Rocky Mountain News


Electronic voting plan needs work


May 30, 2004


The state legislature intended to keep "Fraud-o-meters" out of Colorado polling places, but the measure it passed in the recent session, House Bill 1227, falls short of the goal in several crucial ways.


The Fraud-o-meter is the invention of computer scientist Teresa Hommel to simulate a rigged electronic voting device, the possibility of which is alarming an increasing number of experts and regular voters alike. Hommel and others advocate a voter-verified paper audit trail to forestall the sort of fraud that is demonstrated on her Web site, When the fraudulent program is "tested" it provides an accurate count of whatever votes you cast. But if it's in the "real election" mode it alters them to achieve a predetermined result.


And you can't even tell the difference! In each case, you're asked to verify your choice, but in reality you are verifying only what you want to do, without any way to know whether the software will tally your votes correctly.


Suppose election workers in your precinct go to read the data from their machines at the end of the day and they show that 231 people voted but all the candidates' vote totals are zero? At least then election officials would know something was wrong, though they couldn't fix it.


But if - like Hommel's Fraud-o-meter - the state's machines were rigged but the results they produced were still plausible, no one would know.


The only sure protection is to print a paper ballot for verification while the voter is still in the voting booth, for the paper ballots to be collected and saved, and for the paper ballots to be the deciding factor in any recount. These safeguards are consistent with HB 1227, but they are not required by it. They should be.


The bill gives the secretary of state authority to certify voting equipment if it meets certain requirements. One is that the equipment give the voter the choice of verifying his or her vote before the ballot is cast. Another is that the voting machine produce a permanent paper record with a manual audit capacity. The secretary of state has the choice of whether to use the paper record in a recount.


Why isn't that good enough? Because a secretary of state could certify a voting system that used onscreen verification and never allowed voters to see the print version of their ballots. Moreover, even in voting machine systems that did provide properly verified paper ballots, the secretary of state would have no obligation even to count them.


Still, the bill remedies some of the problems with Colorado's existing election law. We hope that in the next legislative session lawmakers will push for even stronger safeguards so the state is not in the position of certifying or purchasing inadequate voting systems.


Copyright 2004, Rocky Mountain News. All Rights Reserved.



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