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Computer Security Expert Reinforces ACM Recommendations For Secure, Reliable E-Voting

Felten's Congressional Testimony Urges Voter Verified Paper Trails

Virginia Gold

The Association for Computing Machinery



Felten's Congressional Testimony Urges Voter Verified Paper Trails

New York, NY - March 7, 2007 - At a Congressional hearing today on election reform, Professor Edward W. Felten, a Princeton University computer security expert, testified that voter jurisdictions should use properly designed paper records to clearly convey voter intent. Professor Felten's position closely tracks recent statements by ACM's Public Policy Committee (USACM), that a voter verified paper trail is a significant step toward mitigating security risks, potential software bugs, or voting machine failure during an election.

Appearing before the Subcommittee on Elections of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on House Administration, Professor Felten, a member of USACM, focused on the appropriate role of technology in elections. He said rather than choose between an all-electronic system and one that relies only on paper, policy makers should ask how to use computers and paper together, so that each can do what it does best, and each can compensate for the drawbacks of the other. He noted that such a hybrid system can be easier to use, more reliable, and more secure than either an all-electronic or an all-paper system.

The hearing on election reform was examining provisions of H.R. 811, the Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act of 2007. The bill, introduced by Representative Rush Holt (D. NJ), is aimed at amending the Help America Vote Act of 2002 to require voter verified paper ballots, among other things.

"The integrity of our elections requires that our voting systems accurately collect and count votes," said Barbara Simons, chair of USACM's voting subcommittee. "Given the acknowledged shortfalls of security testing and the risks of buggy or malicious software, we believe that voting systems should enable each voter to inspect a physical (i.e., paper) record or ballot to verify that his or her vote has been accurately cast. The paper ballot is also needed for random manual audits and total recounts," said Simons, a former ACM President.

USACM's Chair Eugene Spafford, Professor of Computer Science at Purdue University, added that while election security is of critical importance, so too is accessibility for all voters. "Fortunately, appropriately-designed systems using a combination of technologies can support a broader array of voters with physical limitations than many of today's machines, while also providing the increased accuracy and confidence of paper records," he said.

Professor Felten's statement urged further research to help understand how to improve the voting system. USACM has continually acknowledged that e-voting faces numerous challenges, and that it is a field ripe for further research. In addition, USACM has recommended that all voting systems - particularly computer-based e-voting systems - embody careful engineering, strong safeguards, and rigorous testing in both their design and operation.

The ACM statement on e-voting ( reflects the values in its long-held Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct. The Code states that computing professionals have a responsibility to share technical knowledge and expertise with the public by encouraging understanding of computing, including the impacts of computer systems and their limitations.

About ACM
ACM, the Association for Computing Machinery, is an educational and scientific society uniting the world's computing educators, researchers and professionals to inspire dialogue, share resources and address the field's challenges. ACM strengthens the profession's collective voice through strong leadership, promotion of the highest standards, and recognition of technical excellence. ACM supports the professional growth of its members by providing opportunities for life-long learning, career development, and professional networking.

ACM/Press Release. Last updated March 23, 2007 by Steven Geringer