From New York to California, a growing number of lawmakers are expressing doubts about the integrity of paperless voting terminals that as many as 50 million Americans will use to cast ballots in November.
Computer scientists say so-called touch-screen machines are no more reliable than home computers, which crash, malfunction and fall prey to hackers and viruses. They're demanding paper records of every ballot cast, in case of recounts.
Among the biggest e-voting problems to date: In the March presidential primary, 573 of 1,038 polling places in San Diego County failed to open on time because of computer malfunctions. Without paper backups, hundreds of voters were asked to travel to another precinct or return later, possibly preventing them from casting ballots. In a January special election for a Florida state house seat, 134 people using paperless terminals in Broward County failed to cast votes for any candidate. The race was decided by 12 votes. Without a paper trail, it's unclear why some voters didn't select candidates. In North Carolina's 2002 general election, a software bug deleted 436 electronic ballots from six paperless machines in two counties. The machines erroneously thought their memories were full and stopped counting votes, even though voters kept casting ballots. In a 2002 primary in Clay County, Kan., computer results showed Roy Jennings defeating incumbent Jerry Mayo by 22 votes. Mayo contested the upset. In a hand recount of paper ballots, Mayo won by a landslide. Poll workers blamed the miscount on a microchip error. Earlier this year, California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley banned the use of a Diebold system after he found uncertified software and other problems that "jeopardized" the outcome of elections in several counties. At least 20 states have introduced legislation requiring a paper record of every vote cast.