Panel says voting systems need paper audits

The end of the era of paperless e-voting is here, but standards may not be in place until after 08 presidential election.

A federal tech committee acted to herald the end of paperless electronic voting yesterday. The Technical Guidelines Development Committee voted to start work on a national standard for voting machines - and that standard includes independent verification of ballot choices, The Washington Post reports.

"This seems to mark the end of an era" for paperless electronic voting, said Doug Chapin, director of electionline.org, a nonpartisan organization that tracks changes in the country's election systems. The commission and its advisory panel have yet to determine when the new standard would go into effect and how it would apply. A report prepared by scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology last week said the new standard would not be implemented until 2009 at the earliest.

2009? Forget that, many state election officials are saying. Changes will be made in time for the 2008 presidential election. In Maryland, one of only five states that used exclusively digital voting machines this year, there is great interest in moving quickly.

The speaker of Maryland's House of Delegates, Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel), said the legislature would start exploring options for a paper trail during its upcoming session with an eye toward having something in place for the 2008 elections. "It would be nice if we could get a look at a couple of options," Busch said. "The price tag is going to be great."

Maryland Gov.-elect Martin O'Malley (D) said his administration would "have to find some way to move forward" and noted that a transition panel is looking at election issues.

And in Virginia, which had the super-close senatorial election that ultimately tipped the Senate to the Democrats:

Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) said he plans a careful review of the findings. "I'm going to take a look at this report. I've talked to a lot of people who are very concerned about electronic machines without a paper trail," he said.

Del. Timothy D. Hugo (R-Fairfax), a main sponsor of unsuccessful legislation in Virginia's General Assembly last year that would have required the state to launch a paper-trail pilot program, said: "I think the committee recommendations will help validate what we have been doing. It will really make people stand up and pay attention."

The panel said the Federal Elections Commission should ensure that all voters -- including disabled ones -- "can verify the independent voting record." Advocates for people with disabilities have said that existing systems of verification, such as electronic voting machines that show voters a printed summary of their choices before they cast their ballots, would not be accessible to blind voters.

The panel considered a similar resolution Monday but deadlocked and failed to pass it. The version adopted yesterday contained new language that grandfathers in existing systems, calls on the commission to ensure that verification systems are universally accessible and credits election officials and voting-machine makers for adopting security controls.