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E-voting machines' confidence gap

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Imagine your bank teller accepting a deposit and then saying, "Oh, you don't need a receipt. It's all in the computer." On Nov. 2, that's essentially what millions of citizens will be told when they cast ballots on new electronic voting machines. Forty-two states are poised to use this latest technology, but with only 28 days left until the presidential election, some states are still debating whether to provide a paper confirmation of each voter's choices.

Potential problems with electronic voting - and very real mishaps - have gained more public attention in recent months, and manufacturers and election officials have tried to play down concerns. But some state officials have also chosen to build in more safeguards to ensure that the electronic vote data, if corrupted either accidentally or maliciously, have a backup. That means one thing: a paper record.

Last week, California passed a law mandating a paper trail on all its e-voting machines by 2006. The same week, a federal appeals court revived a Florida lawsuit that requires voter- verified paper ballots on touchscreen machines (although it may not be resolved before Nov. 2), and a number of states are either holding off buying the new machines or weighing whether to essentially ban paperless voting after the presidential election if they already use them.

A suit brought against the Maryland Board of Elections, however, alleging that machines made by Diebold Election Systems could not provide "a secure and accurate vote," was rejected last month.

Even as computer scientists knock heads with vendors and election officials, e-voting critics are wary of introducing new regulations so late in the day.

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