Fixing The E-Voting Mess - InformationWeek

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Fixing The E-Voting Mess

Advocacy groups push for electronic voting reform.

Where there's controversy, there's opportunity for advocacy groups like the Electronic Privacy Information Center. On that score, the elections of 2000 sprung open a huge new market.

Since then, EPIC and other advocacy groups have done a lot of work related to improving voting machines and computerized alternatives. The Help America Vote Act of 2002 required federal officials to improve elections but didn't say how. "You have vendors telling the Election Assistance Commission and the National Institute of Standards and Technology what they need to do with the voting solution," says Marc Rotenberg, EPIC's executive director. "That's a problem."

One battleground is Florida's Sarasota County, where watchdog groups allege that voting machines supplied by Election Systems & Software failed to record up to 18,000 votes in last November's U.S. House race between Democrat Christine Jennings and Republican Vern Buchanan, who won by fewer than 400 votes. Jennings sued for a new election, with support from the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Buchanan has taken his seat in the 110th Congress, pending the outcome of the case.

The issue's moving into a new phase on the federal level. In December, the Technical Guidelines Development Committee advised the U.S. Elections Assistance Commission to require paper or other software-independent means of auditing election results. But it's a mistake to push for a paper-trail approach rather than issue guidelines to vendors and have them find the best solution, says Steven Hertzberg, project director of the Election Science Institute, a tech advocacy group created around the e-voting issue. "Political momentum takes over any logical scientific engineering discussion," he says.

This year, NIST will issue recommendations for improving voting systems, both mechanical and electronic. With the presidential election around the corner, count on e-voting to kick up plenty of controversy, with advocacy groups at the forefront.

Illustration by Viktor Koen

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