No outside techniques exist for confirming that the votes recorded by most electronic voting systems have not been tampered with, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology has organized a Oct. 7 conference to investigate technological safeguards. The obvious solution would be to make a voter-verifiable paper trail mandatory for e-voting machines, but election experts say the widescale adoption of such a measure has been held back by political disagreements and a lack of available voter-verifiable products. “The transparency of voting systems is critical to ensuring that the public is supportive of an election, mostly proving that the loser actually lost,” says ACM’s public-policy director Cameron Wilson. Several bills requiring paper trails have been stalled in Congress partly because leading Republicans see e-voting reform as an attempt by Democrats to call into question the outcome of the last two presidential elections. Other obstacles hampering such reforms include federal politicians’ reluctance to shell out more money for paper trails after allocating $650 million to state officials to modernize their voting systems through the Help America Vote Act. Activists and computer scientists are also locked in intense deliberation about the effectiveness of paper receipts for detecting election fraud. Carnegie Mellon University computer science professor Michael Shamos thinks the inclusion of a paper trail in all voting machines is a bad move, as it will discourage experimentation with better approaches, and infringe on voters’ privacy by showing who voted first and last. In addition, paper records themselves are not immune to tampering.
Cameron Wilson is the director of ACM’s U.S. Public Policy Committee, http://www.acm.org/usacm.
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