Feinstein Calls for Probe Into E-voting Machines

Senator asks GAO to look at potential for DRE malfunctions, election fraud

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

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) earlier this month asked the U.S. Government Accountability Office to conduct an investigation of e-voting machines — especially those systems that fail to produce paper receipts for the ballots cast.

Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, called on the GAO to complete its investigation before the 2008 presidential election.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein

Sen. Dianne FeinsteinThe senator also asked the GAO to investigate claims by some e-voting critics that certain machines are prone to error, can be easily hacked and altered, and can be secretly reprogrammed to change the outcome of a race.

A GAO spokesman last week said that the agency has begun reviewing Feinstein’s request and is concerned that the proposed assessment would require a very broad investigation into e-voting technologies. Agency officials hope to meet with Feinstein to discuss her request, but no meeting had been scheduled as of last week, he said.

‘Top-to-Bottom’ Review

In the Feb. 14 letter to the agency, Feinstein asked that GAO Comptroller General David Walker review several specific models of direct recording electronic, or DRE, voting machines, including the AccuVote TSX from Diebold Election Systems and the AVC Edge System from Sequoia Voting Systems Inc.

She requested that the GAO determine whether those machines exhibited irregularities or were subject to fraud, software bugs or malicious code insertion in the past two federal elections.

Feinstein specifically 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 didn’t record a vote in a race where Democrat Christine Jennings was beaten by Republican rival Vern Buchanan by a mere 369 votes.

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 paper receipts 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 paper voting 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 had 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.”

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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