A coalition of voting rights groups called on the U.S. Congress in February to pass legislation requiring electronic voting machines to have printers attached, as a way to audit the touch-screen results. The lack of a paper trail for many e-voting machines was only one problem among many during the 2006 U.S. elections, said speakers at the recent Elections: Looking Forward conference, sponsored by Common Cause, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and other groups.
Many of the problems attributed to e-voting machines were caused by a lack of training for poll workers or administrative mistakes, says Efrain Escobedo, director of voter engagement at the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. Poll workers observed by his group didn’t know how to change the paper in machines with paper trails or didn’t know how to reboot machines, he says.
Several speakers called on Congress to pass the Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act, which would require paper trail printouts with touch-screen e-voting machines. Representative Rush Holt, a New Jersey Democrat, introduced the bill Feb. 5, after a similar piece of legislation failed to pass during the 2005-06 congressional session. The Holt bill has 183 co-sponsors, close to half of the House of Representatives.
Congress needs to act in the next six to eight months for the legislation to affect the 2008 elections, says Ralph Neas, president and chief executive officer of People for the American Way, an advocacy group. Neas pointed to the 2006 vote in Sarasota Country, Fla., where e-voting machines did not record a vote from more than 18,000 people in a congressional race decided by less than 400 votes.
Not all speakers agreed that Congress should move ahead immediately with paper trails. Jim Dickson, vice president for government affairs at the American Association of People with Disabilities, says it’s too late for Congress to mandate paper trail ballots by the 2008 presidential election.
But many voters now question e-voting systems, adds Melanie Campbell, executive director and CEO of the Coalition for Black Civic Participation. “The reality is voters are losing confidence in the system,” she says.