- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 7, 2002

High-tech voting devices passed the test Tuesday, making it more likely that state elections officials will retire punch cards and lever machines and introduce a new era of digital democracy. Electronic-voting machines are expected to produce more accurate results more quickly than paper ballots and help election officials avoid a debacle like the 2000 presidential election in Florida. But few counties rely on high-tech voting applications. This week's election confirmed for observers that electronic voting can work.
"From what we're seeing, the glitches were fairly minor and they were dealt with," said Dan Seligson, spokesman for Electionline.org, a nonpartisan election-reform-research group based in the District.
The election winner may not have been a specific candidate. It may have been the companies with electronic-voting technology on display in Florida, Georgia and Texas three states that funded the most expensive electronic-voting initiatives. Counties in Maryland, Kansas, Louisiana and Mississippi also used high-tech voting devices this week.
Millions of people cast votes on touch screens made by Diebold Election Systems Inc., Electronic Systems and Software Inc. and on devices made by Hart InterCivic Inc., some of the biggest companies in the nascent electronic-voting industry.
Most states are not expected to replace voting machines with electronic devices until the 2004 elections. Some waited for the federal government to pass the election-reform bill, signed by President Bush last week, because it includes $3.9 billion to help states fund new equipment. Others waited to see how new devices worked on Tuesday.
More than 500 of the nation's counties just 16 percent used high-tech devices this week, up from 293 counties in 2000, according to Election Data Services, a research company in the District.
Florida attracted nearly as much attention in this election as it did two years ago, when it was the center of the electoral storm. Elected officials from Los Angeles County were among those on hand in Miami-Dade and Broward counties in Florida, where touch screens made by Omaha, Neb.-based Electronic Systems and Software replaced much-maligned paper ballots.
Many of the touch screens failed in the state's September primary, but they worked well this week, said Stephen Ansolabehere, professor of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a co-director of the MIT-California Institute of Technology Voting Project to study electronic voting.
"I think the experience in Florida was pretty good, and it gives election administrators confidence to make the transition to new technology," he said.
Voters cast votes on 22,000 Electronic Systems and Software touch screens across the country Tuesday.
Florida spent an estimated $24 million on the new voting machines.
Voters also used touch screens in Georgia, where state officials spent $54 million for 19,000 devices for every precinct in the state's 159 counties. North Canton, Ohio-based Diebold Election Systems made the machines that Georgians cast votes on, and it was the most expensive electronic-voting project in the nation.
Four counties in Maryland bought about 5,000 Diebold devices for this week's midterm election.
Harris County, Texas, spent $25 million on electronic-voting devices made by Hart InterCivic, whose machines look like oversized Palm Pilots.
This week's election will help developers of the machines figure out how to improve the technology, said Doug Lewis, director of the Election Center, a Texas nonpartisan research center.
"We're seeing continuous improvement in the technology," he said.
But there is a growing debate over the security of electronic ballots because few people have access to the software code running electronic-voting machines, said Douglas Jones, associate professor of political science at the University of Iowa.
The software code should be more broadly available, he said.
"The fundamental problem is that the code is proprietary. The fear is that an individual or group of individuals could include malicious features in software that would evade notice and allow skewing of the results," Mr. Jones said.
Making software code more widely available could help voters, anxious over not having a paper record of their vote, become more comfortable with electronic voting, said Mr. Seligson of Electionline.org.
This week's trouble-free election could help speed adoption of electronic-voting technology by state elections officials, said Mike Limas, chief operating officer at Electronic Systems and Software.
Nearly 600 counties still use punch-card ballots, he said.

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