- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Fewer people will vote on electronic voting machines this year than in 2006 as well-publicized reports of glitches and hacking have made voters and election boards distrustful of new technology.

Kimball W. Brace, president of Election Data Services, said that 38 percent of voters used electronic voting machines in 2006, but only 32 percent will use them this year, marking the first time that electronic voting has backslid in popularity since Election Data Services began analyzing trends in 1980.

The push for electronic voting occurred after the 2000 presidential election, which famously came down to hand recounts of punch ballots in Florida, many of which were not completely punched through.

By 2002, Congress had allocated $3 billion of funding for states to improve their voting technology as part of the Help America Vote Act.

“That 2002 legislation sort of gave birth to an industry,” said Datamonitor analyst Ben Madgett. “Things have been a bit rushed.”

Last year, Diebold Election Systems was forced to change its name after problems with its codes being leaked on the Internet and dissected by analysts led to a negative image and consequently more districts shelving their touch-screen technology.

Studies from Ohio and California also revealed problems that led to some machines being decertified, Mr. Madgett said.

“There were some shock waves from that,” he said. “All it takes is one incident … and it sort of casts doubt across the board.”

According to Mr. Brace, any district that made a change in technology after 2006 changed to optical-scan technology, which allows voters to mark a ballot that is then scanned, providing quicker returns but leaving a paper trail.

“That’s where people have been going,” he said.

The George Washington University Department of Computer Science has helped develop over the past five years more secure paper ballot technology. Their newest method, called Scantegrity, combines the optical scan technology that more than half of the country will use in November with the option for voters to verify that their ballot was counted.

The university is now trying to market the system.

GWU doctoral student Stefan Popoveniuc, who wrote most of the code for Scantegrity, explained how the technology worked.

Voters use a familiar paper ballot to cast their vote, but they mark their choice with a special invisible ink pen. The pen darkens the bubble next to the chosen candidate so that the ballot can be read by the optical scan machine, but reveals a random two-letter code.

At the bottom of the ballot is a detachable receipt on which the voter can write in the codes of their choices, which are unique to their ballot.

Each receipt has a confirmation number on it, and to verify that the ballot counted, voters log onto a Web site and input the confirmation number. They can also compare their two-letter codes to make sure that their vote was counted in the way that they intended.

“If one of those is wrong, you raise hell. That’s your job,” said GWU assistant professor of computer science Poorvi Vora.

A highlight of Scantegrity technology is that it allows voters to be a check on the system as well as giving them peace of mind because they can still obtain a manual recount. Voters checking how their votes were counted would help prevent fraud and tabulation errors.

“This is a total paradigm shift from today,” Mr. Popoveniuc said. Now, states purchase electronic voting machines, make sure they are certified and implement them, but something could still go wrong.

One of the fiscal benefits of Scantegrity is that it uses technology that many voting districts already have.

“We’re not saying ‘Out with the old, in with the new.’ Keep the old,” Mr. Popoveniuc said. Instead of purchasing costly machines, states spend some additional money for the special pens and see almost no increase in paper costs for the ballots.

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