Electronic Voting May Not Help in Close Race

More than 61 percent of the nation's voters this fall will use electronically enhanced voting systems aimed at avoiding a repeat of the disputed 2000 election, but the changes won't be enough if the tally is close, according to a new study.

The study released Thursday by the political consulting company, Election Data Services (search), said 50 million voters, or 28.9 percent, will use touchscreen, ATM-style machines to cast their ballots -- an increase from 12.5 percent in 2000.

About 55.7 million, or 32.2 percent, will turn in paper ballots with filled-in ovals similar to SAT tests that will be read by optical scan equipment (search). That's up from 29 percent in 2000.

However, nearly 32 million voters, or 18.6 percent, will continue to vote on punch cards despite the federal Help America Vote Act's (search) push to retire the equipment that was at the center of the Florida deadlock in 2000. In 2000, the figure was 28 percent.

The remaining voters will use mechanical lever machines or other methods.

"It is a possibility you can still have a 2000 (stalemate) in 2004," said Kimball Brace, president of EDS. "If the election is close, election administrators need to make sure they're cognizant and have all the procedures down, because a lot more people will be watching."

Congress authorized $3.9 billion for states in 2002 to replace outdated equipment, but only about $650 million has been distributed so far amid political wrangling and doubts about the reliability of electronic voting.

Critics say electronic systems could be vulnerable to hacking, and in the event of a recount, election administrators would not have a definitive paper trail but rather a computer memory bank.

"After HAVA was passed, everyone was writing about how everything was going to change for the 2004 election," Brace said. But the "continued controversy over voter-verified ballots with electronic systems has led to a slowdown of changes."

The EDS survey covers about 3,100 election jurisdictions in the United States, and made its projections based on data as of Feb. 9.