Feinstein seeks GAO investigation of e-voting machines

Senator calls for a study of DRE machines for possible fraud, mechanical miscues

An influential U.S. senator last week called on the federal government to find out why electronic voting machines have caused problems in some recent elections.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) last Wednesday asked the Government Accountability Office to conduct an investigation  of electronic voting machines -- especially those that fail to produce a paper receipt of the ballots cast.  Feinstein, who chairs the senate Rules and Administration Committee, called on the GAO to complete the investigation before the 2008 presidential election.

Feinstein is asking that the GAO investigate claims by e-voting critics that some new machines are prone to error, can be easily hacked and altered, and can be secretly reprogrammed to change the outcome of a race.  

In the Feb. 14 letter, Feinstein asked that GAO comptroller general David Walker review several specific models of direct recording electronic (DRE) voting machines, including the AccuVote TSX from Diebold Election Systems and AVC Edge System from Sequoia Voting Systems Inc. She asked the GAO to determine whether the machines exhibited irregularities or were subject to fraud, software bugs or malicious code insertion in the last two federal elections.

Feinstein asked that the GAO conduct a "top to bottom" review of  the iVotronic touch-screen systems used in the controversial  13th Congressional District race in Sarasota County, Fla., last year. In that election,  18,000 ballots did not contain votes in a race where Democrat Christine Jennings was beaten by Republican rival Vern Buchanan by a mere 369 votes for a House seat. Jennings has filed a lawsuit alleging that voting machine malfunctions caused the undervote and threw the race to Buchanan. The iVotronic machines are manufactured by Election Systems & Software Inc.

Feinstein has also asked the GAO to review the printers used to create a paper receipt of the ballots cast on the DREs. She noted that paper jams and printer malfunctions in a 2004 election in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, caused 10% of the voting paper records to be ruined.

She urged the GAO to complete the study as soon possible and report back to the Rules and Administration Committee. "With the 2008 presidential election fast approaching, time is of the essence," she wrote in the letter. 

A spokesman for Feinstein estimated that it would take a number of months for the investigation to be completed. He noted that Feinstein singled out the Sarasota incident as a "clear example of what can go wrong, and she wants to find out the reasons and prevent it from happening again."

A GAO spokesman said the request is under review.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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