E-voting companies form trade group

There is safety in numbers. After recent controversy surrounding electronic voting systems, several e-voting companies have formed a trade group to promote their technologies, address security concerns, develop a code of ethics and help establish standards.

The Election Technology Council was established by Advanced Voting Solutions Inc., Diebold Election Systems Inc., Election Systems & Software Inc., Hart InterCivic Inc., Sequoia Voting Systems, and Unilect Corp. It will operate under the umbrella of the Information Technology Association of America and is open to any company in the election systems marketplace, provided they are members of the ITAA.

"As an industry, we believe that the transition to direct-recording electronic voting machines is the next wave and the best way to upgrade the nation's voting infrastructure," said David Hart, ETC chairman and chairman of Austin, Texas-based Hart InterCivic.

"We must move far beyond the point at which elections are determined by hanging or pregnant chads," said William Welsh, former chairman and board director of Omaha, Neb.-based Election Systems & Software.

In 2002, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act, which committed $3.6 billion to upgrading election systems nationwide. The measure was in response to disputed election results in Florida during the 2000 presidential election.

An August 2003 study by the International Foundation for Election Systems found 16 percent of election authorities used e-voting systems. Another 21 percent said they planned to convert to e-voting systems.

But the road to e-voting has not been without potholes. North Canton, Ohio-based Diebold Election Systems, which makes touch-screen voting machines, was embarrassed when an internal e-mail that cast doubts on the security of its systems showed up on the Internet.

In addition, several states, including California, Maryland, Nevada and Ohio, recently took steps to re-evaluate e-voting systems after computer scientists identified potential security risks in e-voting hardware and software. Some states have called for paper verification of electronic results.

"The ETC member companies have set a high bar for the information security of their products. But we cannot turn a deaf ear to those critics that disagree," said Tracey Graham, president of Oakland, Calif.-based Sequoia Voting Systems, a subsidiary of De La Rue PLC. "We need to do a better job of understanding valid concerns with the current state of practice, and establish a common set of best practices for assuring a level of product security that makes sense in the marketplace."

Sequoia Voting Systems recently announced it would sell an optional "voter verifiable paper record printer" for its AVC Edge touch-screen voting systems. First the product must be submitted for federal testing.

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