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House requests e-vote probe

More than a dozen House members ask the General Accounting Office to investigate electronic voting security, as Congress considers legislation to restrict e-voting machine usage.

As the U.S. Congress considers legislation to restrict the use of electronic voting machines, 13 House of Representatives members have ordered an investigation into e-voting security.

In a letter dated May 14, a bipartisan group asked the General Accounting Office--Congress's investigative arm--to study the security and reliability of a wide range of electronic voting technologies.

"While the existing data indicate that these machines can be more accurate than outdated punch card voting machines, experts are becoming increasingly concerned that many of these electronic voting machines have other flaws," the letter read.

The representatives, who include senior members of the House Committee on Government Reform and the House Committee on the Judiciary, cite "a number of incidents in recent presidential primaries and local elections" with e-voting machines to bolster their request for an investigation.

Voters, machine vendors, election officials and activists around the world have been locked in a pitched struggle over e-voting machines in recent months. Proponents of the machines claim that they produce more accurate and less discriminatory results than any conventional voting system. Opponents, claiming unprecedented security threats with electronic systems, demand that they provide some kind of paper audit trail to make manual recounts possible.

California's secretary of state recently took action to severely restrict the use of direct recording electronic (DRE) machines, particularly those made by e-voting lightning rod Diebold Election Systems. In Washington, lawmakers in the House and Senate are considering bills that would require paper records, often called voter-verified paper trails.

The committee asked the GAO to study not only DRE machines, which have generated most of the e-voting controversy in recent months, but also optical scan voting machines and punch card readers.

Specifically, the committee asked the GAO to identify federal and state government bodies that are working on voting security and reliability, to enumerate significant e-voting security and reliability issues, to come up with best practices for e-voting, and to survey election officials after elections in order to assess their performance and procedures.

The letter set no deadline for the GAO's report but asked that the office give it "highest priority," given that states and counties were already buying the machines in question.

A spokesman for the Committee on Government Reform said he expected the report to be published in a matter of months.