Bill proposes e-voting paper trail

Congress spent billions on e-voting machines without requiring a paper trail. Some politicians now think that was a bad idea.

Declan McCullagh Former Senior Writer
Declan McCullagh is the chief political correspondent for CNET. You can e-mail him or follow him on Twitter as declanm. Declan previously was a reporter for Time and the Washington bureau chief for Wired and wrote the Taking Liberties section and Other People's Money column for CBS News' Web site.
Declan McCullagh
2 min read
Voting machines must include a verifiable paper trail and audit capability in time for the 2006 elections, according to a bill introduced this week in Congress.

The legislation requires states to follow a stricter set of federal rules that are designed in large part to respond to a wave of concerns about the electronic voting machines used in November's election.

"Congress set aside billions of dollars for states to buy new, more reliable electronic voting machines. But those machines aren't perfect, and without a paper trail, we can't guarantee that all votes will be counted correctly," Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said.

The measure applies only to e-voting machines such as touch-screen, lever-voting and optical-scanning systems. It would not affect punch card systems, paper ballots, or mail-in and absentee ballots.

Called the Voting Integrity and Verification Act, the bill says states must allow the "voter to review an individual paper version of the voter's ballot before the voter's ballot is cast and counted." The paper ballot, typically viewed under glass, would become a "permanent paper record" that must be preserved in case of a recount.

After the November 2004 election, a handful of Democrats sought to stall President Bush's certification as winner by alleging problems with e-voting machines in Ohio. But this bill has support from both Republicans and Democrats. Its sponsors include Sens. John Ensign, R-Nev.; Conrad Burns, R-Mont.; Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.; Mark Dayton, D-Minn.; Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I.; John Sununu, R-N.H.; and Richard Durbin, D-Ill.

Some states and counties already require a paper ballot receipt, but there is no national standard in the Help America Vote Act of 2002. Enacted after the 2000 presidential election debacle, that law doled out billions of dollars to states without the requirement of a paper ballot receipt.

Computer scientists such as those represented by the Association for Computing Machinery have flagged potential security problems and have called for electronic voting machines to produce a "physical record." The Information Technology Association of America has opposed mandatory paper trails.