March 10th, 2010
07:58 PM ET

Do electronic voting machines prevent voters from verifying their ballots?

 Former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura wants a receipt.

The author of "American Conspiracies: Lies, Lies, and More Dirty Lies that the Government Tells Us," as well as host of a cable television show on CNN's sister network TruTV, recently questioned the validity of votes cast using electronic election machinery. Ventura told CNN's Larry King that voters "have no idea...if your vote was actually recorded to the candidate of your choice."

"Would you go to an ATM machine that didn't give you a receipt?" Ventura asked. And he said that based on his research, "computerized electronic vote machines...can be tapped into." Ventura has referred to a specific election in Tennessee, saying electronic voting machines "were tapped into," but he has not provided specifics.

Given the fast approaching midterm elections, the CNN Fact Check desk decided to do some digging.

Fact Check: Do electronic voting machines prevent voters in national elections from verifying ballots before casting them?

- There are two types of electronic voting machines currently used. Both are known as direct-recording electronic devices, or DRE's. One type of DRE produces a voter-verified paper audit trail, or VVPAT, the other does not.

- In the Help America Vote Act, passed after the "hanging chads" saga of the 2000 presidential race, Congress imposed several requirements on states regarding electronic voting machines. The law stated that after January 1, 2006, all voting systems used in federal elections must permit voters to verify their selections on the ballot and allow them to change or correct their ballot before officially casting it.

- HAVA also requires voting machines to have the ability to produce a permanent paper record for election officials that can be manually audited and used in the event of a recount, but this does not have to be a voter verified paper record. States that accepted HAVA money had to meet these requirements.

- According to the Election Assistance Commission, which was set up under HAVA, 37 states and territories used DRE voting machines in the 2008 national election. Of those, only 16 used machines with the capacity of providing voter-verified paper trail.

- According to Election Data Services, Inc., a consulting firm which has been studying voting trends since 1980, use of electronic voting machines declined for the first time in the nation's history in the 2008 election.

- According to Dr. Michael Shamos, a computer scientist at Carnegie Mellon University and expert in electronic voting machines, there are no known cases of machine tampering during an actual election. While there are numerous allegations of such meddling, no case has ever been proven. According to Shamos, verifying such allegations would be easy to do given that one could open and test the actual machine.

Jonathan Katz, co-director for the Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project that studies DRE's, agrees. He's aware of demonstrations proving that machines are hackable and concedes that with a "fair bit of time and access" a machine could be hacked, but he's never heard of a machine that's been hacked during an actual election. Neither Shamos nor Katz said they were aware of any machine tampering in any election in Tennessee.

Bottom Line: 

Ventura is correct in that some DRE machines don't give you a paper receipt of your vote for security reasons. However, the machines do ask you to verify your vote before you officially cast it, they just don't give you a paper receipt for your vote. On the statement that machines have been "tapped into," Ventura is wrong, according to two experts.

–CNN's Robert Yoon contributed to this report.

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Filed under: Fact Check • Jesse Ventura
soundoff (One Response)
  1. nuts

    what the hell.. 'but the machines ask you to verify your vote'... AND??? he said it! would you go to an ATM machine that won't give you receipt??? you still have to verify you name! pleeeeaaaase think before you write anything, guys! you work for news papers! so even if the machine would ask for my suliva, blood test, sample of my hair and photo copy of my ID! SO WHAT! I will still be the one who won't have A PROOF of who i voted for! so ventura 1 : 0 people who claim to do research but ... oh my god.. how can you collect paycheck for working in the news. no brain needed for that job?

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