Demand For E-Vote Paper
Trail Escalates

By Kim Zetter
Wired News
Paper has become a big issue in the controversy over electronic voting machines. So activists in 19 states dumped a lot of it on election officials Tuesday as they delivered petitions bearing 350,000 signatures asking officials to mandate voter-verified paper audit trails for touch-screen voting machines in their states.
The Computer Ate My Vote campaign, led by MoveOn, TrueMajority and six other organizations, urged secretaries of state to follow California's lead and adopt measures for improving the integrity of elections this November. They also wanted to rally support for federal legislation that would require a paper trail on voting machines nationwide, which has been stalled in Congress for more than a year.
In addition to demanding a paper trail, the activists urged state and county officials to sign a pledge to support voting processes that are "controlled by public officials, not vendors" and that are verifiable and transparent to the public. This could include demanding that vendors give the source code for their machines to states so that experts could review the code if problems arose.
"Nothing is more fundamental to our democracy than the right to vote," California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley said during a phone conference. "Everything we have in America flows from that elemental right, and it must be preserved and protected, and its integrity must be respected at all costs."
Last December, upon the urging of computer scientists and voting activists, Shelley became the first state official to mandate that all touch-screen systems used in his state must produce a paper trail. Computer science reports showed that at least one brand of the machines were vulnerable to hacking, and voting activists were concerned that without a paper backup there would be no way to determine whether hacked or malfunctioning machines recorded votes accurately.
Nevada, which passed a mandate for voter-verified paper trails after California, will be the first state to use a voting system that produces a paper trail. The state will use the machines during its September primary and November election. California's mandate requires that all e-voting machines in the state produce a paper trail by July 2006.
After problems with dangling chads during the 2000 presidential election in Florida, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act, allocating $3.8 billion in federal funds to help states upgrade to new electronic voting systems.
Shelley said that while e-voting machines offered many advantages -- such as giving disabled and non-English-speaking voters the ability to vote in secret without assistance -- the machines had been adopted too quickly, without proper consideration for security. He blamed voting vendors in part for aggressively pushing the machines on election officials and for falsely representing the machines' security and accuracy.
Shelley said that although many election officials claim they have had no problems with their e-voting machines, there was no way to know whether their claims were accurate without the ability to audit the machines against a paper trail.
The fact that poorly designed machines made it through federal and state certification processes, he said, indicated that the standards and testing procedures for voting equipment was greatly flawed.
Shelley credited nationwide grass-roots efforts for bringing the issue of voting machine security to light, and said it is now the job of election officials to restore confidence in elections.
"My message to other secretaries of state and county election offices is (that) we need to clearly understand what our role is. We're the final stopgap to assess wither the voting machinery is appropriate for use," he said. "We have to be very stringent and aggressive regulators to ensure the integrity of the electoral process."
Urging officials to accept that responsibility, activists converged on government offices in 19 states, where 50 million voters are expected to use e-voting machines in November.
In Ohio, home of Diebold Election Systems, one of the most controversial makers of e-voting systems, about 200 people gathered outside the state house, where a 6-foot-tall model of a voting machine buzzed and spewed smoke as it simulated a mechanical meltdown.
In Texas, a group of 150 activists packed a room to hear activist Bev Harris, who is largely responsible for bringing the issue of e-voting to the public after she discovered the source code for a machine made by Diebold Election Systems online. Harris, who spent the last year investigating the voting companies and election processes around the country, is also the plaintiff in a whistleblower lawsuit filed against Diebold in California.
Ben Cohen, founder of Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream and the online activist group TrueMajority, was part of the group delivering petitions to Maryland's governor.
"What we saw today really seems like the best that America has to offer: Average citizens who are concerned about their democracy ... taking time out of their lives to help make sure that our elections are fair," he said.
Cohen said his group is working to push through two pieces of federal legislation that would require a paper audit trail for e-voting machines nationwide.
HR2239 and a Senate companion bill have received mostly Democratic support, though some Republicans have signed on as well. Despite having 145 co-sponsors, however, the House bill has been stuck in committee for 14 months. The Senate bill has been stuck for seven months.
"It just amazes me that the leadership of those committees will not give a reason for not moving this bill out of committee," Cohen said. "Our people want to know that their voices are counted."
Rep. Rush Holt (D-New Jersey), who wrote the House bill, said the grass-roots movement was critical to secure elections.
"The public outcry is leading to public action," he said.
He cited a recent change of heart by the League of Women Voters, which had adamantly opposed a paper trail for more than a year until its members forced the organization to reverse its stand.
"They recognize, as these millions of Americans recognize, that anything valuable should be auditable," Hold said.
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