E-voting stays on hold in Calif.

A federal judge this week upheld the California secretary of state's decision to decertify current touch-screen voting machines for use in the November general election.

The decision means that it is unlikely that the direct-recording electronic machines, used by an estimated 43 percent of voters in the state's March elections, will be used in this fall's presidential election.

Secretary of State Kevin Shelley, after investigating problems in the March election, found that 'DRE technology may not yet be stable, reliable and secure enough to use in the absence of an accessible, voter-verified paper trail.' He issued directives on April 30 decertifying the machines until improvements, including a paper trail, are made.

The machines, which have been in use in various forms for 25 years, have gained attention since the disputed presidential 2000 election.

As more states have begun replacing paper ballots and mechanical voting machines with the computerized machines, increased scrutiny has raised doubts about their security and reliability.

A number of experts have warned there is no way to ensure that DRE software has not been tampered with or to verify that the votes cast are the same as those recorded.

On the other hand, the machines offer greater independence to disabled persons who often can use them without assistance.

The American Association of People with Disabilities and a number of disabled individuals challenged the California decision in court. They argued that they could vote in private and without assistance only with the touch-screen machines and that decertification violated their rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Help America Vote Act. They sought a temporary restraining order blocking the secretary of state's order.

Judge Florence-Marie Cooper of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California denied the motion, ruling that the defendants had proven neither the likelihood that they would prevail at trial or that they would suffer irreparable harm if the restraining order were not issued.

Although the Americans with Disabilities Act requires access to polling places, it does not require any particular technology or guarantee the right to vote without assistance. HAVA does require access to private voting for persons with disabilities and lists DREs as an acceptable technology, but the deadline for implementing it is 2006.

The judge concluded that although the secretary of state's order will have an impact on voters, 'the decision to suspend the use of DREs pending improvement in their reliability is certainly a rational one, designed to protect the voting rights of the state's citizens.'

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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