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Panel Examines Voting Problems

Thursday, September 28, 2006 at 12:41 PM

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Cuyahoga County's transition from punch cards to new electronic voting machines in last May's primary was far from smooth. Despite numerous reviews, recommendations and changes since then, many are wondering how well the upcoming November election will go. Yesterday at the City Club of Cleveland, a three-person panel discussed what went wrong last time and what's been done to fix it. As ideastream's Karen Schaefer reports, the level of confidence in those repairs depends on who you talk to.

Poll workers who didn’t show up, machines that didn’t work, missing memory cards and 18,000 absentee ballots that had to be counted by hand. Those were just a few of the problems that marred last May’s election in Cuyahoga County. Greater Cleveland League of Women Voters Vice President Rosalind Talerico spoke for many in the audience at yesterday’s City Club forum when she said that, with the advent of electronic voting, she’s lost confidence in the electoral process.

Rosalind Talerico: What has happened? Can we trust the system anymore? Will my vote really be counted?

Forum panel member Judge Ronald Adrine of the Cleveland Municipal Court headed the local review committee that was commissioned to investigate the May election problems. He says their report contained more than 300 recommendations, many of which had nothing to do with electronic voting.

Ronald Adrine: There were a number of other things that involved human frailties, management decisions and things of that nature - many of which, I think, are in the process of being corrected… and I think will significantly increase the experience of being a voter in Cuyahoga County this November.

But Judge Adrine nonetheless believes the new electronic voting machines are at the heart of the problem.

Ronald Adrine: The real problem that I see is that these are machines. You know, to err is human and to really screw up takes a computer? (laughter)

Forum panelist Victoria Lovegren, a professor of mathematics and computer science at Case Western Reserve University, agrees. She’s part of a group that’s sponsoring a fair elections conference in Cleveland this Friday and Saturday. Speaking with a voice scratchy with laryngitis, she accused the Elections Board of lying to voters about the advisability of hiring Diebold to supply the county’s new voting machines.

Victoria Lovegren: They fudged the numbers to make Diebold appear to be the hands-on favorite. Now they’re telling us it is too late to implement the only meaningful audit mechanism that we have, precinct-level election results posted at the polling place - again implying, ‘trust us.’

Lovegren says a recent study from Princeton University shows the Diebold machines are vulnerable to hackers and could easily be disabled by a computer virus, potentially wiping out thousands of recorded votes without a trace. The third forum panel member, elections board director Michael Vu, doesn’t dispute the finding. But he says it may be impossible to create the transparency Lovegren and others are seeking in time for the fall election.

Michael Vu: We have 42 days between now and the November election and one of the concerns is poll worker training. Not only was there this overwhelming task of making sure that over 6,000 poll workers are trained properly and consistently across the board, but making sure that they did every single one of the steps properly.

Vu says the elections board is willing to consider an audit of the final vote to see if discrepancies exist. But he says there hasn’t been time to review the Princeton report and decide which method of auditing would work best. The one thing all three forum panelists agree on is that the security of electronic voting machines is still in doubt. Karen Schaefer, 90.3.

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