History Doomed to Repeat Itself?

Election '04

The nascent Election Assistance Commission (EAC) -- created in an attempt to avoid a repeat of the 2000 election debacle -- held its first meeting on electronic voting this week. Unfortunately, the commission is "so woefully underfunded it can't be expected to forestall widespread voting machine problems, which would cast doubt on the election's integrity." To date the Bush administration has provided only $1.2 million of the $10 million appropriated by Congress. The funding shortfall has "forced the EAC to abandon or delay much of its intended mission." For example, according to a report it released Friday, the commission "won't be able to develop a national system for testing voting machines." Moreover, most of the $3.9 billion in federal money designated to help states improve their voting systems for the 2004 election has yet to be distributed.

In light of security and accuracy concerns, the California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley "withdrew his approval of electronic voting machines throughout the state." Ten of the 14 counties that were set to use electronic systems can now "reapply for certification if they meet 23 new security conditions." But four counties that were using equipment made by Diebold Elections systems "are banned from using their touch-screens in November." Shelley found "Diebold's persistent and aggressive marketing led to installation in a number of counties of touchscreen systems that were neither tested, qualified at the federal level, nor certified at the state level." Diebold is now under investigation for allegedly lying to Secretary of State officials.

Now under investigation for fraud in California, Diebold CEO Walden O'Dell wrote in a fundraising letter for President Bush last August that he is "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year." O'Dell is a Pioneer for Bush's reelection campaign - which means he has already raised at least $100,000 on behalf of President Bush.

The dramatic actions in California were prompted by significant problems in the state's March presidential primary. In San Diego County, machines manufactured by Diebold malfunctioned, "causing 55% of the county's polling places to stay open late and preventing an unknown number of voters from casting ballots." In Orange County, machines made by Hart InterCivic issued the wrong ballots to some voters causing them to "cast ballots in races in which they were ineligible and...[preventing them] from voting in races that affected them."

The March 2 California presidential primary wasn't the only time that there have been problems with electronic voting systems. In a special election for a Florida state legislator in January "134 people who used the iVotronic touch-screen machines didn't have a vote recorded in an election won by 12 votes." In a 2003 election in Georgia, "touch-screen machines registered 'yes' when voters voted 'no'" -- voters were advised by poll workers to cast the opposite of their intended vote. In the Maryland 2004 presidential primary, "an unknown number of votes were cast on touch-screen machines manufactured by Diebold Inc. that presented the wrong candidate when the font was magnified."

According to Johns Hopkins University computer scientist Aviel D. Rubin, the central problem with electronic voting is "there is no way for voters to verify that their votes were recorded correctly, there is no way to publicly count the votes, (and) in the case of a controversial election, meaningful recounts are impossible." Shelly promised in California "there will be a paper trail for every single vote cast." Fifteen states are considering legislation to require paper receipts for electronic voting. A paper receipt of each vote counted by an electronic voting machine would create a " tangible way to check their tallies."

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