In a series of controversial decisions last year, California Secretary of State Debra Bowen decertified the vast majority of electronic voting machines in the state, arguing that they were vulnerable to tampering and have defects that could corrupt vote counts.
As a result of her order, about a third of California counties are scrambling to prepare for the Feb. 5 presidential primary, printing millions of paper ballots, acquiring new optical scanners and pressing into service optical scanners normally used to count absentee ballots.
[...] The counties believed the machines provided a bulwark against a disputed election, like the one that hit Florida’s punch-card system in 2000. In their view, that election demonstrated an accuracy problem, not a security problem. Nonetheless, the electronic machines are under a cloud.
Bowen enlisted a team of eminent computer scientists from top laboratories and universities. They were able to hack into every type of voting machine. “People just don’t trust them,” Bowen said about the electronic machines. “You only have one chance to get an election right.”
Congress thought it was fixing the system in 2002 when it passed HAVA, laying the groundwork to eliminate punch-card systems, create new standards for certifying electronic voting machines and provide access to the disabled.
It created the Election Assistance Commission, a panel of two Republicans and two Democrats, to administer the new law.
But the $3 billion was handed out to states before the agency was formed, before new standards were created and before the commission could certify independent labs that would put a federal stamp of approval on the new equipment. As a result, the states purchased the machines based on the marketing of the four major electronic voting machine companies.