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E-voting: Yes or no?

High-tech methods examined at national conference

By Daniel Sieberg
CNN Headline News

high-tech voting
Some benefits of high-tech voting are that it's easier for people with disabilities, potentially more cost-effective and there's minimization of errors.

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(CNN) -- The U.S. presidential election is less than a year away, but some tech experts have lingering and deep-rooted concerns about the way electronic voting is being handled.

In 2000, several counties used high-tech machines for the first time, such as touch screens, though most places still relied on punch card or paper ballots. During the 2002 election, an increasing number of counties deployed the automated machines, partly in response to the hanging chad debacle in Florida. For example, the entire state of Georgia used machines from a company called Diebold.

Politicians hoped the new devices would save money, make the process more efficient and accurate, and alleviate any discrepancies.

To a certain degree, that happened. But other problems have arisen and the controversy has been re-ignited in the past few months.

Certain voting machine firms have come under fire for alleged flaws in their software, and many tech observers would like to see more rigid standards in place. Others would like a more substantive paper trail of the voting history with each machine. At the center of the debate is the fact that voting companies do not need to reveal their code to outside, independent reviewers because of proprietary protection.

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National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST)

To help bridge the gap, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) will be holding a two-day symposium this week in Gaithersburg, Maryland. NIST falls under the Commerce Department, and this gathering is part of the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA).

Prominent voting and tech experts in attendance include Jim Adler, president and CEO of VoteHere, which makes voting systems; David Dill, computer science professor at Stanford University; and Avi Rubin from Johns Hopkins University, who has highlighted e-voting pitfalls in the past.

Although there is some agreement over the benefits of high-tech voting -- easier for people with disabilities, potentially more cost-effective, minimization of errors, etc. -- there are plenty of issues that need to be addressed.

"There's utter chaos and confusion out there," says Harvard University's Rebecca Mercuri, who will present her concerns on standards during a session Thursday. Mercuri believes the sooner these hurdles are overcome the better.

I'll be there during the conference, and will report on what comes of it. The hope is clearly that all levels of government can better share information and learn about the most effective means for high-tech voting. Will there be a sweeping overhaul of voting technology by November 2004? Maybe not. But this conference is intended as a major step toward responsible and effective voting technology.

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