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E-voting still worries skeptics

The Denver Post covers the same issues that are making headlines here in Ireland. Fred Brown on the rollback of e-voting in the US.

Colorado had three presidential primaries – in 1992, 1996 and 2000 – and then gave it up as expensive and ineffective. But the state still has another kind of primary, and this coming Friday is an important date for anyone who wants to be part of deciding who gets on the ballot.

Friday is the deadline to be registered as a Republican or Democrat if you want to participate in your party’s precinct caucus two months later, on Tuesday, April 13.

The precinct caucuses begin the nominating process for state elections. Delegates are chosen for county, district and then state nominating conventions where the parties pick their candidates for offices including the legislature, Congress and the U.S. Senate. Delegates to the state conventions, in June, determine who runs in the August primary elections.

Maybe Friday the 13th isn’t an especially auspicious time to launch the political season. But for the superstitious, and for the suspicious, it may be a spookily apt coincidence.

There’s a movement afoot that thinks what’s happening with elections is worse than spooky. It worries that new electronic voting uses secret software and offers no voter reliability or protection against insider fraud.

The skeptics are still spooked by the 2000 presidential election, when Florida, beset with ballot confusion, decided the victory for George W. Bush by only 537 votes.

It suggests the political left is as susceptible to conspiracy theory as the right. One e-mailer hints that President Bush is out to steal another election. On a calmer website, I found only one self-identified Republican among 4,500 supporters. Most were Democrats, some Greens and a few Libertarians.

After Florida, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act in an effort to increase voting security and voter confidence, but the skeptical and paranoid argue it will make voting less reliable.

I was part of Colorado’s HAVA advisory committee. We talked about ways to get out the message that the new law would make elections better.

But some people aren’t buying it.

Boulder County commissioners decided last week to return to paper ballots. Critics still aren’t mollified, because a computer will count the paper ballots.

“Electronic voting is a whole new way to steal elections,” said a University of Colorado math professor, Marty Walter.

The New York Times expressed alarm in a lead editorial Jan. 18:

“If this year’s presidential election is at all close, there is every reason to believe that there will be another national trauma over who the rightful winner is, this time compounded by troubling new questions about the reliability of electronic voting machines,” the Times said.

It cited a recent special legislative election in Florida, in which touch-screen machines reported 137 blank ballots. The second-place finisher, who lost by 12 votes, said: “People do not go to the polls in a one-issue election and not vote.”

Fortune magazine named paperless voting the worst technology of 2003. Critics note that executives of Diebold, a major voting-machine manufacturer, are big Bush campaign contributors.

A guy named Eric A. Smith in Tokyo is sending out doomsday e-mails. He writes, “The import of this threat cannot be overstated – the issue is very real and very grave. The chilling, incontrovertible fact is that America’s elections are being silently, deliberately and permanently compromised … .”

A website called warns that “Paperless electronic voting systems are failing us. Worse yet, resistance from the elections official community is astonishing!”

In Colorado, Secretary of State Donetta Davidson is not quite so resistant, says spokeswoman Lisa Doran. Davidson is working with the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the National Association of Secretaries of State to develop an electronic system that also makes a permanent, secure record.

For 2004, says Doran, the only HAVA requirement is that punch-card voting machines be scrapped. Some counties already have the touch-screen electronic machines, but the state isn’t pushing other counties to buy them.

“We’re not jumping in right now,” she said.

But the doubts continue. Legislation is pending in Congress to slow the switch to e-voting. Here, too. Last week, state Sen. Maryanne “Moe” Keller, D-Wheat Ridge, introduced a resolution calling paperless voting “offensive to the desires and concerns of [Colorado’s] citizens and their democracy, and a dangerous threat to election security and accuracy, and to the confidence and trust of people in their elections.”

One thought on “E-voting still worries skeptics”

  1. I wish to add my concerns about e-voting without a verified “hard copy” record. It is no exageration to say that this could be the end of America as we once knew it. The outcome of this practice will be either no one will vote at all or all out civil war may ensue. I am very pessimistic about the future of the USA without verified records for each vote.
    I just got back from casting an e-vote with (no paper record) for the co primary in Jeffco. I believe we have lost the right to vote now.

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