E-Voting Vendors Seek Credibility
WASHINGTON -- Six vendors of digital election systems have formed a trade group to address lingering questions about security and ethics in the electronic voting industry.
The vendors have teamed with the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) to launch the Election Technology Council (ETC). The new trade group plans to write a code of ethics and review security procedures in the industry, members say.
"The ballot box is sacred to our American democracy," says David Hart, chairman of ETC and chairman of Hart InterCivic. "We're now talking about sweeping changes to devices people use to vote.... It's not surprising questions have arisen about the ability of this technology to support so heavy a responsibility. We welcome these questions, and we assert our rights as reputable, hard-working elections technology companies, to answer those questions in an honest and forthright manner."
The ETC will aim for the highest ethics, Hart says. "The number one priority of the organization is security and trust."
In 2002, the U.S. Congress passed the Help America Vote Act, which provided $3.6 billion to upgrade voting systems across the U.S. But many critics have raised questions about the security of electronic voting systems, and some question how voting machines can be audited if voting fraud is suspected. Other critics have raised questions about board members of Diebold Election Systems, an ETC member, contributing money to the Republican Party.
In July, researchers from Johns Hopkins University and Rice University suggested that flaws in Diebold machines could be used to tamper with elections. Late this year, Diebold threatened to sue students who posted to the Internet company memos detailing questions about security in the company's voting machines. Earlier this month, Diebold announced it had decided against suing.
A Diebold representative participated in the ETC announcement Tuesday. He declined to discuss the security of his company's products, referring such inquiries to a corporate spokesperson.
ETC members defend the security of electronic voting, saying it is no less secure than counting paper ballots by machine. Electronic voting will virtually eliminate "overvoting," where a voter chooses more than one candidate in the same race, rendering the ballot invalid, they say. Electronic voting machines will also warn voters if they haven't voted in all places on their ballots, ETC members add.
Nearly 8 percent of voters who used paper ballots in Los Angeles County overvoted during California's October gubernatorial election, added Harris Miller, ITAA president. But only 0.3 percent of voters in the country who used electronic voting machines overvoted, he says. Electronic voting machines will help avoid problems like the recounts in Florida after the 2000 presidential election, caused by questions over paper ballots, Miller says.
"The voters have a right to expect that their voting systems are fast, easy to use, accurate, and safe," says William F. Welsh II, board member of Election Systems & Software. "As a country leading the world in the delivery of high-tech solutions, we can surely do better than a system that asks voters to use a stick to punch a hole through a piece of paper."
Many misconceptions exist about the security of electronic voting machines, ETC members say. Activist groups such as BlackBoxVoting.org suggest electronic voting opens up new ways to tamper with ballots using technological means. Hart defends electronic voting, saying election equipment is heavily regulated, and the fragmentation of the industry will keep one vendor from throwing elections. Electronic voting systems are no more vulnerable than electronic scanners of paper ballots, he adds.
ETC members say they will also provide printouts of votes to voters who want them, giving election officials another way to check ballots.
In fact, California will not allow use of voting systems that cannot provide a "voter-verified paper audit trail," according to a recent order from the secretary of state.
"There's so much scrutiny, it would almost be impossible to subvert an election," Welsh says.
Other goals of the ETC, which is open to any electronic voting systems vendor, are to create standards and certifications for the industry. Other founding members are Advanced Voting Solutions, Sequoia Voting Systems, and Unilect.