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Is your vote secure? Many digital systems lack paper backups, study says.

Computerized systems in 16 states – including some swing states – have no paper backup ballots or other paper trails ‘in some or all counties,’ leaving the vote vulnerable, a national study says.

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States whose systems lack paper backups for some of or all their voting systems include: Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.

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"I'm amazed so many states do not have paper backups for their equipment," says Joanne Rajoppi, clerk of Union County, N.J., and the incoming president of the International Association of Clerks, Recorders, Election Officials, and Treasurers, a volunteer organization. "We have paper backup in New Jersey. If there's a challenge to show where your votes come from, you're going to have to prove it. It's only fair."

At the same time, 31 states have adopted new Internet-based systems intended to allow troops and other citizens abroad to transmit their vote home electronically. But while six of those states place some security restrictions on how completed ballots can be returned, 24 states permit electronic votes to be returned "without restrictions," thus running the risk of ballots being intercepted and altered, the study says. 

Internet voting has been allowed in New Jersey ever since a US soldier requested a few years ago to send in his vote from his mountain outpost in Afghanistan, Ms. Rajoppi says. Yet New Jersey is the only state to require that the soldier also send in the original paper ballot as a backup.

A ballot sent via the Internet – including e-fax or e-mail – is "exposed to a far greater number of security threats including cyber-attacks such as modification in transit, denial of service, spoofing, automated vote buying, and viral attacks on voter PCs," the report says.

"We cannot overstate this fact: the technological reasons that 40 States have moved toward paper ballots or voter-verifiable paper records for voters at home also apply, with even greater urgency, to voted ballots returned to State and local election officials electronically from outside the country," the study says.

Officials from companies pioneering Internet voting disagree.

"We take security issues extremely seriously," says Lori Steele, chief executive officer of Everyone Counts, a San Diego-based Internet voting company that provides services in Colorado, Utah, Washington, Florida, and Illinois. "We use military-grade encryption and feel ours is the highest-level security of any voting system, including when you compare systems like mail or polling stations."

In Okaloosa County, Fla., Paul Lux, supervisor of elections, has had extensive experience with fledgling Internet voting systems, going all the way back to pilot tests in 2000. Today, the county is one of 13 in Florida that use LiveBallot, an Internet-based system developed by Democracy Live, a company in Issaquah, Wash., that specializes in voter information technologies.

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