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Electronic Voting: The Latest News

And a note on Santa Clara, courtesy of the Merc: "We are not a paper-and-plastic county like a grocery store," said county Registrar Jesse Durazo. "We're a DRE county with high confidence of voter satisfaction, high confidence of turnout and high confidence of security." Take that, paper ballot people.

Oct. 27: Hitting the Wall in Jersey

• New Jersey residents will use electronic voting machines on Election Day now that a superior court judge has thrown out a challenge filed by the Constitutional Litigation Clinic at Rutgers University. The Newark-based group argued that the voting technology was "faulty and vulnerable to fraud," the Philadelphia Inquirer reported. Judge Linda Feinberg issued a 55-page ruling that said "the plaintiffs, including two New Jersey voters who said they personally had been disenfranchised by the technology, had failed to demonstrate that there was an 'immediate threat' posed by 'the type of voting machines that have been used in this state, and in other states, for many years without problems,'" the Inquirer reported. Feinberg also reportedly said a paper-ballot election could cause longer lines, dismayed voters and compromised results.

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From washingtonpost.com at 12:00 AM

The nature of the controversy surrounding electronic voting has changed little since reports surfaced in the past year questioning its security and reliability. What has changed is the urgency. With time running out between now and Election Day, more activists, politicians and -- most importantly -- voters want firm answers about whether the technology that more than 50 million people will use to choose their president this year will record their choices correctly.

Most experts on either side of the issue acknowledge that it would be virtually impossible to modify paperless machines to include voter-verified paper records, but that is not stopping an increasingly vocal grassroots movement from trying to make that change happen before Nov. 2. In at least one case in Florida, a state with a unique and notorious history of Election Day troubles, a federal judge ruled that a paper trail is a must.

washingtonpost.com has presented ongoing coverage of some of the effects that the electronic voting debate is having on the D.C. metropolitan area. Here we offer a roundup of some of the major electronic voting issues taking place with increasing frequency around the country in the runup to the election. Many of these stories reflect an increasing awareness in the media and among voters of the challenges facing the voting process throughout the nation, coupled with a realization that although the debate is more topical than ever, its resolution will not come until after the nation goes back to the polls for what is anticipated to be one of the closest presidential elections in many years.

The most recent entries are listed first.

The clinic is part of the Rutgers School of Law in Newark. Its students actually file lawsuits as part of their studies, including a successful defense of the right of nonprofit advocates to hand out leaflets and other materials door-to-door and in shopping malls, according to the clinic's Web site.

The Newark Star-Ledger reported that the law clinic's Penny Venetis is considering an appeal to the state Supreme Court. The Bergen Record noted Venetis's admission that the group will "have to consider whether that's a wise thing to do six days before the election."

The Asbury Park Press, meanwhile, reported that the state held a forum yesterday where the machines were put on display: "The state-sponsored forum was supposed to be about voting technologies for future elections, but the discussion never moved much beyond next Tuesday, when millions of New Jerseyans will cast ballots electronically, some for the first time." The Park Press quoted New York-based computer consultant Eric Lazarus as saying, "The current generation of this technology is not designed to be even reasonably good at being tested and verified. They haven't been designed for security."

Oct. 26: Touch-Screen Tussle Travels to Trenton

• New Jersey Superior Court Judge Linda Feinberg today will hear a challenge to the use of electronic voting machines without a paper trail in several counties throughout the state. Opposing their use is the Constitutional Litigation Clinic at Rutgers University which, as the Philadelphia Inquirer reported, asserts that "the electronic voting technology used in 15 of the state's 21 counties does not provide a printed record and therefore 'cannot be relied upon to protect the fundamental right to vote.'" Or, as Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer) said in the Inquirer story: "Ronald Reagan said it best -- we need to 'trust, but verify,' Last time the election was about the missing chad. We don't want this one to be about the missing megabyte."

The Bergen Record ran an Associated Press story on today's lawsuit: "Markus Green, chief of staff for [state] Attorney General Peter Harvey, said some counties have used touch-screen voting for nine years without problems. 'We're confident elections are going to go forward and in the way they are scheduled to go forward,' Green said. 'The public can be confident that every vote will be counted in New Jersey.'"

• Georgia is in its second day of early voting, with only one technological glitch being reported so far, as the Augusta Chronicle reported: "Although it is the seventh time Augusta has used an electronic voting system, there was a small hiccup with the system. A server that allows counties to access the statewide database of voter registrations went down Monday morning and wasn't fixed until about 10:30 a.m., which limited access and slowed down the process in some places." The Chronicle quoted Chris Riggall, spokesman for Secretary of State Cathy Cox: "Not catastrophic but obviously not convenient." The Atlanta Journal-Constitution also gave some coverage to the glitch, but devoted most of its space to covering the long lines that marked the advent of early voting. Georgia uses Diebold's AccuVote touch-screen machine throughout the state.

And on an incidental note, the Athens Banner-Herald ran a short sidebar along with two photos of blind resident Charles Kea using a key pad to vote.

• Diebold chief exec Walden O'Dell told the Wall Street Journal that the company's foray into the voting-machine market has proven a "minefield." Among the Journal's examples of exploding ordnance: O'Dell's at-best poorly worded Republican fundraising letter, challenges to the security and reliability of the AccuVote machines in Maryland, California, Georgia and, oh, just about everywhere else, and the decision of some states -- North Carolina as one example -- that put off their decisions to buy AccuVote units until this whole election thing blows over.

Oct. 25: In Court Fight, Paper Is Trailing

• U.S. District Court Judge James Cohen today upheld an emergency rule for how touch-screen voting machine recounts should be handled in Florida, the Associated Press reported. The decision essentially rejects a challenge by Rep. Robert Wexler, a Boca Raton Democrat, who sued to force counties and cities using touch-screen voting machines to make sure that the machines could produce a voter-verified paper trail. Wexler said he plans to file an appeal with the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta.

More from the AP: "After hearing three days of testimony last week, Cohn concluded 'the preferential method of casting a ballot' would include a paper printout allowing voters to make sure their selections are correct, but he said he was limited to determining 'whether the current procedures and standards comport with equal protection.'" Wexler had argued that the Constitution's equal protection clause would require touch-screens and other voting machines to be subject to the same recount guidelines throughout Florida.

• The scientists and professors who run the voting project shared by Caltech and MIT are known as straight shooters when it comes to all things election-related. That's what makes their latest comment on electronic voting so distressing to paper-trail advocates: The machines have greatly reduced the number of lost votes in elections.

"Some computer scientists, political activists and other critics contend the machines use simplistic software that easily can be rigged to manipulate election results. The study does not attempt to address those security issues," the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. "But its author, Charles Stewart, head of the political science department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said an important question was lost in the controversy: 'Did the Diebold machines perform better than the collection of older voting technologies Georgia had used before? The purpose of this research is to answer this question. The answer is yes.'"

• The big solution to electronic voting accuracy has eluded experts of all stripes, but the Ambler, Pa., chapter of the NAACP is proposing this elegant stopgap, according to the Lansdale, Pa.-based Reporter, which reported that "local NAACP officials are trying to get volunteers to work the polls on Election Day and remind voters to write down their voting number. 'Remember the number you are when you votedé' [chapter chief Evelyn] Warner said."

• The San Jose Mercury News today accused Santa Clara County elections officials of denying voters the right to vote on paper by taking advantage of their ignorance: "Santa Clara County doesn't want you to know you don't have to vote on a touch-screen machine next month. You can vote by paper if you choose, and poll workers should be telling you that upfront. Instead, Santa Clara and apparently other counties with electronic systems are instructing poll workers to acknowledge the paper option only if voters explicitly ask about it," the paper wrote in an editorial. "Just as checkout clerks ask customers 'Paper or plastic?' poll workers should doing the same: 'Paper or touch screen?'"

Time magazine ran a state-of-the-nation e-voting piece in its latest issue. It hits all the usual points, but also contains a nice photo that captures the impossibility of ensuring the 100-percent reliability of every voting machine.

Oct. 21: The Human League

• Austin ABC affiliate KVUE-TV reported today that some early voters called the station to complain about Travis County's electronic voting machines. The big deal? The ballot question on the Texas capital's commuter-rail issue did not show up for some people who visited the polls. More from KVUE.com: "The county clerk says the matter is one of human error, because voters can get in a hurry and overlook parts of the ballot. Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir says most voters find the process easier." The problem, said DeBeauvoir, mainly affected people who voted on a straight party ticket. "On the last page of your ballot, at the very bottom is the Cap Metro referendum. And if you don't page through each one, then you would miss the proposition," DeBeauvoir said. Travis County uses local voting machine maker Hart InterCivic's eSlate.

New Mexico's Valencia County News-Bulletin reporter Jane Moorman wrote that straight-party ticket voting caused another error on Saturday: "We had one person who wanted to vote a straight party ticket ... have problems, but it was not a mechanical error. We think he accidentally touched the wrong spot on the screen," said Lawrence Kaneshiro, director of Valencia County's election bureau, of the incident with the Sequoia Voting Systems' AVC Edge machine.

• Even though Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.) knows that his lawsuit to get Florida's touch-screen machines retrofitted with printers won't change the way people vote by Election Day, the judge in the case is adopting the appropriate urgent, harried tone. "U.S. District Court Judge James Cohn said he recognized the urgency of the case and would issue a written ruling as soon as possible. Cohn said he had the 'utmost respect' for some of the solutions proposed in Wexler's case, including what he called the 'logical' idea of printing a paper record for every voter and depositing it in a ballot box," the Miami Herald reported. The Herald noted, however, that Cohn wasn't quite as sold on Wexler's argument that having different recount standards for touch-screen machines and other types of machines violates the U.S. Constitution's equal protection clause.

The Associated Press also weighed in with a quote from an attorney for several county elections chiefs: "Ron Labasky ... argued that Wexler was just trying to find a way to 'squeeze one more vote out' and 'regress' to the confusing recounts of the 2000 election."

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