US readies e-voting systems as election approaches

Many US states switch to paper ballots in continuing migration from touch-screen e-voting machines

Ohio responds to 'EVEREST' report

After a scathing 86-page report on electronic voting was released last December, it looked like big changes would be coming here.

The "EVEREST" report cited security shortcomings and blamed inefficient electronic systems for long lines at polling places. It recommended that the state move to a centralized counting of ballots and replace all voting machines with paper-based optical-scanning equipment.

The legislature, however, didn't act on those recommendations, so state election officials have been working with what they have, said Jeff Ortega, a spokesman for Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner.

"As you remember, long lines were a hallmark of the 2004 election," Ortega said.

So far in the state, 53 counties use electronic touch-screen machines, while 35 counties have optical-scan voting systems. One new provision is that voters have a choice of voting on paper ballots if they choose not to use a touch-screen machine, Ortega said. Having supplies of paper ballots on hand, can also help prevent long lines at the polls in the event of machine problems or other delays, he said. "If there are machine problems ... voters will be able to keep on voting."

Since the EVEREST report, at least three additional counties -- Cuyahoga, Mercer and Van Wert -- have also moved to optically scanned paper ballots for their elections, Ortega said.

Brunner has also been working on election security for polling places, machines and ballots to improve the state's elections until more can be done to ensure the security and reliability of voting systems, the spokesman said.

During the March presidential primary, 11 counties participated in a pilot program to audit the results of the primary, Ortega said. The plan is to institute the audits statewide for the November election to ensure accuracy.

"Secretary Brunner has never said that electronic touch screens should never be used, but that perhaps there should be another system until the machines can meet the basic security standards that are common in the banking and communications industries," Ortega said.

Meanwhile, Ohio is embroiled in a legal fight with e-voting vendor Premier Election Solutions regarding the vendor's contract performance and problems with dropped votes by the machines in a recent election.

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