Legislature urged to ban touch-screen voting

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(Host)Secretary of State Deb Markowitz wants the Legislature to ban the use of touch-screen voting machines in Vermont. Markowitz says that unless changes are made, the computers can be manipulated to report fraudulent ballot results.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Computerized voting machines have received a lot of attention following the ballot problems that emerged in the 2000 presidential election in Florida. In the last year, Congress has allocated hundreds of millions of dollars to help states update their voting technology and half of all states are expected to install computer voting machines by the November election.

However as states rush to purchase these devices, a number of groups are raising questions about the security and integrity of the systems. There are concerns that the computer software could be manipulated to transfer a vote from one candidate to another, and since there’s no paper ballot, recounts would rely on the original software.

Markowitz is backing legislation that would require all computerized voting machines to also print out a paper ballot that could be used for recounts, or audits:

(Markowitz) “I think there’s a very real concern that voters have that, do we want our elections to be run on machinery that could be tampered with? A bad actor could come in and put in some sort of program that changes the outcome. But even without that, someone could simply make an error and all of the votes get lost. That’s a problem.”

(Kinzel) Markowitz says there are no communities in Vermont that use computerized voting machines and none are even contemplating buying the devices because they are expensive. About 80 towns do use optical scan machines where voters fill in circles on ballots to mark their voting preferences. Markwitz says these systems are very different from the computer models:

(Markowitz) “And that’s because the machine is simply counting dots. And there could be an error in how the counting is configured, but that’s easily caught by the testing that happens before any machine is used. That being said, because we want to have complete confidence in our system and not have anyone have any doubts at all, we’re asking to have the right to audit the machines.”

(Kinzel) The Senate gave its approval to the legislation last month and it’s currently being reviewed by the House Local Government Committee.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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