the New York University School of Law. "We're concerned about some of the recommendations, particularly because they would be implemented in a short time before two critical elections."

One of Brunner's recommendations is that the state begin counting vote totals in a centralized location rather than counting votes in individual voting precincts. The idea, according to the report, is that using a centralized location would reduce the number of ways hackers might be able to infiltrate election systems.

The problem with centralized vote counting, however, is that an e-voting software or hardware glitch could cause systemwide problems that could potentially lead to large-scale vote losses, Norden said. "I'm concerned this would make voting less secure in Ohio," he said.

Norden is also unconvinced that Ohio is ready to move ahead with another recommendation and allow voters to submit their ballots by mail on a broader scale. "There are issues with the security of counting all ballots in one place without an audit," he said. In addition, "Ohio and post offices don't have enough experience delivering ballots by mail" and ensuring the system will be secure and accurate, he said. "It seems unnecessarily risky to me. I don't think it should be implemented until they can figure out how to reduce these problems."

Another idea, to use consolidated regional "voting centers" in areas with fewer than five voting precincts, is also problematic, he said. "It's worth looking at, but not to do it quickly now," Norden said. "It could disenfranchise voters in poor neighborhoods who don't have access to transportation to get to voting centers" farther from their homes.

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