Evoting critics take message to Washington

About 200 citizen lobbyists called for the US Congress torequire that electronic voting machines include paper-trail recordswhen the group descended on Washington, DC, this week.

The activists called on Congress to move ahead on a bill calledthe Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act, introduced inFebruary 2005, but stalled in the House of Representativescommittee. The bill would require all e-voting machines used infederal elections to include a voter-verified paper trail, and itrequires the U.S. Election Assistance Commission to conduct randomhand counts of e-voting machine records.

As many U.S. states move toward electronic voting systems sinceproblems in Florida with paper ballots in the 2000 presidentialelection, critics of e-voting have questioned the accuracy of thenewer technology. Without a paper trail, e-voting machines could bemanipulated, and there would be little chance of catching thefraud, 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 notproduce a printout of each vote that can be used to double-checkthe machine’s results. In two days on Capitol Hill, they planned tomeet with about 100 lawmakers and deliver a petition with more than50,000 signatures calling on the House Administration Committee toact on the verified-voting bill.

The bill, sponsored by Representative Rush Holt, a New JerseyDemocrat, has 169 cosponsors, more than a third of the members ofthe House.

Supporters of e-voting machines say the devices have severalsafety mechanisms in place to protect against voter fraud. E-votingmachines are typically stand-alone machines not connected to theInternet and access to them is limited, supporters say.

Despite some reports of e-voting problems during the 2004general 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 urgedCongress to move ahead with the bill.

Backers of paperless e-voting machines are “choosing technologyover verifiability and accountability,” said A.J. Devies, a boardmember of the Florida Fair Elections Coalition and Center. “It’stime to pull the curtain away from the little man who says, ‘pay noattention to the man behind the screen.'”

Devies, who uses a wheelchair scooter to walk long distancesbecause of past back and nerve injuries, has opposed the NationalFederation of the Blind in its effort to speed adoption of e-votingmachines. E-voting machines make it possible for blind people tovote without assistance, the group says.

But technology does not guarantee accuracy, said Devies, awebmaster and former computer programmer. “Just because people aredisabled does not mean that technology is the answer,” she said.”I’ve learned from everyone else’s [programming] mistakes, as wellas my own.”

Holt and three Republican cosponsors of his bill praised thecoalition members for their involvement in the issue. “You’restanding up for the central act of democracy — voting,” Holt said.”Without a voter-verified paper trail, a recount ismeaningless.”

The I Count Coalition is supported by Common Cause, theElectronic Frontier Foundation, VerifiedVoting.org and severalother groups.

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