Standardize voting, experts tell Congress
by MIKE MARTIN, UPI Science Correspondent

WASHINGTON, May 22 (UPI) -- In testimony before the House Science Committee today, a panel of scientific experts called for standardization of the nation's confusing array of voting procedures and technologies.

  Committee chair Sherwood Boehlert expressed interest in pursuing many of the panel's recommendations, going so far as to ask if the 1,275 days remaining until the next presidential election would be enough time to get the job done.

  Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Steven Ansolabehere, ... told the committee he chairs the Caltech/MIT voting technology project, ...

  "We see standards for secure electronic voting lacking," Ansolabehere told the committee.  "At the same time, Internet voting is on the verge of arriving."

  Rebecca Mercuri, president of software consulting firm Notable Software, provided the committee a "top ten" list of problems with today's electronic balloting and tabulation systems.  She insisted that a body of standards, developed by an agency such as the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), is necessary to avoid a repeat of the 2000 presidential election crisis.

  Mercuri said the public voting process is, ironically, entrusted to a small group of individuals -- those who program, construct, and maintain voting machines.  ...

  Roy Saltman, who authored an early study by the National Bureau of Standards (now NIST) on the use of computer technology in voting, told the committee NIST should play a large role in standardizing the vote.

  "NIST's lab accreditation program, NVLAP, could be involved in accrediting labs to test voting machines," Saltman said.  ...

  Associate professor of computer science Douglas Jones was the most outspoken member of the panel, repeatedly urging caution in the adoption of new voting technologies.

  "I'd frankly like to forbid Internet voting until we have solid standards in place," Jones told the committee.  "I am very wary about the rush to abandon old voting technologies with new technologies we may not fully understand yet."

  Committee chair Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) asked the panel if adequate improvements in voting technology could be accomplished in less than four years.

  "I don't think that's enough time," Jones replied, while Mercuri said she was "optimistic" that many of the panel's recommendations could be implemented by the 2004 elections.

  Committee member Ralph  Hall (D - TX) expressed surprise that a panel of scientists with computer expertise generally expressed aversion to the marriage of computers and voting.  ...

Mike Martin
Senior Science Correspondent
United Press International