Software // Enterprise Applications
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7/8/2004
05:36 PM
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Electronic Voting Machines Face New Challenges

A coalition of voting-reform and civil-rights groups in Florida filed suit to overturn the state's rule that manual recounts are prohibited on touch-screen voting systems.

With the November elections just four months away, some much needed guidance on electronic voting machines may be forthcoming next week. The U.S. Election Assistance Commission is expected to unveil electronic voting guidelines next Tuesday.

States may welcome the guidance. Many are still not sure about the best way to incorporate a class of electronic voting machines known as direct-recording electronic (DRE), or touch-screen, voting systems into their election process.

Earlier this week, U.S. District Court Judge Florence-Marie Cooper in the central district of California upheld the April 30 directive by California Secretary of State Kevin Shelly that withdrew certification of the state's touch-screen voting systems.

In that directive, Shelly argued that voting systems must meet minimum security requirements as well as provide a voter-verifiable paper trail. Several California counties including Kern, Plumas, Riverside, and San Bernardino, as well as disability rights advocates, argued that failure to use the touch-screen systems would hinder the ability of the disabled to vote.

Cooper ruled that Kelly's directive did not discriminate against the disabled and wrote that the auditable voter-verifiable paper-trail requirement is reasonable. Secretary of State Shelly's "decision to suspend the use of DREs pending improvement in the reliability is certainly a rational one, designed to protect the voting rights of the state's citizens."

Cooper also ruled that the plaintiffs established "no likelihood of success as to this claim."

On Wednesday, a coalition of voting-reform and civil-rights groups in Florida filed suit to overturn the state's rule that manual recounts are prohibited on touch-screen voting systems.

Florida state officials have maintained that so-called "over votes," which happen when a voter selects more than one candidate for an office, is not possible with touch-screen systems. State officials also say the voter's intent in an "under vote," which happens when a voter fails to select any candidate, can't be determined.

Alma Gonzalez, a Tallahassee attorney with the Voter Protection Coalition Round Table, says such under votes could easily be caused by malfunctioning hardware or software used in touch-screen systems. "The question of manual recounts is critical to those of us who want to protect voter rights," she says.

Opponents of touch-screen voting systems that lack some mechanism to audit and manually count votes point to the Jan. 6 election in Florida's House District 91 in which Ellyn Bogdanoff defeated Oliver Parker for the seat by 12 votes. The Bogdanoff and Parker race was the only contest on the ballet. Yet, 137 voters cast a ballot but no vote was registered by the voting machine.

"I don't think anyone would go through the trouble to come down to vote and cast a blank ballot," says Gonzalez. "That just doesn't make sense."

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