Wolf Blitzer declared recently on CNN that in the primaries, "some states are already finding serious problems with their electronic voting machines, and they are ready to give E-voting a grade of F."
On Election Day 2004, the Verified Voting Foundation had more than 500 reports of E-voting problems, including malfunctioning machines, ill-trained poll workers and an inadequate supply of terminals.
The lever machines of the past had problems at times with preserving votes, but after being replaced in some places with punch cards, decades went by with little demand for any changes.
Now, with electronic voting, we have poll workers loading paper backward in printers, blank audit trails, crumpling of ballots, unprinted or text missing in ballots. Voters have problems with touch screens that misinterpret their finger movements. Machines sometimes break down because they were cheaply made.
There is no federal oversight of the manufacture of voting machines. The vendors who sell the systems are also paid to train the workers, design the ballots and repair broken machines for years on end. Right now, the biggest threats to elections are incompetence, error and unreliability rather than the rigging conspiracies some people fear.
Most software firms regard their "source code," the programs that run their machines, as a trade secret. But voter-rights groups consider this "black box" culture of secrecy the biggest problem with voting machines. Vendors pay for testing themselves, but the public is unable to find out how the tests are conducted. Many states don't even question the results.
The solution? All "direct-recording" electronic voting machines should be banned at once and replaced with optical-scan or other reliable paper-trail equipment. Then people must be trained to verify the counts. Election law requires votes to be counted by people, in public and posted publicly.
If there isn't time to get the new equipment before November, then other methods, like mail-in and paper-ballot distribution at polling places must be used. A bill has been introduced to ban the use of touch-screen voting by 2012 by Sens. Bill Nelson of Florida and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.
Since we've recently had elections with very slim margins, no undocumented totals should have any part in presidential or congressional voting this year.
There must be provisional ballots available for all who come to the wrong polling place or lack the right documentation. If a polling place is having problems, workers must let the authorities know about them in time to get them fixed.
Ample time should be provided for the results to be announced. The media frequently ask for tallies without considering that it takes time to make sure everything is added up correctly.
The more people know about computers, the more terrified they are that they are ruining elections. Trying to get by with inadequate systems will lead to more expense in the long run. The recounts, lawsuits and confusion could end up costing far more than the funds set aside for those purposes. We should no longer tolerate missing votes in the thousands and millions.
Write or call your congressional representative to support H.R. 5036, the Holt Bill, the Emergency Election Assistance for Secure Elections Act. It will provide the funds to properly fund a secure election in November.
Suspicions that our elections aren't fair and secure can't be tolerated this time around. The stakes are too high. *
Ellen Kadransky is a political activist in Upper Darby.
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