San Jose Mercury News (MCT)
Election officials and computer experts testified before the Senate Rules Committee about the security and reliability of electronic systems, and whether all states and localities would have time, if Congress passed a mandate this year, to install a verifiable paper record before next year's election.
"I don't think we can wait, because there's an urgent need for this," said Feinstein, a California Democrat. She said her staff is working on a bill similar to a House measure requiring a paper record for all voting systems that has gained support.
After the 2000 election debacle in Florida, states did away with punch-card systems, and with the help of federal money, many rushed to set up new electronic equipment — either touch-screen voting, like an ATM, or optical-scan machines, with voters marking a ballot that is then scanned.
Most systems worked efficiently in the November election, but a congressional race in Florida decided by 369 votes featured a glaring anomaly: 18,000 voters in one county cast votes in other minor races but not in the hotly contested House contest.
The votes were cast on touch-screens with no paper record. Several dozen voters said their votes were not counted, and the losing candidate, Democrat Christine Jennings, challenged the election in court. Judges did not allow independent technicians to inspect the equipment and the source codes used.
"Imagine what would happen if a similar undercount occurred in a swing state election in the presidential contest and there was no independent means of verification," Feinstein said.
About half the states, including California, now require some sort of paper record. Last week, Florida's new governor, Republican Charlie Crist, said he wants the state to spend $32 million to replace touch screens with optical-scan devices, because ballots can be recounted in a close election.
Many localities have not made their new electronic equipment secure, and some manufacturers don't want independent audits, computer and election experts found in a study by the Brennan Center for Justice in New York.
"The fact is that banks spend considerably more in a year to maintain their ATM systems than our nation has spent in six years to entirely modernize its voting technology," said Michael Waldman, executive director of the Brennan Center.
Another computer-voting expert, Brit Williams of Georgia, said electronic systems have a good record, and that no attempted hacker attack had occurred in the 43 years since computerized systems were introduced.
Williams also said that systems providing a paper trail aren't always reliable, with printer problems and paper jams.
Conny McCormack, the registrar of Los Angeles County _ where 3 million people voted in the 2004 election — warned senators not to pass a new mandate that gave localities too little time to add new equipment. The Help America Vote Act of 2002 gave states and localities more than three years for implementation.
California is one of four states that conduct thorough testing of equipment on election day by independent technicians. McCormack and Waldman agreed that sort of monitoring was one of the best ways to ensure reliability and improve voter confidence in new systems.
(c) 2007, San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.).
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