Are design issues to blame for e-vote 'flipping'?

Vendors say no, but critics say e-voting devices aren't designed for most voters

And though it didn't show up in the design stages of the eSlate, a usability issue did once turn up in California, he said. "In one county, sometimes people were relaxing and leaning on the 'cast ballot' button and casting their ballot unintentionally."

To fix that, election officials increased voter education efforts, reminding them not to lean on the machines while casting their votes, he said.

A spokesman for Sequoia Voting Systems could not be reached for comment.

David Beirne, the executive director of the Election Technology Council, a trade group that represents e-voting vendors, said that "most if not all of them did some sort of usability testing before production."

But one of the requirements for the touch-screen machines -- high-sensitivity to touch so they can be used by physically-impaired or disabled voters who want to vote on their own -- could cause some of the problems experienced by able-bodied voters, Beirne said. "Sensitivity is tied to the [voting] actions that are structured for voters with disabilities, so if you have loose clothing or jewelry, it can make [an errant] selection," Beirne said. "They are designed to be sensitive."

When such incidents are brought to the attention of election officials, they usually try to replicate it so they can determine what caused it, he said. "Critics call it 'vote-flipping.' That term is used by e-voting critics to mean that the machine is trying to work independently of a voter's wishes" in a manipulative way. Instead, such problems usually go back to the local procedures that are used to verify proper machine touch-screen calibrations throughout election day.

"That's why there are procedures to follow in response to it if reports come in" about problems, Beirne said.

The Election Technology Council Wednesday posted on its Web site a list of tips and reminders for voters about using the machines.

Representatives of several e-voting watchdog groups, however, vigorously dispute the vendors on these issues. Lillie Coney, coordinator of the National Committee for Voting Integrity, a project of the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), said the main problem is that existing standards for e-voting machine designs have been voluntary, yielding designs that don't work well for all voters.

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