GAO to investigate voting irregularities

The Government Accountability Office will investigate irregularities in the 2004 general election, including an examination of the security and accuracy of electronic voting machines.

The decision follows requests earlier this month from more than a dozen Democratic congressmen that GAO look into election problems reported to their offices.

In addition to voting technologies, GAO will look into the distribution and allocation of voting machines and counting of provisional ballots. The request initially was spurred by constituent complaints and news reports of problems in California, Florida, North Carolina and Ohio in which thousands of votes were erroneously recorded, deleted or added.

In a joint statement on the GAO investigation, the representatives said, "We will provide copies of specific incident reports received in our offices, including more than 57,000 such complaints provided to the House Judiciary Committee."

New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler placed a form on his Web site to let individuals submit complaints and comments on the election. Nadler, one of the signers of the letters, is the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution.

Nadler's Washington office director, John Doty, said Judiciary Democrats probably would call for hearings early next year on voting rights, technology and standards. Scheduling hearings would be up to the Republican majority. The investigation is not a challenge of the election, Doty said.

Electronic voting has become a hot topic as states begin investing in new voting machines, many of them using computer technology that records votes electronically.

A number of computer scientists and voting rights activists have questioned the security and reliability of machines that record votes electronically with no paper ballots. The computer-based machines are subject to errors in code and security breaches, and no meaningful recount is possible without a separate paper ballot, they said.

State and local governments conduct elections. The federal government historically has not set rules for the nuts and bolts of casting and counting votes. The Help America Vote Act, passed in the wake of the disputed presidential election of 2000, is the federal government's first foray into that area. But HAVA's key requirements do not kick in until 2006, when voting systems used in federal elections will have to provide for error correction by voters, manual auditing, alternative languages and compliance with federal error rate standards.

Work on standards has just begun. The National Institute of Standards and Technology chairs a committee producing voluntary guidelines for developing electronic voting software for the Election Assistance Commission.

The initial requests to GAO were made by Democratic representatives Nadler; John Conyers Jr., Mich.; Robert Wexler, Fla.; Robert Scott, Va.; and Rush Holt, N.J. They have been joined by representatives Melvin Watt, N.C.; John Olver, Mass.; Bob Filner, Calif.; Gregory Meeks, N.Y.; Barbara Lee, Calif.; Tammy Baldwin, Wisc.; Louise Slaughter, N.Y.; and Gregory Miller, Calif.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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