The record use of electronic voting machines on Nov. 2 led to hundreds of voting irregularities and shows the need for higher standards, a voting rights group said Thursday.

The companies that make the electronic machines said their equipment was reliable and had relatively few problems considering the millions who cast their ballots.

The Election Verification Project (search) reviewed nearly 900 reports of electronic voting problems on Election Day, ranging from lost votes in North Carolina to miscounted votes in Ohio and breakdowns in New Orleans that caused long lines and shut down polling places.

"The documented problems with touch screen machines, vote-counting irregularities and the fact that votes cannot be verified or recounted show us how vulnerable our democracy will be in the future when there are disputed or unclear results," said Kim Alexander, a project member and president of the California Voter Foundation (search).

The members of the verification project said they hadn't seen evidence that the problems would change the election results — President Bush captured 60.5 million votes to Sen. John Kerry's 57.1 million. But they said the problems raised the specter of that possibility in a closer race.

Without a paper trail of electronic votes, they said, officials can never be sure that machines are recording votes correctly. "If this were the banking industry, the gambling industry, there would be standards for making sure the software was working right," Alexander said.

More than 40 million Americans cast their votes Nov. 2 using about 175,000 electronic voting machines, and the companies said the problems were few.

"To the extent that such episodes exist, they appear to be of limited scope and easily fixed," said Bob Cohen, spokesman for the Information Technology Association of America (search), a trade group that includes voting machine manufacturers.

The project reviewed dozens of instances where machines misrecorded a vote for Kerry as a vote for Bush and vice versa. There were other examples where machines had ballot choices already filled out that voters had to change and instances where voters filled in selections that suddenly went blank.

The verification project said malfunctions can be prevented or reduced with federal and state laws requiring a paper record, national uniform standards for electronic voting and routine auditing of computerized vote counts.