E-voting report: Several states still vulnerable

Several states still do not have adequate election safeguards in place, according to a new report.

Several U.S. states still are not doing all they can to ensure the accuracy of votes over electronic voting machines and 10 states received inadequate grades in three of four categories of safeguards, a report from three voting security advocacy groups said.

Somewhere in the U.S., voting systems will fail on Election Day Nov. 4, predicted the report, released Thursday by Common Cause, Verified Voting and the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law.

On Election Day "voting systems will fail somewhere in the United States in one or more jurisdictions in the country," the report said. "Unfortunately, we don't know where. For this reason, it is imperative that every state prepare for system failures."

State protections against voting fraud and e-voting machine failure have improved greatly since the last U.S. presidential election, in 2004, said Pamela Smith, president of Verified Voting. But several states still refuse to take basic precautions to protect the integrity of voting systems, she said.

"There are some folks who still don't get it," Smith said.

The report details which states have not taken precautions against fraud or technical errors associated with e-voting machines and other voting systems:

-- Ten states -- Colorado, Delaware, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Jersey, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia -- received failing grades in three of four voting security areas.

-- Of the 24 states using direct recording electronic (DRE) machines, only three -- California, Indiana and Ohio -- get satisfactory grades in all four categories, the report said. Colorado, Delaware, Louisiana, Nevada, Texas, Utah, Virginia and West Virginia have no state-mandated requirement for emergency paper ballots to be available in precincts that use voting machines, in the case of voting machine failure.

-- Nine states -- Alabama, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, New Jersey, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and Virginia -- have requirements for ballot accounting that "fall far short" of the groups' recommended best practices.

-- Eighteen states, including Florida, New York, Texas and Virginia, do not have adequate requirements in place for paper-record backups to e-voting or other nonpaper voting methods. Voter verified paper records allow states to conduct recounts of voting machine totals, supporters say.

-- Another 27 states, including New York, Michigan, Virginia and Georgia, do not have adequate provisions in place for conducting post-election audits of voting results, the report said.

Others took issue with the report, saying states will be ready for Election Day.

"We are prepared and we continue to make preparations for the general election," said Chris Whitmire, a spokesman for the State Election Commission in South Carolina, a state that flunked three of the four voting security categories in Thursday's report. "We will be adequately prepared."

The report comes too late for changes to be made this year, added David Beirne, executive director of the Election Technology Council, a trade group representing e-voting machine vendors.

"With less than three weeks to go, the election has already begun and now is not the time for new procedures to be adopted," Beirne said. "It is also unlikely that the Department of Justice would grant approval for such changes this close to the election. While well intentioned, the report and recommendations may only drive fear for the voting public, which is not productive at this stage in the process."

The report also fails to recognize steps taken by county election officials to ensure against fraud or errors, Beirne said. "The call for procedural safeguards has been recognized by the elections community in recent years and there is little question that the state and local election officials will be prepared for Nov. 4," he added.

The report points out several shortcomings, but most states are headed in the right direction, Smith said. "Over the next couple of years, I see significant improvement," she said.

In 2004, only eight states had requirements in place for election systems to have paper backups, and a few more used paper backups during the election, Smith said.

This year, 32 states have either voter-verifiable paper ballots, or voter-verifiable paper record printers connected to voting machines statewide, the report said. Four states -- Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Tennessee -- have laws that take effect in 2009 or 2010 requiring voter-verified paper records.

Arkansas, Colorado and Mississippi have paper in most counties. The District of Columbia and Florida have paper ballot systems in all counties, along with paperless DREs, and Florida will eliminate paperless systems altogether by 2012, the report said.

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