Group tallies more than 1,100 e-voting glitches

U.S. voters calling in to a toll-free number had reported more than 1,100 separate incidents of problems with electronic voting machines and other voting technologies by late Tuesday during the nationwide election.

In more than 30 reported cases, when voters reviewed their choices before finalizing them, an electronic voting machine indicated they had voted for a different candidate.

E-voting backers called the number of reported problems minor in the context of almost 50 million [m] U.S. voters projected to use e-voting machines on Tuesday.

In a majority of cases where machines allegedly recorded a wrong vote, votes were taken away from Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, or a Democratic candidate in another race, and given to Republican President George Bush or another Republican candidate, said Cindy Cohn, legal director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

As of 8:30 p.m. Eastern Time on Tuesday, the U.S. presidential race was too close to call.

In all the cases of misrecorded votes reported to Voteprotect.org, the voters were able to change their votes back to the candidates they wanted before casting the final ballot, Cohn said. But in some cases, voters had to correct their ballots multiple times, and in other cases, voters may not have noticed that their votes were miscast, Cohn said.

"We're only hearing from people who caught it," Cohn said during a press conference hosted by a coalition of nonpartisan groups that have questioned the security of e-voting machines. "It gives us this uneasy feeling we're seeing the tip of the iceberg."

The reports of misvoting happened on a variety of brands of e-voting machines, Cohn said. In some cases, e-voting machines may have misread voter intentions when the voter accidentally brushed the computer touch screen, she said.

The Information Technology Association of America (ITAA), representing e-voting machine vendors, called the number of reported e-voting problems insignificant compared to the millions of voters using the systems during Tuesday's election.

Unlike with some other voting systems, such as paper ballots, voters using e-voting machines were able to catch misvotes before casting their ballots, said Bob Cohen, senior vice president at ITAA. "The machines helped them catch the error," Cohen said in response to the reports. "With other forms of equipment, that probably can't happen. It's a great credit to the technology."

Most complaints during Tuesday's election referred to long lines and other problems not related to e-voting technology, Cohen added. Most reports "have very little to do with the performance of the voting machines themselves," he said.

Among the problems reported Tuesday were e-voting machines not booting in Orleans Parish, Louisiana, which caused polls to open several hours late, said the EFF's Cohn. The EFF and other groups filed a lawsuit in Louisiana Tuesday to keep the polls there open later, she said.

Reports of late poll openings came from six to eight precincts in Orleans Parish, Cohn said.

Multiple telephone calls to the Orleans Parish Board of Elections were not answered late Tuesday, and the telephone line to the Louisiana Secretary of State's Office was busy. A representative of Sequoia Voting Systems, the vendor of the e-voting machines in Orleans Parish, didn't immediately return a telephone call.

Elsewhere, 21 ES&S iVotronic machines in Broward County, Florida, failed during the day, said Gisela Salas, deputy supervisor of elections for the county, which was at the center of a presidential election controversy in 2000. However, the county had 5,283 iVotronic machines in place, and the county was prepared for a small number of malfunctions, Salas said. The votes on the malfunctioning machines were recovered, she added.

"There's nothing truly wrong with the machines," Salas said. "We have not lost any votes."

Not all of the more than 1,100 technology-related incidents reported to Voteprotect.org as of 8:30 p.m. Eastern Time were related to e-voting machines. Some related to optical scanners or other technologies, said Will Doherty, executive director of the Verified Voting Foundation.

But Doherty and other e-voting critics watching the growing number of incidents suggested that only a small fraction of voters with problems reported them to Voteprotect.org. It may be a number of days before e-voting critics know the extent of the problems, said Ed Felten, a Princeton University computer science professor.

Voters may not know for days about problems such as voting machine numbers not matching the number of voters counted at a precinct, Felten said. E-voting critics may file open-records requests after the election to look for those types of problems, Cohn said.

"The problems I, for one, worry about are the problems that are not yet evident," Felten said.

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Grant Gross

IDG News Service

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