Hundreds of activists to demand paper trail and open tallies on voting devices

Hundreds of activists will lobby Congress this week for legislation to make electronic voting more secure and accountable.

H.R. 550, sponsored by Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.), has 168 co-sponsors, and proponents are seeking more this week.

The measure would require a paper trail from all electronic voting machines and would take measures to prevent hackers from altering results.

Most of the bill’s backers are Democrats, but it has attracted GOP support from Reps. Mary Bono (Calif.), Tom Cole (Okla.), Tom Davis (Va.), Phil English (Pa.), Michael Fitzpatrick (Pa.), Darrell Issa (Calif.), Randy Kuhl (N.Y.), Tim Murphy (Pa.), Thomas Petri (Wis.), Greg Walden (Ore.) and Frank Wolf (Va.)

For Holt, the bill comes down to one thing: Is your vote counted?

“There’s a major weak link in that process,” said Pat Eddington, communications director for Holt.

In the 2004 general election in Carteret County, N.C., 500 people’s votes disappeared because of machine malfunctions.

“We want to increase the confidence voters have in the system,” Eddington said.

As for fraud with voting machines, it is difficult to prove that it takes place, since the machines leave no paper trail. If enacted, the bill would require 2 percent of votes to be hand-counted for verification.

“We always complain about how people don’t vote. Here they have votes not being counted,” said Warren Stewart, director of legislative issues and policy for VoteTrustUSA.

Votes cast on touch-screen machines are tabulated inside the machine, which only provides the final results. However, there are problems with the programming of the machines, Stewart said.

The tabulation process is considered a “trade secret,” so only the manufacturers know how it works, Stewart added. This makes it difficult for independent sources to test the reliability of the programming.

H.R. 550 would require the machines’ programming to be open-source, so that the inner workings would be public. That will allow the machines to be tested further to determine their security.

“Counting of votes should be observable,” Stewart said.

The Leon County Board of Elections in Florida wondered about the security of Diebold voting machines, so in mid-December it held a mock election to see how easy it would be to hack into them.

Six people voted yes and two voted no to the question: “Can votes on this Diebold system be hacked using a memory card?” After some tinkering around with the system — something anyone with an eighth-grade level of computer knowledge could do — the poll tape came out showing a 7-1 vote.

The board had taken every precaution in the mock election that would have been taken in any normal election, said Ion Sancho, Leon County supervisor of elections.

Diebold officials were not available for comment.

This week’s lobbying events are sponsored by a coalition of national organizations, including VoteTrustUSA, Verified Voting, VotersUnite, Common Cause, Working Assets and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.