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Build trust in electronic voting

Colorado, Ohio, and other states must tackle security risks found in electronic voting machines.

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A federal judge is threatening New York election officials with jail because the state still hasn't switched to electronic voting machines (the path set by Congress in 2002). That makes it the nation's sole holdout, but also puts it in a position to learn from everyone else's many mistakes.

Over the last five years, the country has seen a monumental shift in the mechanics of voting, but not always a smooth one. It was prompted by the 2000 presidential election debacle in Florida, which two years later spurred Congress to pass the Help America Vote Act.

The law provides federal dollars to help states switch to electronic voting – a method meant to be less confusing and more reliable than such systems as Florida's troublesome paper punch-card and "butterfly" ballots. (The technology is also intended to make voting accessible to millions of disabled Americans.)

Electronic voting, which includes touch screens and optical scanners that read ballots, have helped reduce human error in the voting process. In 2006, about 1 million potentially invalid votes were saved because technology alerted voters to errors, such as double voting, and gave them the opportunity to correct them.

But reliability remains an open question. In mid-December, Colorado's secretary of state decertified three of the four electronic voting equipment brands used in the state because of security and accuracy issues. One model produced a 1 percent error rate in counting ballots. That doesn't sound like much, but it could swing a close election.

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