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E-voting debate shifts focus to reliability, accessibility

Grass-roots organizations fear e-voting system malfunctions

By Dan Verton
July 28, 2004 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Electronic voting system malfunctions and problems with features designed to help disabled Americans vote have led to a flurry of activity this week by grass-roots organizations that fear security concerns are overshadowing the much larger issues of system reliability and usability.
The American Civil Liberties Union yesterday asked a Florida court to overturn a rule imposed by Gov. Jeb Bush that bans manual recounts of direct recording equipment (DRE) touch-screen systems. The move comes amid revelations that nearly all of the electronic records from the touch-screen voting systems used in the 2002 gubernatorial primary in Miami-Dade County were lost last November after a computer crash.
In a similar court action, the Citizens' Alliance for Secure Elections, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Verified Voting Foundation asked a federal court in Ohio to refrain from mandating the use of any e-voting system that doesn't provide a voter-verifiable paper ballot. The court is poised to rule on a lawsuit challenging the use of punch card and optical scan systems.
The friend-of-the-court brief filed by the groups outlined 18 incidents during the past four years that resulted in both election administration problems and disabled voters being effectively disenfranchised.
In the case of the Florida system crash, which erased any hope of conducting an election audit or recount of the 2002 results, the Miami-Dade Election Reform Coalition and the ACLU of Florida are pressing for paper ballot verification in the 15 Florida counties that will use electronic voting systems this November. Florida election officials, however, argue that touch-screen systems don't require a paper audit trail because they solve the critical issue the state faced during the still-controversial 2000 presidential election -- determining voter intent in cases where a voter fails to vote or votes for more than one candidate.

But critics of the paperless systems this week argued that there are as many reliability and usability issues with the systems as there are security concerns.
In their amicus brief to the Ohio court, the groups outlined a series of system malfunctions that they say prove that DRE system technology is not yet mature or reliable enough to be used without a paper trail.
In the 2002 race for governor in Maryland, for example, some voters complained that they touched the screen next to the Republican candidate's name, but an X appeared in the box next to the Democratic candidate.
Last November in Muscogee County, Ga., there were widespread complaints by citizens who said they voted "no" on a sales tax proposition but saw the machines register "yes." The complaints forced county officials



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