No evoting backup required in Virginia

Virginia, home to a close race likely to determine which party controls the U.S. Senate, has no mechanism for independent audits of electronic-voting machines used in the majority of its counties.

Virginia, using direct-recording electronic (DRE) voting machines in about two-thirds of its 134 voting jurisdictions, has no requirement that e-voting machines have paper trail backups, which can be used to audit the recorded votes on the DREs. As of 1 p.m. EST Wednesday, Democratic challenger James Webb held a lead of less than 7,000 votes over incumbent Republican Senator George Allen, with more than 2.3 million votes cast and 99 percent of precincts reporting results.

If those results remain, Virginia law would allow Allen to ask for a recount, but e-voting critics said that without paper printouts in jurisdictions with e-voting, there will be no effective way to recount the votes. The e-voting machines would spit out the same numbers as they did the first time during a recount.

None of Virginia’s jurisdictions using DREs have paper backups, according to government watchdog Common Cause. A recount could audit absentee ballots or other voting methods used in a handful of jurisdictions.

“In some places, there will be nothing to recount,” said David Dill, founder of e-voting watchdog Verified Voting and a computer science professor at Stanford University.

Virginia has rejected calls from e-voting critics to require voter verified paper trail ballots to back up DRE results, Dill said.

Several Virginia jurisdictions use e-voting machines with a track record of problems, and others use DREs that connect to the Internet, raising security concerns, Dill added.

Virginia was among the top 10 states in which callers reported voting problems to a Common Cause hotline, Common Cause said.

A spokeswoman for the Virginia Board of Elections didn’t immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

Hanging in the balance is not only the Virginia Senate seat, but majority control of the U.S. Senate. Democrats appear to have picked up five Republican seats, and if they win in Virginia, they would take majority control of the chamber. If Allen wins, the Senate would be deadlocked, with 50 Republicans, 48 Democrats and two independents who’ll support Democrats. Republicans would then retain majority control of the chamber, with Vice President Dick Cheney having the tie-breaking vote.

Democrats already have gained majority control of the House of Representatives, picking up at least 28 seats from Republicans. They needed 15 new seats to win the majority.

E-voting watchdog groups reported other problems with e-voting as well. There were significant reports of “vote-flipping,” in which a DRE’s summary page shows voters that they cast their ballots for candidates they didn’t intend to vote for, Common Cause and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) said.

New Jersey was one state where vote-flipping problems were reported, the EFF said. Some voters apparently had problems choosing Republican Senate candidate Tom Kean Jr., who lost his race.

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