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E-voting makes its mark

Watchdogs report no major problems with voting machines, but critics say security's still a worry.

Electronic voting machines made a respectable showing in the U.S. elections on Tuesday, despite some critics' predictions of widespread and major problems.

While issues cropped up in almost every state that used electronic voting machines, all were relatively minor, and most could be attributed to poorly trained poll workers, problems caused by voters or other circumstances.

"We didn't have the same kind of major e-voting problems that we had in other elections," said Doug Chapin, director of the Election Reform Information Project, a nonpartisan research project funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts. "My sense is that e-voting was no better and no worse than many of the other problems that we were worried about."

Most of the polling places observed by members of the project encountered only small glitches, according to the group's Web site, Far more problems were caused by voter registration issues and friction between partisan observers and poll officials, according to Electiononline reports from poll observers.

In fact, glitches with electronic voting machines made up less than 6 percent of the 27,500 incidents recorded midday Tuesday by advocacy group the Verified Voting Foundation. Incidents including "register" in the description made up one-third of the entries in the group's database.

An Electionline observer wrote that there were some problems with machines in precincts in Ohio, which uses systems manufactured by Diebold Election Systems, but said the issues were resolved in a timely manner. The worst problem occurred in New Orleans, where not enough voting machines were able to boot up, the Associated Press reported. That meant that election workers had to tell voters to come back later, the report said.

Given the predictions by some critics of machine failures and unreliably cast votes, the situation was largely seen as a success. Electronic voting machine makers said they felt vindicated by the results.

"Things went very well, and we are very pleased--but not surprised--by that," said Michelle Shafer, a spokeswoman for Hart InterCivic, whose voting systems were used in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Kentucky, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and Washington. "It is nice to see that elections were successful, not just for our company, but also for our competitors."

But the postelection healing called for by politicians has yet to emerge for critics of voting machines.

Aviel Rubin, a computer science professor at Johns Hopkins University and a noted critic, said the election shows only that things appear to have gone well. He worked as an election judge in Maryland on Tuesday and summarized his thoughts about the process online.

"Even if the election were viewed as 'successful,' it would not alleviate the vast majority of my concerns with the machines," he wrote. "Voting machines that are vulnerable to wholesale rigging can still perform perfectly normally. It is possible that nobody exploited the vulnerabilities this time around, and it is also possible that there was fraud or serious error--but that they went undetected. Electronic voting will be judged on the noticeable failures, and the unnoticeable ones are the most serious."

Ted Selker, an associate professor of computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a member of the CalTech-MIT Voting Technology Project, agreed that there were few problems. However, he said security issues and questions of trust remain.

"It is quite clear to me that the new technologies that were put in place seemed to do their jobs better than what we had before," Selker said. He said, however, that he had seen election workers on Tuesday erase a count of voters to make it match with a computerized tally. That reinforced in his mind that elections in the United States have a way to go, he said.

"I think we have to put in place simple procedures that would require us to recognize every place where a ballot could be lost and put countermeasures in place," Selker said.