PA readies for nearly all-digital election

With almost all counties using touch-screen voting machines, voting officials are hoping that problems will be minimal. But they're "quietly optimistic" at best.
Written by Richard Koman, Contributor

Electronic voting is making for a busy Tuesday for lawyers and other pollwatchers in Pennsylvania, as both parties plan to send out veritable armies of observers looking for fraud, miscounting and other suspicious results, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.

Sixty-three of 67 Pennsylvania counties are using new electronic machines this year, far more than the one-third of counties nationally.

The nonpartisan group electionline.org has placed Pennsylvania among 10 states on a "watch" list for Tuesday because of its potential for voting problems.

"We're not saying, 'Look at Pennsylvania -- it's the next Florida,'" said Dan Seligson, editor of the Web site, which tracks election reform efforts. But along with new machines, "Pennsylvania has several high-stakes races that are going to be close. Put those ingredients together and there's a reason to watch."

About 1,500 lawyers will monitor polling sites on Election Day for the state's Democratic Party, while the Republicans are still recruiting observers.

Harry VanSickle, the state's election commissioner, said he has visited about 20 counties in recent weeks to discuss preparations with local officials.

"Obviously, they're a little nervous," he said. "But they really have a quiet confidence that they are ready."

Quiet confidence? Not the most confident statement you can imagine.

David A. Eckhardt, a lecturer in computer science at Carnegie Mellon University and a poll worker in Mt. Lebanon, said problems in the primary, including the zero-tape issue, were serious because they show that the machines are poorly designed and could be susceptible to less obvious malfunctions.

"The only way that you can be absolutely sure that your vote doesn't count is to stay home. So come out and vote," he said. But, "ask yourself, 'Do I believe that the machine recorded my vote as I intended?' If you don't feel that way, start calling your elected representatives."

State election officials say they are testing their machines thoroughly, but Mr. Eckhardt said those tests aren't enough. "You have to be absolutely crystal clear that [the machines] are running the right software," he said. "And we're not crystal clear."

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