By the 2008 presidential election, voters around the country are likely to see sweeping changes in how they cast their ballots and how those ballots are counted, including an end to the use of most electronic voting machines without a paper trail, federal voting officials and legislators say.
New federal guidelines, along with legislation given a strong chance to pass in Congress next year, will probably combine to make the paperless voting machines obsolete, the officials say. States and counties that bought the machines will have to modify them to hook up printers, at federal expense, while others are planning to scrap the machines and buy new ones.
Motivated in part by voting problems during the midterm elections last month, the changes are a result of a growing skepticism among local and state election officials, federal legislators and the scientific community about the reliability and security of the paperless touch-screen machines used by about 30 percent of American voters.
The changes also mean that the various forms of vote-counting software used around the country — most of which are protected by their manufacturers for reasons of trade secrecy — will for the first time be inspected by federal authorities, and the code could be made public. There will also be greater federal oversight on how new machines are tested before they arrive at polling stations.
“In the next two years I think we’ll see the kinds of sweeping changes that people expected to see right after the 2000 election,” said Doug Chapin, director of electionline.org, a nonpartisan election group. “The difference now is that we have moved from politics down to policies.”
Many of the paperless machines were bought in a rush to overhaul the voting system after the disputed presidential election in 2000, which was marred by hanging chads. But concerns have been growing that in a close election those machines give election workers no legitimate way to conduct a recount or to check for malfunctions or fraud.
Several counties around the country are already considering scrapping their voting systems after problems this year, and last week federal technology experts concluded for the first time that paperless touch-screen machines could not be secured from tampering.
Because election technology is changing so quickly, it is not clear that the new requirements, particularly the demand for a paper trail, will stand the test of time, and advocates for change are already worried about a jury-rigged solution for 2008.
“We’re confident that the accuracy and integrity of voting is going to take some big steps forward with the legislation in Congress right now,” said Warren Stewart, policy director of VoteTrustUSA, an advocacy group that prefers optical scanners to touch screens. “But our big concern is to avoid replacing old problems with new ones.”
Friday, December 08, 2006
"Changes Are Expected in Voting by 2008 Election"