"It indicated that when the poll worker inserted the little gadget, that this information would come up on the screen," Clyburn said in an interview. "You have to then touch the screen for it to come up. That, to me, is a very critical step." Clyburn said he supports a voter-verified paper trail.
Oct. 16: Wawawhat About E-Voting?
Cumberland County, N.J., will ditch its levers for e-voting machines after the presidential election, but elections officials said they won't let the machines go live "until they're convinced the public understands how to do it," the Vineland Daily Journal reported. The southern New Jersey county plans to buy machines from Sequoia Voting Systems, which also serves neighboring New Jersey counties. "The machines are somewhat like the electronic devices Wawa customers use to order a sandwich or cup of soup," the Journal reported. "Voters will touch a computer screen to cast a ballot, but that won't generate any sort of paper receipt to verify the vote." Wawa? is a convenience store named after a local Native American tribe's word for the Canada Goose. Ask anyone in South Jersey... really.
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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.
Florida elections officials have settled on a way to recount touch-screen ballots in close elections, but e-voting activists doubt that the plan will ensure that elections are fair, according to the Associated Press. "Under the new rules, if a recount is needed, election officials must review a printout from each voting machine to count the so-called undervotes, or ballots on which no candidate was chosen," the AP reported. "The equipment will be checked for problems if the number doesn't match the undervote totals given by the machine."
Florida Secretary of State Glenda Hood had said that manual recounts should not be conducted on touch-screen voting machines, but a judge in August disagreed. One demand by voting rights advocates that wasn't included in Florida's plan: voter-verified paper trails.
Oct. 15: Deep in the Heart of Texas
The folks who run Austin-based Hart InterCivic can rest easier today, thanks to a report out of Harris County, Tex., that the company's eSlate voting machines work just fine. The Houston Chronicle reported that the machines, which were tested Thursday at the county Election Technology Center, accurately tallied test votes.
Harris, which includes the city of Houston, touts itself as the third-largest county in the nation with a population of 3 million and area of 1,788 square miles. Among its elected officials is the second most powerful Republican in the House of Representatives, Majority Leader Tom DeLay.
The county has spent $28 million on 9,000 machines, controllers, software and services, according to Chronicle reporter Bill Murphy. Nevertheless, the usual fears are cropping up, according to the Chronicle: "'Voters have no assurance their votes were cast as intended. We voters are at the mercy of the election system,' said Stan Merriman, who observed the test vote for the county Democratic Party." No word on how Republicans are spinning the latest news.
Oct. 14: Heat of the Moment
Palm Beach County's electronic vote tabulation machines were feeling a little feverish, according to Theresa LePore, the notorious Florida county's elections supervisor. That's the reason the machines crashed Tuesday, forcing the cancellation of a routine test of the system, according to the Palm Beach Post.
The Post reported that the file server LePore planned to use crashed before the test. As the Post reported: "The server -- a backup storage device -- is one of several used to tabulate votes. Even if one of the file servers goes down on election night, LePore said the votes cast on the electronic machines won't be lost and the office would use a backup server. LePore suspects the malfunction was caused by a power failure during Hurricane Jeanne. LePore said the air-conditioning to the building was shut off after the storm and the temperature in the computer room reached 90 degrees. 'Computer rooms are not supposed to be hot,' LePore said."
Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.), the state's most vocal advocate for a voter-verified paper trail on touch-screen voting machines, said the crash demonstrates that paper backup for vote-counting is a must.
The Miami Herald quoted Alia Faraj, spokeswoman for the secretary of state's office, as saying the issues are unrelated: "It's why tests are mandated by law. [LePore] is experienced, and that's why there is a redundant system in place. This has nothing to do with the touch-screen system or the tabulation of votes."
Meanwhile, two side notes on the players: LePore's term as elections supervisor is up in January after she lost her reelection bid on Aug. 31. Her main claim to fame is her allegedly confusing design for the infamous "butterfly ballots" that set pulses fluttering in Florida's 2000 elections. And Wexler has accepted more than $155,000 from private lobbyists in the form of private trips since January 2000, the Boca Raton News reported. That's the most of any Congress member, according to a recent study by American Public Media's Marketplace program and the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.
Voting-machine angst does not reign supreme throughout Florida, as it turns out. The Lake City Reporter today reported that Columbia County "has its equipment under lock and key."
More from the article: "Though there have been voting problems in recent years elsewhere in Florida, [county elections supervisor Carolyn Kirby] said if each county were evaluated individually, Columbia County comes out with good grades. 'I feel like Columbia County knows how to vote and pays attention,' she said." That's one of 67 taken care of...
Fairfax County, Va.'s voting machines are so foolproof. Just ask electoral board representative Curtis Reaves. He told the Washington Times that the county is inviting critics to come and see just how well the machines, manufactured by Advanced Voting Solutions. From the Times: "Reaves said he invites all critics to attend a demonstration and show workers how their problem scenarios could happen. 'We ask them to demonstrate the problem -- but the machines are so foolproof.'"
Oct. 13: 'Really Lousy Choices'
About the only certainty regarding touch-screen voting machines in Florida this election season is that there is no certainty, the Tampa Tribune reported today. Tribune reporter Garrett Therolf did not offer any breaking news in the piece, but did produce a clear summary of recent events determining the electronic voting landscape in the Sunshine State. Also noteworthy were interviews with Richard Perez, general counsel to Florida Secretary of State Glenda Hood, and Howard Simon, head of the American Civil Liberties Union's Florida chapter. Perez said that if a recount were required, it would rely on audit data produced by the machines, even though there is no agreed-upon standard for how to conduct a manual recount with the machines. Simon's response: "We're looking at a range of really lousy choices for three weeks before an election."
An Associated Press report that ran in the Miami Herald the day before featured several groups that say the 15 Florida counties offering electronic voting should give voters the option of paper ballots -- not a hot choice among defenders of the machines. The groups included the ACLU, People for the American Way and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the same groups that "successfully sued the state to overturn an elections rule stating that touch-screen ballots don't have to be included in a manual recount," the AP reported.
Sun-Sentinel reporter Mark Hollis quoted a lawyer for the groups, Alma Gonzalez: "We can't fix it completely for 2004, there's no doubt about that, but we certainly can set up a system that helps us get farther than they are right now... We can't keep having deja vu. We have to stop."
WTOP, the D.C. area's top all-news station, reported on how Fairfax County, Va., will use touch-screen voting machines in its first national race. The machines have been subjected to a number of "measures" to make sure that they work properly, County Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerry Connolly said in an interview on the radio station.
The Philadelphia Inquirer profiled Nelson Pavlosky and Luke Smith, both 20, the students who last month successfully defended themselves against an e-voting lawsuit brought by Diebold Election Systems. The juniors at Swarthmore College on the Main Line outside Philadelphia were the crew that posted the internal Diebold memos that revealed the coding flaws in their AccuVote-TS touch-screen voting machines. Diebold lost the case after a judge ruled that the company misused the Digital Millennium Copyright Act when they accused the students of intellectual property theft. The data, of course, had been stolen by an unknown hacker and wound up on a number of Web sites, including the one run by Pavlosky and Smith.
End result? Diebold cut its third-quarter earnings forecast because of costs associated with recertifying its machines in California, as well as legal expenses in the Great Bear State. Pavlosky, meanwhile, plans to vote Libertarian and is considering law school. No word on Smith...