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Computer voting must leave trail

Dear Editor,

Mississippi is about to begin the process of upgrading thevoting equipment in its 82 counties to conform to new standardsunder the Help America Vote Act (HAVA).

Touch-screen computer voting machines have some advantages,including easier access by the disabled. However, there areproblems with the current generation of these machines.

Computer security specialists at Johns Hopkins found one of themost widely used touch-screen machines to be “far below even themost minimal security standards.” Voters could vote more than once,and more sophisticated hackers could alter vote totals during theelection. Despite similar concerns expressed by computer scientistsat Stanford, the machines were deployed in 37 states.

Not surprisingly, election officials and observers have reportednumerous problems with these and other poorly designedmachines.

As a result of voting machine-related problems in Ohio, thatstate in January 2005 decided to use precinct-scanned opticalballots. Not only do many computer voting machines fail rigoroussecurity checks, but also they do not allow the voter to verify thevote cast.

Mississippi must exercise caution in its purchase. The stateshould undertake a thorough evaluation and must requirevoter-verifiable paper trails. If a suitably designed touch-screenvoting machine becomes financially impractical, the state shouldrely on tried-and-true precinct-scanned optical ballots. Thissystem is highly reliable, prevents over-votes, and allowssecond-chance voting, as required under HAVA. Several countiesalready use this system, so HAVA funds could be concentrated wherethey are most needed.

Finally, the state’s HAVA-compliance plan states that a paperreceipt will be required “for any court-ordered election recount.”A much more important reason is to audit performance of the votingmachines. Without mandatory, random audits of 1 to 2 percent ofmachines, the public can never know whether computer votingmachines are accurately recording their votes. Without a meaningfulpaper trail, no such audits can be done.

John M. Wages Jr.,

Third District election commissioner,

Lee County