Thursday, November 16, 2006
Computer expert: Scrap all paperless voting machines
BLACKSBURG -- Any computerized voting machine that cannot be modified to produce a verifiable paper trail probably should be scrapped.
That's what University of Virginia computer science professor David Evans said Wednesday at a forum sponsored by the Montgomery County League of Women Voters.
No one knows the rate of error of electronic voting machines, Evans said at the forum, held in the Blacksburg Town Council chambers.
No ballot-by-ballot recounting is possible, and widespread problems, caused by malfunction, flaws in computer software or tampering, likely go undetected, he said.
Another big problem is a lack of oversight. Voting machine software is proprietary, and manufacturers are not required to submit their systems to independent testing, Evans said.
Procedures for securing electronic voting machines, while spelled out in state law, also can vary from county to county and precinct to precinct, according to Evans.
The UVa professor recounted casting an absentee ballot in Albemarle County. Evans said he was left alone with a computerized voting machine long enough to tamper with it.
He made his comments in front of about 35 people, many of them league members who opposed electronic voting machines. The local, state and national league organizations have called for the reform of electronic voting systems or a switch to paper-based systems.
No proponents of electronic voting were asked to speak Wednesday. But Montgomery County Registrar Randy Wertz took notes.
After the meeting, he said some of the information presented was incorrect. He pointed to an alleged incident in Fairfax County in 2003 where it was reported in a local newspaper that some voting machines miscounted one out of every 100 votes.
Wertz said he spoke with the Fairfax County registrar and the Virginia State Board of Elections and was told this story is an urban legend.
State law required all Virginia localities to adopt electronic voting systems by 2006, Wertz said. And Montgomery County "picked what we thought was the best, most secure system."
Montgomery County chose to install WinVote machines. No significant problems have been verified in this brand of machine, Wertz said.
Also, absentee ballots are cast under supervision by registrar's office staff, and the machines are locked up in a secret place.
Each machine and its backup recording devices are sealed after each election and locked in a room to which only the registrar has keys, Wertz said.