Democrats whip up e-vote fury

US Democrats are piling on the pressure to make electronic voting machines accurate, secure and independently auditable.

US Democrats are piling on the pressure to make electronic voting machines accurate, secure and independently auditable.

Former presidential hopeful Howard Dean has lambasted Republicans who have blocked legislation to allow paper trails to be set up for votes cast using electronic machines.

He said he first heard of the now notorious security problems of electronic voting machines while running for the Democratic presidential nomination but dismissed the complaints as from "conspiracy wackos".

A closer look convinced him of the seriousness of the issues, which he said threatened to undermine democracy in the US.

"If people don't think votes count, the first thing they'll do is stop voting," he said. "And when people stop voting, elected officials will stop caring about them."

Fellow Democrat Rush Holt backed him up. "We can spend millions on security. Surely we can do just as much to safeguard the central piece of representative government - the voting process."

The state of Missouri has already suspended the use of electronic voting machines pending further security assessments. And California has issued a directive requiring touch-screen voting machines to meet minimum security standards and produce a paper trail that can be verified by voters.

Dean called on the US government to set standards for the security of voting machines and require the verification of vote tallies though audit trails.

Democrat Marcy Kaptur has also denounced the Bush administration for ignoring key elements of the Help Americans Vote Act of 2002, which set aside almost $4bn (£2bn) to replace outdated voting machines. She also claimed many state voting officials had rushed to buy expensive electronic voting machines before concerns about the security of such machines could be verified.

Democrats are preparing teams of legal and technology experts to act as "circuit riders" on election day in November. They will monitor voting and document reports of problems with voting or electronic voting machines.

Complaints about e-voting security have gone from an obscure technical concern to a plank in the Democrats' 2004 platform, and dire consequences have been predicted in the event of widespread problems with vote counting on election day.

Paul Roberts writes for IDG

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