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Release: Jan. 5, 2001

UI computer science professor to testify before U.S. Civil Rights Commission

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Installing identical voting machines at polling places across the country in an effort to avoid a repeat of the problems that plagued the 2000 presidential election could create more problems than it would solve, according to a University of Iowa expert.

Douglas W. Jones, associate professor of computer science in the University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts, is scheduled to testify Thursday at U.S. Civil Rights Commission hearings in Tallahassee, Fla. on voting machine technology and whether the rights of voters were violated during the 2000 election.

Jones says that he was invited by the Commission to testify at the Jan. 11-12 hearings, in part, because he chairs the Iowa Board of Examiners for Voting Machines and Electronic Voting Systems. He plans to discuss the range of available technology, making sure that Commission members realize that there are trade-offs involved. He emphasizes that installing one brand of machine across the country -- as some election reformers have suggested -- would pose the greatest risk of all.

"Each type of voting machine technology has advantages and disadvantages," he says. "But uniformity of voting machines has a major disadvantage; it would freeze the state-of-art. It would essentially pull the rug out from under a vibrant marketplace for designing and manufacturing voting machines.

"I don't want to be stuck with a single technology today, only to learn 10 years down the road that there is something terribly wrong with it. The risk of insider fraud would be great with a single type of machine or a single technology," he says. "I would much rather see six vendors competing in the marketplace instead of a monopoly."

Jones says that with several companies manufacturing machines of differing design, as is the case today, it is much more difficult for insiders to commit vote fraud. At the same time, he sees the need for far tougher standards governing the voting systems we use.

"The call for uniformity in improving our elections should be used to set uniform standards of performance for various types of machines -- not to dictate the uniform use of a particular product," he says. Jones adds that the standards he advocates would eliminate punched card ballots with all the problems of the hanging chads.