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Despite apparent e-vote success, questions remain

An 'absence of accountability' could lead to doubts about accuracy

By Dan Verton and Patrick Thibodeau
November 3, 2004 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - WASHINGTON -- Computer security experts today renewed their warnings about electronic voting systems and said that without an independent assessment of how the equipment fared in yesterday's elections, it's difficult to determine their accuracy.
"We need some way of assessing what has happened after the fact," said Peter Neumann, the principal scientist at SRI International Computer Science Laboratory and chair of the National Committee for Voting Integrity (NCVI). "It is extremely difficult to determine what happened because there is an absence of accountability and auditing in those machines."
NCVI members did not allege widespread problems with e-voting systems, but they warned that the machines could still leave voters with doubts about the final results.
"Yesterday's vote went remarkably smoothly, considering that we had record turnout and considering that it was scrutinized with more intensity then I can remember," said NCVI member Doug Jones, an associate professor of computer science at the University of Iowa and a voting technology expert.
"Electronic voting machines took an important test on Nov. 2 and passed with flying colors," said Harris Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of America, an Arlington, Va.-based IT industry lobbying group. Yesterday's e-vote, using approximately 175,000 different systems across the country, "took place efficiently and effectively across a wide range of people, places and local election processes and practices, [and] with a minimum of disruptions."
Britt Kauffman, president and CEO of Austin-based Hart InterCivic Inc., whose e-Slate e-voting systems were used throughout Texas, Colorado, California, North Carolina, Washington, Hawaii, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Kentucky, said all reports indicate a "relatively smooth Election Day" for the millions of voters who voted electronically.
But critics remain concerned that yesterday's apparent success could be overshadowed by what they called significant problems with the process by which e-voting is done. During the long and grueling tabulation process last night, some grass-roots voter monitoring organizations began posting firsthand accounts of incidents they say clearly indicate a nationwide lack of technical and process standards. That, combined with an inability to verify how individual systems tabulate votes, has created a deeply flawed election process, they said.

Jones said research into how voters interact with the machines is difficult to conduct. "All we can do is things like compare the number of ballots with the number of votes recorded and wonder, 'Why did people come to the polling place to cast a blank ballot?'" he said. While voting experts know a lot about how people make errors on paper ballots, they still know little about what goes wrong with electronic voting systems.
The NCVI is most

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