Sunday, October 31, 2004


Voters should say no
to e-voting Tuesday


The state's new electronic voting machines leave no paper trails.

WITH polls indicating a close presidential election in Hawaii, voters should not cast ballots on new electronic machines that have yet to be fully tested and that provide no paper trail should a recount be required.

Election officials say they are satisfied with the eSlate system's auditing process, but their confidence is based on assurances from the company that sold the machines to the state. This is not to say that the company, Hart InterCivic, is suspect. Nonetheless, after the 2000 election debacle in Florida, Hawaii's citizens should have no doubt that their votes will be properly counted and election officials should be certain that the state's voting systems will hold up under close scrutiny.

Independent experts, the League of Women Voters, election observers and Governor Lingle have expressed uncertainty about the machines, but it appears that because there are only 399 machines -- about one machine at each precinct on Election Day -- the level of concern about potential problems has been muted.

The state announced in August that it had awarded Hart a $3.8 million, two-year contract to provide the machines along with full technical support since the elections office lacks staff expertise in such devices. The contract was canceled earlier this month because the company fell about four months short of the required three years of experience the state's bid called for, but the contract is being allowed to remain in effect through the general election.

The machines were to be used chiefly by disabled individuals in compliance with federal law that requires voting be more easily accessible, but was made available to all voters in the September primary elections.

Problems arose when poll workers did not know how to shut off the electronic machines and when the Hart system miscounted voters, but those are not the major concern.

Most troubling is the lack of a paper trail that would allow a manual re-count of votes.

Elections officials say paper records are unnecessary because the eSlate system records votes electronically through three different devices. However, computer experts with Save Vote Hawaii, a group concerned about e-voting, say the way eSlate is designed would not show discrepancies since the software links all three devices with the same data.

Also troubling is the lack of adequate, independent testing of the machines, which were put in use just one month after the state awarded Hart the contract. Elections officials have depended on the vendor to demonstrate and test the machines, providing no opportunities for outside experts to evaluate or assess their reliability.

In other states, there have been reports of manufacturers with partisan ties counting votes, machine malfunctions and computer experts demonstrating how tinkering can produce false vote totals. As a result, Nevada has demanded paper records to back up e-votes this year and California will do the same in 2006.

No one is suggesting that eSlate is subject to tampering, but Save Vote Hawaii representatives who have viewed the state's current set-up describe a host of concerns, from jury-rigged wiring to recording cards left overnight at polling places.

The state expects most voters will use paper ballots that are fed into the optical scanner system that has been used since 1998, but poll workers offer voters a choice. As of Tuesday, more than 27 percent of walk-in voters across the state have cast their ballots using eSlate with the highest usage, 29.1 percent, recorded in the city. On Tuesday, voters should politely decline.




Oahu Publications, Inc. publishes the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, MidWeek and military newspapers

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