Paperless e-voting gets thumbs down from ACM

Automated voting systems need to take into account that voters have a right to be issued with a physical record to check that their vote was correctly recorded, the Association for Computing Machinery said Monday.

The New York ACM is a society for IT professionals and students with over 75,000 members with a focus on examining the impact of technology on society.

ACM has begun a poll among its members on the question of whether physical records should be demanded by voters. This preferred position is supported by 95% of ACM's membership, according to the early results of an ACM poll.

"Voting systems should enable each voter to inspect a physical (e.g. paper) record to verify that his or her vote has been accurately cast, and to serve as an independent check on the result produced and stored by the system," ACM said on its Web site. "Making those records permanent (e.g. not based in computer memory) provides a means by which an accurate recount may be conducted."

ACM said that in four published reports, independent computer scientists demonstrated that electronic voting systems can be vulnerable to programming error, equipment malfunction, and/or malicious tampering.

But electronic voting systems vendors and their trade associations have dismissed security concerns and contend that their paperless electronic voting systems are secure, ACM said.

The U.S. presidential election on Nov. 2 will see a wide variety of voting technologies in use: electronic (including touch-screen); paper; lever machines; optical scanning of paper ballots; and punched-card devices.

The state of Nevada was the first in the U.S. to decide that electronic voting will be carried out statewide; paper records will be issued and used in a recount if the voting is close. Voting in the state of Georgia will also be completely electronic, with over 19,000 touchscreen systems to be deployed.

In Australia, where a general election is to be held on Oct. 9, winning candidates are chosen by a complex system of preference votes which requires voters to number all the boxes on a ballot sheet.

Although the difficulty of automating this process was overcome for a regional election in 2001 by a locally-designed PC-based system known as EVACS, or Electronic Voting and Counting System, votes for the upcoming general election will be made manually across the country.

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