E-Voting's Flaws Out In Open

After three decades of punch cards, California's Alameda County went high-tech - spending millions on touch-screen voting machines made by Diebold Election Systems.

But in March, California voters were left hanging - not with chads - but computer glitches that kept many Diebold machines from starting, CBS News Correspondent Trish Regan reports.

Thousands of voters were turned away, and most alarming was a software bug that credited thousands of votes to the wrong candidate.

"On election morning, when something like that happens it's very very frustrating, and it's indescribable what goes through your mind," said Elaine Ginnold, the assistant registrar of voters for Alameda County.

"I just wonder how many people these systems have let down," one angry voter told Regan.

So California is pulling the plug on 14,000 machines and setting strict conditions on 28,000 more.

Diebold told CBS News they were unavailable for an interview but did issue a statement, saying:

"We have confidence in our technology and its benefits, and we look forward to helping administer successful elections in California and elsewhere in the country in November."

But some expect the California ban to inspire action in other states, like Florida – where in January 134 electronic votes weren't recorded in a race won by just 12 votes. Touch-screen machines also lost votes in North Carolina in 2002.

In Maryland, a test team recently demonstrated how hackers could manipulate election results in just minutes.

"That person hacking the machine could be an insider, even a programmer at the company," said Stanford University computer scientist David Dill.

Election watchdogs insist paper printouts at polling places would verify votes and quickly flag fraud. But most machines are not made with the printer option - often at the request of election organizers, Regan reports.

"Dealing with paper at the pools, paper printers jam, they smear, they have error messages – we just see a nightmare," Ginnold said.

The federal agency charged with overseeing electronic voting will look at these issues and other problems at a hearing in Washington on Wednesday. The goal: debug the system before it derails what many expect may be a close election.
  • Joel Arak

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