About 200 “citizen lobbyists” who descended on Washington, D.C., this week called for the U.S. Congress to require that electronic voting machines include paper-trail records.
The activists called on Congress to move ahead on a bill called the Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act, introduced in February 2005, but stalled in the House of Representatives committee. The bill would require all e-voting machines used in federal elections to include a voter-verified paper trail, and it would require the U.S. Election Assistance Commission to conduct random hand counts of e-voting machine records.
As many U.S. states move toward electronic voting systems since problems in Florida with paper ballots in the 2000 presidential election, critics of e-voting have questioned the accuracy of the newer technology. Without a paper trail, e-voting machines could be manipulated, and there would be little chance of catching the fraud, e-voting critics say.
Members of the I Count Coalition who came to Washington, D.C., this week repeated concerns that many e-voting machines do not produce a printout of each vote that can be used to double-check the machine’s results. In two days on Capitol Hill, they planned to meet with about 100 lawmakers and deliver a petition with more than 50,000 signatures calling on the House Administration Committee to act on the verified-voting bill.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Rush Holt, a New Jersey Democrat, has 169 cosponsors, more than a third of the members of the House.
Supporters of e-voting machines say the devices have several safety mechanisms in place to protect against voter fraud. E-voting machines are typically stand-alone machines not connected to the Internet, and access to them is limited, supporters say.
Despite some reports of e-voting problems during the 2004 general election, the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) called e-voting in 2004 and in off-year elections in 2005 a “major success.” ITAA represents a group of e-voting vendors.
During a press conference Friday, members of the coalition urged Congress to move ahead with the bill.
Backers of paperless e-voting machines are “choosing technology over verifiability and accountability,” said A.J. Devies, a board member of the Florida Fair Elections Coalition and Center. “It’s time to pull the curtain away from the little man who says, ‘Pay no attention to the man behind the screen.’ “
Devies, who uses a wheelchair scooter to walk long distances because of past back and nerve injuries, has opposed the National Federation of the Blind in its effort to speed adoption of e-voting machines. The machines make it possible for blind people to vote without assistance, the group says.
But technology does not guarantee accuracy, said Devies, a webmaster and former computer programmer. “Just because people are disabled does not mean that technology is the answer,” she said. “I’ve learned from everyone else’s [programming] mistakes, as well as my own.”
Holt and three Republican cosponsors of his bill praised the coalition members for their involvement in the issue. “You’re standing up for the central act of democracy—voting,” Holt said. “Without a voter-verified paper trail, a recount is meaningless.”
The I Count Coalition is supported by Common Cause, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, VerifiedVoting.org and several other groups.
-Grant Gross, IDG News Service
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