Other States May Follow Vermont’s Lead in Banning Touch-Screen Voting

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(Host) A decision by a number of states to use computerized voting systems for this year’s presidential election has become controversial because of the lack of security in the machines. Vermont lawmakers banned the use of these systems during the recent Legislature, and it’s possible that some smaller states may follow Vermont’s lead.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) It’s estimated that 30 percent of all voters who participate in the November election will cast their ballot on a touch screen computerized voting device. These systems became very popular following the problems that developed in Florida in the 2000 presidential election and a number of states have purchased their touch screen machines using new federal election reform funds.

A number of national groups, including the League of Women Voters, are now opposing the use of these machines because the systems don’t print out any paper verification of how the individual voted. The groups are concerned that the computer’s software could be manipulated to divert votes to certain candidates and that any recounts would have to rely on the original software.

Dan Wallach, who’s an assistant professor of computer science at Rice University in Houston, thinks it’s important to focus on these concerns:

(Wallach) “A very small number of people could mount an effective conspiracy and change the election results and leave very little if any evidence that they had done so. Certainly, historically we’ve seen many examples of U.S. elections that have been documented that people have done illegal things to manipulate the election outcome.”

(Kinzel) Secretary of State Deb Markowitz says she shares these concerns. Markowitz says these systems could be very practical for larger states that provide ballots in multiple languages or for voters with certain disabilities.

The solution to the current controversy, according to Markowitz, is to either to require the computer systems to provide a printed paper ballot that would verify the voter’s intention, or do what Vermont has done – ban the machines altogether:

(Markowitz) “Our voting systems need to be transparent. The voters need to know that their vote counted; they need to be able to feel sure that their vote was counted in the way they intended it to. computerized voting without a voter verified paper trail I think leave the voters still with questions, legitimate questions.”

(Kinzel) Markowitz says the new Vermont law does allow communities to use optical scanning voting systems because voters have to physically mark these ballots in order for them to be read by machines.

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

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