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11/3/2004
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Electronic-Voting Systems Pass The Test

Relatively few glitches have been reported with the direct-recording electronic-voting systems used in Tuesday's election.

Predictions of widespread problems with electronic voting systems in Tuesday's election didn't come to pass. As of late Wednesday, relatively few problems had been reported with the new voting technology known as DRE, or direct-recording electronic-voting systems.

The election incident-tracking Web site voteprotect.org, operated by the watchgroups Verified Voting Foundation, Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, and the Election Protection Coalition, said more than 17,000 voting incidents had been reported through its Election Incident Reporting System through Wednesday afternoon. However, only 1,222 incidents were reported as "machine problems," and many of those didn't involve DRE systems.

The DRE systems are manufactured by Diebold Election Systems, Election Systems & Software, Hart InterCivic, and Sequoia Voting Systems.

The DRE systems weren't perfect. Some machines wouldn't run. In other locations, voters expressed concerns about whether their votes were actually counted. In Nevada, only a handful of problems where reported. Nevada was the only state that had a large number of electronic-voting systems armed with a "voter verifiable paper trail," which provides a way for voters to validate that their votes on a printed sheet match the votes cast on the machines.

One voter reported that the "pad" on the electronic voting system was "skewed," while another voter reported that the electronic voting machine wouldn't allow the option of choosing not to cast a vote for a race on the ballot.

Overall, election watchers say the first big test for DREs went relatively well. It had been estimated before the election that about 50 million voters would use touch-screen systems on Election Day.

"I'm pleasantly surprised. It seemed to go generally smooth," says Doug Chapin, director of the Election Reform Information Project, a nonpartisan research group. But Chapin doesn't expect the performance of Tuesday's electronic-voting systems to persuade those for or against the systems to change their minds. "Proponents will use Tuesday to say the fears were overblown, while opponents of electronic voting will say they heard from thousands of voters who said they would have felt better with a paper trail."

Many states, including California and Ohio, have already mandated that DREs be equipped with a voter verifiable-paper trail in future elections.

Avi Rubin, a professor of computer science at Johns Hopkins University, who was one of the authors of a scathing reporting published in the summer of 2003 surrounding the security of the software used in many Diebold voting systems, isn't comforted by Tuesday's results.

"A lot of people are looking at the wrong story here. They're looking for big glitches and big events. The risk for undetectable fraud still exists," Rubin says. "The bottom line here is that the vulnerability is still there. If votes in systems without a paper trail were switched, we'd have no way of knowing."

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