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Pa. Voters on E-Voting

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Pa. voters on e-voting: Trust, but verify

In the first joint Lehigh-Muhlenberg poll, voters surveyed said they want a paper trail when they cast ballots electronically.

A survey conducted by Lehigh University and the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion in late September found that, when it comes to e-voting, Pennsylvania voters are following former President Ronald Reagan's famous adage: Trust, but verify.

The survey found that voters overwhelmingly agree on the importance of voters having the right to verify on paper that their vote is being counted fairly and accurately. The findings cut across all demographic divides, including party affiliation.

Other major survey findings include:

- The commonwealth's electorate also overwhelmingly believes every Pennsylvania county should use the same kind of voting machine.

- While the majority of voters believe electronic voting systems have been carefully tested and are secure from tampering, more than a third believe it would be easy to rig the systems to alter election results and almost two-thirds do not have a lot of trust that they will accurately count their vote.

- Overall, voters trust electronic voting machines much less than they do ATM machines, but more than they trust making Internet purchases securely or being accurately screened at airport security checkpoints.

"Pennsylvania voters make it quite clear they believe there is a need for a Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail," says Dan Lopresti, an associate professor of computer science and engineering at Lehigh and e-voting expert who collaborated on the project with Ziad Munson, assistant professor of sociology at Lehigh; and Chris Borick, professor of political science at Muhlenberg College and director of the college's Institute of Public Opinion.

"It is reassuring to see that the warning flags raised by the computer security community have not been missed, at least by voters," Lopresti adds. "One can only hope that our elected and appointed public officials take note and demand that the vendors of these systems take action before the worst-case scenario so many of us fear plays out in a real election."

"An extraordinary amount of agreement among regular voters"

Borick, a frequently consulted expert on political polling, concludes that the electorate sees both promise and peril in the introduction of e-voting systems.

"For their part, Pennsylvania voters express moderate levels of confidence in the new systems and believe they will make voting easier," Borick says. "At the same time, they overwhelmingly support ensuring that the machines show voters paper verification of the votes they cast."

That view, he adds, "reflects the importance placed on the voting process in a democratic system, as well as knowledge of past problems with voting fraud and a general wariness of technological innovation."

Adds Munson: "These findings demonstrate that Democratic and Republican voters are equally concerned about the erosion of the democratic process in recent years. There is an extraordinary amount of agreement among regular voters. The results indicate that the adoption of voter verified paper audit trail systems will be important to the public's trust of the country's democratic process in the coming years."

Pennsylvania has joined dozens of states in purchasing touch-screen electronic voting systems to comply with the 2002 Help America Vote Act (HAVA), which was designed to phase out lever and punch-card machines after the Florida "hanging chads" debacle during the 2000 presidential election and recount.

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L. Harbrecht is from Lehigh University.

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Pa. Voters on E-Voting


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