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US bill proposes e-voting paper trail

Critics say it would raise the cost of machines

A group of US lawmakers have introduced a bill that would require electronic touch-screen voting machines to allow for a so-called "voter verifiable" paper trail.

The Voting Integrity and Verification Act, introduced this week, would require printed ballots that voters could check after they use an electronic voting machine. The act, introduced by Senator John Ensign, would add clarifying language to the Help American Vote Act, passed by the US Congress in 2002 after complaints about paper ballots during the 2000 presidential election.

Ensign, who counts four Democrats and three Republicans as his cosponsors on the bill, notes that Nevada required a voter-verified paper trail during the 2004 presidential election.

"Not only did our election go off without a hitch, but voters across Nevada left the polls with the knowledge that their vote would be counted and that their vote would be counted accurately," Ensign says in a statement. "Every American should have that same confidence."

A voter-verified paper trail would allow voters to review a printout of their ballots and correct any errors before leaving the voting booth. The printout would stay at the polling place for use in any recounts.

The goal of the new legislation is to correct some states' misinterpretations of the Help America Vote Act, that printouts are necessary only after polls are closed, Ensign says.

Critics of e-voting have complained that voters using electronic touchscreens cannot know if their votes are being properly cast, and recounts cannot be conducted, without some kind of voter-verifiable paper trail in place.

In November's general election, e-voting machine problems caused about 4400 votes to be lost in one North Carolina county and gave US President George Bush more than 3800 extra votes in an Ohio county. E-voting observers noted hundreds of other problems across the country.

The lost votes in Carteret County, North Carolina, were due to confusion over how many votes could be stored on e-voting machines made by UniLect. The state Board of Elections in December ordered a new election in the county.

The Information Technology Association of America, which has defended the security of e-voting on behalf of machine vendors, expressed opposition to Ensign's legislation. The ITAA and e-voting machine vendors have suggested adding printers will raise the cost of machines, and they could jam or break and cause long lines at voting booths.

"[A paper trail] does present certain challenges in terms of the user experience at the polls," says Bob Cohen, senior vice president at ITAA. "It's not a perfect solution, and we think legislation is not the way to go."

If e-voting machine buyers want paper-trail options, vendors will comply, Cohen says.

Some e-voting machine vendors have begun offering paper-trail printers. Nevada used machines from Sequoia Voting Systems, partly because Sequoia offered paper-trail technology. In January, Diebold Election Systems announced it planned to offer printers that could attach to its existing e-voting machines.


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