Panel recommends changes for electronic voting in Tennessee

Hank Hayes • Dec 15, 2007 at 12:00 AM

Tennessee election commissions should implement voter-verified paper audit trails “within a reasonable time frame” to increase voter confidence in election results, a Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations memo suggests.

“Distrust of voting systems that are entirely electronic is widespread, undermines voter confidence, and may discourage voting,” the TACIR memo said. “The current system allows no check of the electronically generated count other than one that uses the same machines and software to recount the same electronically recorded votes.”

With early voting in the state’s Feb. 5, 2008, presidential primary scheduled to begin on Jan. 16, the memo pointed out Tennessee is among a dozen states that still have no paper record requirements. Federal legislation calling for voter-verified paper audit trails (VVPATs) stalled earlier this year in Congress.

Critics charge that implementing a VVPAT system might be costly, could force the purchase of new voting machines, and cause long lines at the polls on voting days.

Still, the TACIR memo noted that the direct recording electronic (DRE) machines used by a number of election commissions can produce a VVPAT. Voters use DREs by pressing buttons, touching the screen or turning a dial to see ballots.

VVPATs, TACIR said, would create a “massive amount of paper” to be handled by poll workers, and that raises security issues.

“Paper can be damaged, lost, mishandled or stolen,” the memo said. “(DRE and optical scan voting machines) are subject to hacking and software tampering to change vote totals. But even so, paper trails reassure voters that their vote is being counted accurately and can be audited or recounted.”

TACIR recommended audit requirements should be strengthened to ensure that a random sample of machines can be routinely tested by comparing hand counts to machine totals.

“Governmental entities and private corporations are routinely audited regardless of whether problems are suspected,” the TACIR memo said. “With so much at stake, the same should be true for elections. ... The state of Minnesota enacted a post-election review law in 2004 to assess the accuracy of its voting machines. If the audit reveals a difference greater than 0.5 percent, a broader audit is automatically triggered.”

TACIR also suggested making early voting and voting by mail more accessible — for urban as well as rural voters. In Tennessee, nearly 50 percent of the November 2006 vote was cast early. In a survey of all 95 county election offices, TACIR found there’s an average of two early voting sites per county.

“On average, counties report that they are able to hire 92 percent of the election workers that they wish they could hire, but over half of the counties still reported that finding qualified poll workers was one of their biggest challenges in administering elections,” TACIR found.

For more information, go to www.state.tn.us/tacir.

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