11:48 AM

Computer Experts Renew Call For Secure E-Voting

E-voting security and reliability concerns reemerged during recent primary elections and have helped fuel a push to create a paper audit trail.

WASHINGTON — With midterm elections less than six weeks away, computer experts are again warning Congress that electronic voting machines remain unreliable and that a paper trail is needed to verify election results.

E-voting security and reliability concerns re-emerged during recent primary elections. For example, voting officials in Montgomery County, Md., failed to bring security cards to polling places on election day needed to activate e-voting machines. Many voters were told to come back later.

Electronic voting experts with the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM) told a House panel that "a voter verified paper trail is a significant step toward mitigating the risks" posed by the failure of electronic balloting.

Barbara Simons, an e-voting expert and past president of ACM, said current computerized voting systems are plagued by poor design, inferior software, limited audit capabilities and lack of testing. Simons recommended the use of "direct-recording electronics" devices that provide a paper audit trail. She also recommended random manual audits and recounts to ensure the accuracy of e-voting machines.

"Today's e-voting infrastructure is not up to the task, but tomorrow's can be," added Edward Felten, a computer science professor at Princeton University and a member of ACM's Public Policy Committee.

Felten told the House Administration Committee on Thursday (Sept. 28) that paper audit trails should be backed up by:

  • Securing voting machines throughout elections.

  • Improving certification of software updates to e-voting machines.

  • Increasing the use of independent security experts to ensure the reliability of e-voting machines.

    A recent ACM study examined statewide databases of registered voters to determine the accuracy and security of e-voting machines.

    Voluntary U.S. standards for voting equipment issued in 2005 have achieved mixed results, and a government audit found inconsistent applications of the standards. Other computer experts have also urged Congress to do more to ensure the integrity of electronic balloting.

    Diebold Election Systems (Allen, Texas) has been the focus of much of the concern over e-voting security. Diebold maintains is machines are secure and that its provides comprehensive customer support.

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