This weekly feature surveys top government IT-related news -- involving all levels of government, from the federal to state and local, and international news. It is designed to give readers a primer on current trends and developments affecting the industry's major and interesting players, surveying news headlines from around the world. Washingtonpost.com's Cynthia L. Webb pens the feature. E-mail Cindy Webb Cindy Webb's Daily Filter Column
"Members of liberal groups rallied in 19 states [Tuesday] to demand that new electronic voting terminals have paper receipts to ensure accurate election recounts in the November presidential race," The Washington Post reported. "The rallies are part of a movement led in part by MoveOn.org, People for the American Way, Democracy for America and other liberal groups that are aligned with the Democratic Party and who are fearful of another close election as in 2000, when Florida's disputed voting results were thrust into the courts to determine a winner."
The Post piece stressed the partisan nature of the anti-e-voting movement, but it also included this interesting item: "Peter Schurman, executive director of MoveOn.org, disagreed that electronic voting has taken on a partisan flavor. He noted that Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) is sponsoring a bill to require receipts. Focused on recounts since losing a 1998 election by 428 votes, Ensign inserted a paper receipt requirement in the 2002 Help America Vote Act, but it was removed on the floor."
Two more California counties -- Riverside and San Bernardino -- "will be allowed to use electronic voting machines in the November election after reaching an agreement with California's secretary of state to enact new ballot protections. Among other things the agreement, reached Tuesday, requires election officials to provide paper ballots for voters who decline to use the touch-screen machines at the polls," the Associated Press reported. Rules released earlier this year by Secretary of State Kevin Shelley ordered several counties to make changes to their e-voting systems.
Riverside County supervisors said that with the settlement in place, they would not pursue their lawsuit against Shelley's order, the Los Angeles Times reported. "We need to move on and get the election in November all squared away," said board Chairman Roy Wilson after a 5-0 vote, the paper reported. "We felt it was more important to settle than to spend more time going through the court process. The end goal is to have a safe, secure election." The Desert Sun in nearby Palm Springs, Calif. also picked up the news.
Meanwhile, a lawsuit targeting voting technology manufacturer Diebold Inc. was unsealed last week by California Attorney General Bill Lockyer. The suit alleges "that the company's shoddy balloting equipment exposed California elections to hackers and software bugs," the Associated Press reported. More background from AP: "The California lawsuit was filed in state court by computer programmer Jim March and activist Bev Harris, who are seeking full reimbursement for Diebold equipment purchased in California." The state is still deciding whether or not to join the suit, the article said. Diebold told the AP it had not been served with the suit and had no comment yet.
Harris posted a copy of the lawsuit on the Web site of Black Box Voting, the Web site she set up to help rally e-voting opponents. Voice of America, which included reporting by The AP, gave more details on the suite: "The litigation filed in state court under California's false claims act alleges Diebold misled the state and a California county (Alameda) about touchscreen systems used during March primary elections. The suit seeks a combined $19 million on behalf of the state and county."
Some supporters of e-voting reform criticized the use of the whistleblower law. "I would like to see people support a real solution rather than just try to cash in," Alan Dechert, founder of Open Voting Consortium Inc., told the AP. "There are a lot of people who could be a tremendous asset, but they're grandstanding and reveling in the expose."
The Black Box Voting site's home page explains how it would use winnings from the suit: The suit "filed by Bev Harris and Jim March seeks to recover funds for the state of California from Diebold Election Systems. As part of the Qui Tam action, a bounty for the whistleblowers is paid, and Diebold will be asked to pay this to Harris and March as part of additional damages, which in turn will help fund Black Box Voting."
A Little Context on E-voting
Are e-voting worries overhyped? USA Today ran a story this week that said most Americans will vote on older equipment this year, despite billions spent since 2000 to upgrade election technology nationwide. "Three-quarters of American voters will cast ballots Nov. 2 using the same equipment they voted on four years ago. One in eight will be using the same type of punch-card voting machines blamed for many of Florida's problems. Electronic voting, initially seen as the best way to modernize balloting, is now the subject of questions about its security and reliability. Many localities have delayed plans to switch equipment," the paper reported. "Forty-one states are seeking waivers from a requirement to create statewide voter-registration databases to minimize Election Day confusion; they say they can't do it until at least 2006. And 140,000 U.S. troops risking their lives in Iraq face potential difficulty voting for their commander in chief because of an unreliable mail system." USA Today also noted problems with a lack of federal standards for new e-voting machines: "There are only three laboratories in the country set up to test voting equipment, creating potential bottlenecks."
Opinionmakers Talk E-voting
Computerworld's Tommy Peterson authored an opinion piece this week blasting the use of e-voting machines in the upcoming elections. Excerpt: "Unfortunately, a hefty portion of state and local jurisdictions have prematurely adopted electronic voting systems. E-voting in this year's election is a terrible idea because of both real technical limitations and the perception that the systems are unreliable and vulnerable to tampering. That's something of a problem, considering more than 30% of all voting in the election will be done on electronic machines. This isn't just a public relations issue or one that will go away when citizens get used to the technology. A mounting record of problems with e-voting has tarnished elections in Georgia, California and Texas, among other places, and seems to justify widespread voter skepticism."