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New Worries Abound about Reliability of US Voting Machines
Published on Friday, November 3, 2006 by Agence France Presse
New Worries Abound about Reliability of US Voting Machines
by Stephanie Griffith

Many US voters are worried that widespread problems next week with new electronic voting machines could lead to a repeat of past ballot count nightmares during the high-stakes midterm elections.

Maryland's Republican governor Robert Ehrlich is among the most prominent skeptics of the new electronic voting machines that have been put into widespread use since the bitterly-contested 2000 presidential election.

During Maryland's botched primary vote in September, polling stations across the state failed to open on time, while many of the new electronic voting machines crashed.

Ehrlich, who is up for for reelection in Tuesday's vote, said the technical hitches convinced him to cast his vote via mail-in ballot, and the Maryland governor has urged voters in the state to follow his lead.

"When in doubt, go paper, go low-tech," he declared after the state's problem-filled primary where election officials spent more than a week counting ballots.

Kimball Brace, head of the political consulting firm US Election Data Services, said voter fears about similar technical glitches at polling stations across the United States are not entirely misplaced.

"We've got more than a third of the nation voting on something new this year, and history has shown that the first time somebody uses a new piece of voting equipment, that's the time that they are going to have problems," he said.

High-tech electronic voting machines were supposed to help do away with the sorts of problems that ensued after the hard-fought 2000 presidential election in which then-Texas Governor George W. Bush eked out the narrowest of victories over vice president Al Gore.

Back then, legions of vote-counters painstakingly handchecked thousands of paper ballots over weeks before Bush was declared the winner.

Officials say that nearly 40 percent of voters on Election Day next week will be using paperless touch-screen machines that have raised concerns among many experts nationwide as they leave no paper trail and are vulnerable to hackers.

An explosive documentary debuting Thursday claims that new hi-tech computers that are now in use at more than 80 percent of US polling places are even less reliable than the ageing punch card machines they replaced.

"Computerized systems counting the votes in America's public elections are not only fallible, but also vulnerable to undetectable hacking -- from local school board contests to the presidential race," according to the documentary by the HBO cable network, which concluded that many electronic voting machines are insecure and "hacker-friendly."

"If the voting process is not secure, neither is America's democracy," the cable network declared in promotional materials touting its film "Hacking Democracy."

Three companies -- Diebold, ES and S, and Sequoia -- are responsible for gathering around 80 percent of US votes, and about one-third of all precincts are using their machines for the first time this election, leading to fears that problems encountered in Maryland could surface across the country next week.

Diebold Election Systems have demanded that HBO pull the film, alleging that the documentary is inaccurate and unfair. The company has refused.

Meanwhile, a poll by the Gallup organization last month showed that just one in four Americans is "very confident" that their votes will be accurately counted.

A Pew Research poll found that many African-American voters also are losing faith that their votes will be accurately counted. Just 30 percent say they are very confident that their votes next week will be counted correctly, down from 47 percent in the 2004 election.

Concern about the integrity of US voting machines was heightened this week after revelations that Venezuela may be part owner of a leading American manufacturer of electronic voting machines.

The US government has launched an investigations that the Oakland, California-based Sequoia Voting Systems, Inc. has ties to the government of leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

The parent company of the firm has vehemently denied the charges and promised to fully cooperate with the probe.

Copyright © 2006 Agence France Presse


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