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E-Voting Escapes Elections Unscathed

Wednesday, November 3, 2004; 9:51 AM

The "massive experiment in voting" looks like a success, pending any last-minute revelations to the contrary.

We spent so much time this year anticipating a major malfunction in new computerized voting technology that it was almost a perverse disappointment that, at least for now, everyone's e-vote seems to have been counted. Let's face it, a little flouting of bedrock constitutional principles would have produced much more exciting copy.

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The real excitement as of mid-Wednesday morning appears to be the technologically unsophisticated provisional ballot, that piece of paper that voters use if there is any question about the validity of the voter's registration. That's what Massachusetts Sen. John F. Kerry (D) will base his hopes on during the next 11 days as he waits to see whether they can tip the balance in his favor over President Bush.

Electronic voting via touch-screen machines, dials and other means fared well across the nation -- certainly better than voter patience in the long lines at the polling places. In the local area, voters and officials reported mostly minor glitches. Maryland's TrueVoteMD, a group opposed to the state's use of Diebold AccuVote-TS machines without a paper trail, plans to publish a list of hundreds of reported problems that it received yesterday, but so far those reports remain unverified. Elections officials sidelined 200 of the state's 16,009 machines, though most other forms of voting technology suffer similar casualties in busy election seasons without attracting 72-point headlines.

Success aside, the question for the future remains: How will the people who run our elections instill more voter confidence in the machines, whose security in some cases really does seem to be less than desirable? Election 2004 was a jump into the dark with the reasonable -- but not assured -- expectation that someone had strung up a very big net. Voting machine manufacturers are happy to outfit their products with printers to record voter-verifiable results, but it will take that, federal standards and more. The job isn't over yet.

The Less Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

When it comes to Congress and technology policy, welcome to at least two more years of the same old thing. The House of Representatives certainly didn't disappoint pundits' predictions that there would be little movement in most districts. That means the House will continue to pursue a pro-business agenda on technology issues that seeks tax credits a go-go, free trade, intellectual property laws that favor the entertainment industry and laws that try to rein in spyware and other attempts to perpetrate electronic fraud -- as long as they don't put too much of a dent in the tech industry's revenue.

As for the Senate, the pending departure of Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (S.D.) after losing his race to Republican John Thune could signal a new approach to handling tech policy issues in the "upper house" of Congress. It's hard to say at this early date what that will mean for tech bills overall.

One item of interest: Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) probably won't have to put so much faith in persuading his moderate GOP colleagues to support him on controversial bills if the Republican majority widens. With a Republican House and the continued likelihood of a second Bush term, it would be interesting to see whether this would spur any action on the Internet tax debate.

Robert MacMillan, washingtonpost.com Tech Policy Editor


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