Group calls paper trail 'a mistake'

Urges Hill not to require paper for vote audits

Electronic voting systems need some form of verification, but Congress would be wrong to require the use of paper to verify votes, according to a think tank that focuses on technological innovations.

The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) said Congress should reject proposed legislation requiring a paper audit trail in federal elections and called instead for technology-neutral requirements that would enable the use of innovative technology for tracing and verifying the accuracy of ballots cast electronically.

Robert Atkinson, ITIF president, blamed public suspicion of direct-recording electronic voting systems on the heightened partisan atmosphere in politics and the efforts of a technophobic movement that does not trust the technology.
'Can we trust these systems? There is a view we can't,' Atkinson said during a briefing to mark the release of an ITIF report on electronic voting. He said improved auditing was needed for electronically cast ballots but added, 'We don't believe that paper is necessarily the right answer.'

Other options

The release of the report, 'Stop the Presses: How Paper Trails Fail to Secure E-voting,' coincides with debate in the House on the Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act of 2007, which would require a voter-verifiable paper audit trail for each vote cast. The organization instead supports other bills that require audit trails but not necessarily paper.

'We think this is a mistake,' said Daniel Castro, senior analyst at ITIF and the report's author. Moving to all-paper systems or adding a paper ballot to an electronic system would be costly, give a false sense of security and stifle technical innovation, he said.

The argument against paper ballots is that they have a long history of failure and manipulation and that they require an additional layer of physical security not required with electronic systems.

The report cites the benefits of several other systems being developed that enable voters to track their ballots online to verify that their vote was recorded correctly, with cryptographic schemes to ensure that no votes are added or changed during counting. Dategrity, developer of the VoteHere system, has published its source code along with papers on the cryptography used.

Open system

'Although not everyone may understand or want to know the specific mathematics behind this voting system, the availability of the details of this voting protocol provides the opportunity for anybody to verify the security of this system,' Castro wrote in the report.

He also said better testing of existing systems was needed, citing recent tests in California that resulted in the decertification of several types of voting systems from use in general elections in the state.

Donetta Davidson, chairwoman of the federal Election Assistance Commission, said during the briefing that EAC expects to post a new version of its Voluntary Voting System Guidelines for voting system certification for public comment by Oct. 1, and she invited industry's input. A majority of states require certification to the existing guidelines in some form.

Increased assurance in the certification process will come with a price, Davidson said.

'With the new guidelines, there will be increased cost in testing,' she said. 'Obviously, cost is important, [but] how much is your vote worth?'

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.


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