In the national debate over upgrading election infrastructure, Peter Neumann is an unlikely defender of the low-tech approach.
As principle scientist at Stanford Research Institute's Computer Science Laboratory, Neumann has spent the last 20 years studying how intrusion detection systems, cryptography and advanced software engineering can improve the reliability and security of computer systems.
But get him talking about how to run an election, and Neumann becomes an outspoken advocate of the paper ballot. He's also a sharp critic of computerized touch-screen voting machines.
"Some of them have lovely human interfaces, but if there's no assurance your vote goes through, it's irrelevant," said Neumann, who is concerned that in the fervor to embrace new voting technology, many jurisdictions will compromise the integrity of the election process.
Two weeks after the most highly computerized federal election in U.S. history, a number of computer scientists continue to raise concerns over security risks created by the widespread adoption of touch-screen voting systems.
Despite reports of smooth performance on Election Day from the major voting machine manufacturers, many experts remain concerned about fixing potential bugs before states spend billions more on touch-screen systems to automate the election process.
While paper ballots, punch cards and lever machines have their problems, a worry among some computer scientists is that the risks presented by touch-screen systems are more insidious because they are harder to detect.
Critics of so-called direct recording electronic, or DRE, voting machines, most of which employ touch screens, are particularly concerned about the lack of a paper trail. Although the most widely used DRE machines can at day's end print out at a record of ballots cast, detractors say this is insufficient.
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