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Groundhog Day For E-Voting?

We're working on a story for tonight's Evening News about the sense of deja vu with electronic voting machines. Ever since the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002 newer touchscreens have faced increased scrutiny and concern from some security experts and academics. A few states -- including Ohio, Colorado, California and Florida are planning to abandon touchscreens and likely move towards optical scanner machines. As a Canadian (full disclosure) I'm not allowed to vote. But I can certainly understand the current frustrations associated with some adult American's right to case a ballot when it comes to lack of uniformity. But how big is this problem? Why don't all touchscreen machines have a voter-verified paper trail? And where do we go from here?

I've spent considerable time following and covering the electronic voting issue. Back in 2002 I can remember when I worked at CNN and we wheeled in all the touchscreen machines to the set so I could discuss how they work with anchor Paula Zahn. That's right around the time when alarm bells started to go off in certain tech sectors. In 2004 I attended a two-day conference at MIT hosted by the Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project, an ongoing movement aimed at minimizing the confusion/chaos experienced in 2000 with so-called hanging chads and other paper ballots. Also in 2004 I visited the offices of the Gaming Control Board in Nevada where state engineers were putting touchscreen machines to the test. I can remember then election officials still had a sense of optimism when it came to touchscreen voting, though they definitely recognized the potential for flaws and human error. Now, in some cases, that optimism seems to be Avi Rubin at Johns Hopkins University, the machines threaten to undermine the very democracy they are meant to help determine. The manufacturers have always defended their technology, but the recent wave of doubt seems to be overwhelming their apparent confidence. To be sure, this story is far from over.

I didn't have a chance to blog yesterday but of course much of the Web was abuzz with news of a proposed Microsoft buyout of Yahoo! -- maybe the new merger would be called Micro-hoo! -- in a clear move to align against Google. The online advertising market is key for Microsoft, and Yahoo! has surely been struggling of late. Both want to make gains with online search. It may be a mixed bag for shareholders but it's probably too early to tell how it'll affect most consumers. The AP did put together a decent outline of what could happen going forward if, IF, it actually happens. In any case, after all the anti-trust issues surrounding Microsoft in the late 1990s (through recently if you include the EU), it's interesting to now see the company on slightly different footing. Lesson learned: objects in rear-view mirror may be closer than they appear.