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November 06, 2006

E-Voting Dilemma? We Have Two Options Left

It's election time again and electronic voting machines are back on top in the news.  "Hacking Democracy" aired on HBO this week, articles are still surfacing about Maryland's problems with electronic voting machines in their primary, and already a plethora of problem reports from machine pre-tests are rolling in.  If you voted absentee already, you can sigh in relief that you're done.  For everybody else, read on.

In order to make sure this post is taken seriously, here's why I'm qualified to write about this topic:  I've worked in computer and network security for several years, I've written about a wide range of security topics for reputed publications, I have edited three books on computer security, and I'm a member of the U.S. Association for Computing Machinery Public Policy Committee.  I have also worked in the past with the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, both of whom have worked closely with the Verified Voting Foundation.

The organizations noted above have worked extremely hard to guarantee a voter-verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) in all future elections.  They succeeded in California but not every state has been so lucky.  And, I might add, here in California the machines we're using are not entirely without bugs, errors, or security concerns.  For example, San Mateo County is using eSlate (by Hart InterCivic) handheld devices not unlike PDAs.  In Calloway County, Kentucky, votes have been switched on straight tickets from all Democrats to all Republicans when the results were sent to the review screen.  This is happening across the country with machines made by all four major e-voting machine companies, flipping both ways.

The way I see it, we only have two options left as voters.

Option 1: If you have a machine that provides the option to verify your vote with a paper audit trail, you can do so at the end of the voting process.  This is the voter's responsibility, not the volunteers at the polls.  And it is still possible that the vote recorded is not the same as the vote printed.  Aside from that, most states do not have adequate processes in place for reporting errors.  Do this at your own risk, but if you decide to use an e-voting machine, please participate in Verified Voting's Election Transparency Project.

Option 2: If you have an electronic voting machine that does not request a paper ballot.  These are real ballots, not provisional ballots.  They will be counted on election day and verified.  It's old tech and it won't work for some people with disabilities, but it's safe and it's proven.  For those of you who are not lucky enough to have real paper ballots available but instead are granted provisional paper ballots only, file a complaint.

I don't think anyone needs to be reminded that our democracy is at stake here.  To see up-to-date results on errors being reported around the country, goto VotersUnite.org.  For more information about the importance of VVPATs or to participate in the Election Transparency Project, check out VerifiedVoting.org.  HBO's documentary, "Hacking Democracy", will be aired again Tuesday morning.


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