Paper trail tops US e-voter poll

An election day survey of US voters in Nevada has revealed that a clear majority support the issue of paper receipts for all...

An election day survey of US voters in Nevada has revealed that a clear majority support the issue of paper receipts for all votes cast electronically.

Lomardo Consulting surveyed 362 voters in Nevada - the only state to use statewide voter-verified paper ballot printers attached to electronic voting machines for the US presidential election.

According to Lomardo, 81% of the voters said they would like a private receipt, similar to a cash machine receipt, after casting a vote electronically. And nearly a third said they had used their paper receipt to check their votes had been recorded accurately. 

"That's a pretty strong result," said Peter Ventimiglia, vice-president of Lombardo. Although the survey sample of 362 voters was small and the margin of error was plus or minus 5%, Ventimiglia said he was "very comfortable" with the results. 

Ohio University political sciences professor Michael Burton, who helped set up the survey, said he viewed the results as evidence of an "overwhelming desire to have some kind of private ATM-style receipt" for e-voting systems. "We do see some disparity in the accurate counting of the votes," he said. "Voters who use computers and see their computers crash have some level of suspicion about the integrity of the vote." 

But questions have also surfaced about the integrity of the survey, which was funded by VoteHere, a supplier of e-voting systems that specialises in voter-verified paper receipt technology. When asked about the appearance of undue influence on the outcome of the survey, Jim Adler, founder and chief executive of VoteHere, said the company wanted to know where voters stood on the issue of paper receipts for the purpose of promoting its business strategy. 

He stressed, however, that the survey group "kept us at arm's length". According to Venitmiglia, the survey takers were "aware that there was ultimately a commercial interest, but they were in no way coached".

The Nevada poll is the second such supplier-sponsored poll to show that voters like the idea of a paper receipt they can use to verify that their e-vote has been recorded properly. In August, AccuPoll teamed up with research firm Public Opinion Strategies for a survey that showed that 74% of likely voters felt e-voting systems should produce a voter-verified paper audit trail. 

"Right now, with any sort of balloting, you walk away and you hope for the best," said Adler. "Now all we have are allegations back and forth and we don't have proof of anything. We get a receipt with electronic banking and UPS shipments. Why is voting so different? It isn't."

Dan Verton writes for Computerworld

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