by Andy Sullivan, Reuters, May 5, 2004
The first of what will be many reports on today's Election Assistance Commission hearing.
A new U.S. election commission said on Wednesday it could not require districts using electronic voting machines to install printers or other secure backup systems to ensure that votes are counted properly.
Amid a heated debate over the merits of new touch-screen systems, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission said it hoped to develop voluntary guidelines for the electronic systems that will be used by one in three voters in November.
"At the end of the day, we can't tell districts what to do," said commission chairman DeForest Soaries at the first hearing held by the commission.
The commission, set up after the controversial 2000 U.S. election, is set to give out $2.3 billion to help states upgrade error-prone voting systems such as punch-card ballots that led to a protracted recount battle in Florida that year.
E-voting systems will be used in precincts in more than half of all states in November.
Election officials from Georgia, New Mexico and Los Angeles said the systems were easy to use, cut down on voting errors and allowed blind voters to cast their ballots in private.
Others were less enthusiastic. California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley decertified one-third of the state's e-voting machines last week following revelations that manufacturer Diebold Inc . installed untested software.
"Touch-screen systems can be reliable and secure, but the evidence to date suggests that they are neither right now," said Shelley, who mandated printers or other security measures for the state's remaining e-voting machines.