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Electronic Voting

The potential for fraud and error is daunting. About 61 million of the votes in November, more than half the total, will be counted in the computers of one company, the privately held Election Systems and Software (ES&S) of Omaha, Nebraska. Altogether, nearly 100 million votes will be counted in computers provided and programmed by ES&S and three other private corporations: British-owned Sequoia Voting Systems of Oakland, California, whose touch-screen voting equipment was rejected as insecure against fraud by New York City in the 1990s; the Republican-identified company Diebold Election Systems of McKinney, Texas, whose machines malfunctioned this year in a California election; and Hart InterCivic of Austin, one of whose principal investors is Tom Hicks, who helped make George W. Bush a millionaire.

About a third of the votes, 36 million, will be tabulated completely inside the new paperless, direct-recording-electronic (DRE) voting systems, on which you vote directly on a touch-screen. Unlike receipted transactions at the neighborhood ATM, however, you get no paper record of your vote. Since, as a government expert says, "the ballot is embedded in the voting equipment," there is no voter-marked paper ballot to be counted or recounted. Voting on the DRE, you never know, despite what the touch-screen says, whether the computer is counting your vote as you think you are casting it or, either by error or fraud, it is giving it to another candidate. No one can tell what a computer does inside itself by looking at it; an election official "can't watch the bits inside," says Dr. Peter Neumann, the principal scientist at the Computer Science Laboratory of SRI International and a world authority on computer-based risks.

The United States therefore faces the likelihood that about three out of ten of the votes in the national election this November will be unverifiable, unauditable, and unrecountable.