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By Robert MacMillan washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Monday, May 24, 2004; 12:28 PM
Virginia General Assembly leaders say they will soon appoint members of a new commission that will study the security and reliability of electronic voting machines, a response to growing concerns that new-generation voting technology may be riddled with problems.
The General Assembly approved a resolution in March to create the 11-member commission, prompted in part by a high-profile series of problems in Fairfax County last year involving at least one type of electronic voting machine.
"It's really become the mother of all election law studies," said Tim Hugo (R-Fairfax), the delegate who sponsored the resolution to create the Virginia commission. "If you don't have confidence in the electoral system, it does breed a bitterness in the electorate."
Commission members could be announced as soon as this week, according to House Speaker William Howell (R-Fredericksburg), though the final list may not be named until the end of June. The commission will be composed of six members of the General Assembly and five private citizens. They will study how voting equipment is certified and tested and how the equipment should be handled before, during and after it is used.
The panel ultimately could propose a statewide system for verifying electronic voting machine accuracy, according to lawmakers and other officials involved in the commission's creation.
Electronic voting systems have been held up across the country as a high-tech solution to problems with aging paper and punch card systems, such as the infamous machines and ballots used in some Florida counties that threw the 2000 presidential election results in doubt.
But Virginia and other states have moved to either study or impose new requirements on the technology in response to questions about the security of new voting systems. Lawmakers, academic experts and citizen-activists across the country are urging changes in how the machines work, proposing that electronic voting machines produce paper receipts for each vote. Another proposal is to require the software that powers new voting machines to meet certain standards set by public officials.
California and Ohio currently require that electronic voting machines have verifiable paper trails by 2006, and California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley banned the use of electronic machines manufactured by Diebold Election Systems in four counties after reports of irregularities arose following the state's March primary election. Maryland's General Assembly is considering a bill that would require electronic voting machines to produce paper receipts of every vote cast.
Thirteen members of the U.S. Congress, meanwhile, have asked the General Accounting Office to study electronic voting technology. Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.) has sued to block the use of voting technology manufactured by Election System & Software in Florida's Broward and Miami-Dade counties.
The problems in Fairfax County, Va., last year are in many ways emblematic of problems experienced in several other communities across the country. The county spent more than $3 million to switch to high-tech machines designed by Advanced Voting Systems of Frisco, Texas. But the systems fell victim to numerous glitches during their maiden voyage in the November 2003 elections. Ten machines crashed; 154 others experienced a variety of other problems.