Several US states not ready for accurate e-voting - report

Several US states still are not doing all they can to ensure the accuracy of votes over electronic voting machines and 10 states received inadequate grades in three of four categories of safeguards, a report from three voting security advocacy groups said.

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Several US states still are not doing all they can to ensure the accuracy of votes over electronic voting machines and 10 states received inadequate grades in three of four categories of safeguards, a report from three voting security advocacy groups said.

The report predicted that somewhere in the US, voting systems will fail on 4 November, election day. The report was released by Common Cause, Verified Voting and the Brennan Centre for Justice at the New York University School of Law.

On Election Day "voting systems will fail somewhere in the United States in one or more jurisdictions in the country," the report said. "Unfortunately, we don't know where. For this reason, it is imperative that every state prepare for system failures."

State protections against voting fraud and e-voting machine failure have improved greatly since the last US presidential election, in 2004, said Pamela Smith, president of Verified Voting. But several states still refuse to take basic precautions to protect the integrity of voting systems, she said.

"There are some folks who still don't get it," Smith said.

Others took issue with the report, saying states will be ready for Election Day.

"We are prepared and we continue to make preparations for the general election," said Chris Whitmire, a spokesman for the State Election Commission in South Carolina, a state that flunked three of the four voting security categories in Thursday's report. "We will be adequately prepared."

The report comes too late for changes to be made this year, added David Beirne, executive director of the Election Technology Council, a trade group representing e-voting machine vendors.

"With less than three weeks to go, the election has already begun and now is not the time for new procedures to be adopted," Beirne said. "It is also unlikely that the Department of Justice would grant approval for such changes this close to the election. While well intentioned, the report and recommendations may only drive fear for the voting public, which is not productive at this stage in the process."

The report also fails to recognise steps taken by county election officials to ensure against fraud or errors, Beirne said. "The call for procedural safeguards has been recognized by the elections community in recent years and there is little question that the state and local election officials will be prepared for Nov. 4," he added.

The report points out several shortcomings, but most states are headed in the right direction, Smith said. "Over the next couple of years, I see significant improvement," she said.

In 2004, only eight states had requirements in place for election systems to have paper backups, and a few more used paper backups during the election, Smith said.

This year, 32 states have either voter-verifiable paper ballots, or voter-verifiable paper record printers connected to voting machines statewide, the report said. Four states - Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Tennessee - have laws that take effect in 2009 or 2010 requiring voter-verified paper records.

Arkansas, Colourado and Mississippi have paper in most counties. The District of Columbia and Florida have paper ballot systems in all counties, along with paperless DREs, and Florida will eliminate paperless systems altogether by 2012, the report said.

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