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E-voting fears run high as election day looms

'Flipped' votes reported in three states

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USA '08 With just a week to go before the US presidential election, academics, politicians, and voters are voicing increased distrust of the electronic voting machines that will be used to cast ballots.

In early balloting in West Virginia, Texas, and Tennessee, voters using e-voting machines made by Nebraska-based Election Systems & Software (ES&S) have reported the "flipping" of their vote from the presidential candidate they selected to the candidate's rival. In some cases, voters said their choice had been changed from Democrat Barack Obama to Republican John McCain while others reported just the opposite.

The reports prompted the Brennan Center for Justice and a group called Verified Voting on Tuesday to write voting officials in 16 states where the ES&S iVotronic machine is used to be on the lookout for problems.

"There is a real chance that voters using iVotronic machines in your state will experience 'vote flopping' similar to that experienced by voters in West Virginia," the letter warned. It went on to urge poll workers to recalibrate machines when in doubt, and when possible to confirm voters' candidate choices with a verified paper trail.

The vote flipping warning comes on the heels of a 158-page report (PDF) computer scientists from Princeton University released two weeks ago warning of serious deficiencies in another commonly used e-voting machine. The Sequoia AVC Advantage 9.00H touch-screen voting machine, made by California-based Sequoia Voting Systems, is "easily hacked" in about seven minutes by replacing a single read-only memory chip or swapping out a separate processor chip.

The findings have prompted one candidate for the mayor of Bayonne, New Jersey, to ask the state's secretary of state to oversee the town's municipal election.

The study was ordered by a New Jersey judge who is presiding over a lawsuit challenging the use of e-voting machines in that state. Plaintiffs in the case argue the machines don't meet election law requirements for accuracy. State officials counter that they do.

ES&S has strongly refuted (PDF) the report, saying the researchers, among other things, improperly removed security seals and hardware before conducting their tests.

Even far from the nation's heartland, there were still more reports of botched e-voting. Finland's Ministry of Justice said Tuesday that about 2 percent of votes cast in an election held Sunday could not be counted because voters hadn't followed instructions. The machines, developed by IT services group TietoEnator, required voters to press a button marked OK twice before removing a smart card from the machine terminal. Voters who failed to do so were unable to cast their ballots.

Tuija Brax, the country's justice minister, expressed surprise at the snafu, telling NewsRoom Finland the machines had been "tested, tested and tested again." ®

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