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Is the U.S. ready for electronic voting? Experts are divided over whether the benefits outweigh the security and reliability risks.

YES It became clear during the 2000 presidential election that voting equipment nationwide was inaccurate and outdated. In Georgia, 94,000 ballots (3.49 percent of the total cast) did not register a vote for President, in part because of equipment malfunction.

As Georgia's chief elections official, it's my job to ensure the accuracy and integrity of our elections. After extensive research, Georgia became the first state to move entirely to touch-screen voting equipment in 2002. With the electronic system, the number of ballots that did not register a vote dropped to fewer than 18,000 (.87 percent of the ballots cast), proving these machines to be more accurate.

Electronic voting also increases accessibility for visually impaired and blind voters who previously relied on family members or friends to vote. Now, they can vote independently using headphones and keypads.

Security questions have been raised about electronic voting, but many safeguards are in place. Our system has passed extensive testing at national laboratories that also conduct NASA-related testing, and we have completed rigorous state and local testing. Plus, the equipment is not networked or connected to the Internet, so it cannot be penetrated by computer hackers.

Some suggest that the machines should print a paper receipt of each ballot for the voter to review. This could cause delays and restrict access for some voters. We are confident that this year, Georgians will vote on the most accurate, accessible, and secure voting equipment available.

--Cathy Cox Secretary of State Georgia

NO Someday, we will all vote electronically; the benefits are clear. However, it is my assessment as a computer scientist and a specialist in computer security that we are not ready to eliminate paper ballots.

Today's technology is simply too risky. It's very difficult to know if a voting-machine manufacturer has rigged a machine. The state of the art in computer security is such that even an expert can't look at the software and know if it's been rigged. This means there is a very real possibility that an electronic voting-machine manufacturer could program the machine to predetermine the election outcome rather than faithfully count the actual votes.

Let me compare electronic voting to electronic banking. The thing that makes our electronic banking system so secure and reliable is the extensive records that are kept. Our electronic financial systems keep careful track of which customers perform which transactions, so audits can be performed and records verified.

But voting involves secret ballots, which means we cannot keep track of who voted for whom. This makes the security of electronic voting more difficult than banking.

I will not argue against the ultimate benefits of electronic voting. They are tremendous, and someday we will enjoy them. However, we computer scientists are virtually uniform in our position that if we try to adopt fully electronic voting too soon, we may find ourselves regretting it because the integrity of the process will come into question.

--Avi Rubin Professor of Computer Science Johns Hopkins University
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Title Annotation:Debate
Author:Rubin, Avi
Publication:New York Times Upfront
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 20, 2004
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