Friday, June 10, 2005

An Important Election Safeguard

The New York Times
June 10, 2005
An Important Election Safeguard

There are many problems with American elections, but none more serious than the rise of paperless electronic voting, whose results cannot be trusted. Grass-roots reformers are in the middle of a two-day lobbying blitz on Capitol Hill in support of a House bill that would require that electronic voting machines in federal elections produce voter-verifiable paper records. It is an important measure that should be passed without delay.

Electronic voting has been rolled out nationwide without necessary safeguards. The machines' computers can be programmed to steal votes from one candidate and give them to another. There are also many ways hackers can break in to tamper with the count. Polls show that many Americans do not trust electronic voting in its current form; such doubts are a serious problem in a democracy.

The solution is to require that each machine produce a paper record that can be inspected and verified by the voter. The paper records are then stored, and can be counted after the polls close. If the results on the machine do not match the tally of the paper records, it will be clear that there is a problem.

The states have taken the lead on electronic voting reform. Nineteen states have paper-trail requirements, including major states like California and Ohio. But a federal law is still badly needed. Any state can cast the deciding electoral votes in a presidential election. Voters across the country are entitled to know that the president was elected on machines that can be trusted.

The House resolution, sponsored by Rush Holt, a New Jersey Democrat, would require not only paper trails, but also random audits of the machines' vote counts, and it would ban the use of undisclosed software. The bill, H.R. 550, has 135 co-sponsors, but it needs more support, especially from Republicans.

The lobbying effort that wraps up today - which is supported by groups like Common Cause and the Electronic Frontier Foundation - is aimed at winning that backing. Every member of Congress who cares about American democracy should get behind Mr. Holt's bill.