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Concerns continue to shadow e-voting
Published: 2008-11-03

As the United States readies for a historic presidential election, voting and security experts continue to push for better checks on the machines that will record and tally up the ballots.

Over the past month, scattered reports of electronic voting machines that have "flipped votes" -- marking a vote for a different candidate than the one selected -- has worried some election experts. The issues have been reported in Colorado, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia, although an online video that appeared to show the problem has been assailed as misleading, according to Wired News.

Election officials have told voters to not be disheartened by the reports and to check that their vote is correctly recorded at the polls. West Virginia's Secretary of State Betty Ireland advised voters to double-check their ballots and not to be afraid to ask for help.

"For those citizens who have not yet voted, Secretary Ireland advises those voters to notify a poll clerk if they experience any problem at the voting booth, to ask for help, and to keep that poll clerk there until the voter is satisfied they have cast their vote as they intended," Ireland's office said in a statement (pdf). "This may include moving to another machine, if that is the voter’s wish."

Election experts continue to call for audits that are machine independent as the best way to catch flaws and fraud at the ballot box.

Only a third of the states do a truly meaningful audit following the election, Pam Smith, president of Verified Voting, told reporters in September. Because uncovering evidence of fraud could lead to dissension and distrust among voters, some election officials have decided that its better to not know about fraud, Smith said.

"The thought that it's better not to know is really a danger to our democratic system," she said, underscoring that audits do not really cost that much. "One election director in California estimated that it's pennies on the dollar."

States rushed to adopt electronic voting machines following the close election in 2000, which saw hanging chads and a Supreme Court challenge to the result. Yet, while some voting-machine makers pushed touchscreen machines that had almost no checks on the integrity of the systems, computer-security experts have called for voter-verifiable and machine-independent methods of recounting the vote.

No matter which party wins Tuesday's election, the outcome will make history: Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama could be the United States' first African-American president, while Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin would be its first female vice president.

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Posted by: Robert Lemos
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