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Standards aim to secure e-voting systems

Voting machine vendors, election officials try to end ongoing controversy by drafting uniform specifications for future systems.

Voting machine vendors, election officials and prominent computer scientists said Monday that they've agreed to try to end ongoing controversy over electronic voting by attempting to draft uniform standards.

The Voting System Performance Rating (VSPR) project is the brainchild of legendary cryptographer David Chaum, who invented digital cash and has recently been developing secure electronic voting systems.

"It's like a Consumer Reports for voting systems," Chaum said Monday. When VSPR's work is complete, he added, a set of tests will be published that will let e-voting systems be evaluated in areas such as privacy, accessibility and accuracy.

Chaum said he had to convince voting companies that VSPR was "the only way they could get the market to straighten itself out so they could make money. This was the only way they could stop the war between the voting officials and security advocates, which is complicated by the disability advocates."

Among the founding members: Sequoia Voting Systems; Johns Hopkins researcher Avi Rubin; Warren Slocum, election director of California's San Mateo County; James McCarthy from the National Federation of the Blind; and MIT associate professor Ted Selker.

One prominent company missing from the VSPR lineup is Diebold Election Systems, which has encountered a torrent of criticism because its systems don't have physical paper trails. Last week, the company said it would begin providing such an option.

While most reports have concluded that e-voting machines performed reasonably well on Election Day, anomalies have cropped up that have fueled interest in rethinking the process and perhaps moving toward stricter standards for the devices. Democratic politicians highlighted alleged improprieties earlier this month by delaying the certification of President Bush as the winner of the 2004 election.