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27 Jan, 2008 06:37

Faulty voting gear clouds Obama's S.Carolina win

In the U.S. presidential race, Barack Obama has won a big victory in South Carolina's Democratic primary. With huge support among black voters, Obama won twice as many votes as runner-up Hillary Clinton. While the results are not in doubt, come critics co

Despite some concerns on the eve of the poll, state officials went ahead with touch-screen voting machines.

Critics say they are unreliable. But election officials claim it's not the machines that are at fault but the people using them. They say human error accounts for any problems that have arisen.

A study conducted by researchers in Ohio suggests the South Carolina voting machines can be corrupted with magnets or handheld electronic devices.

Duncan Buell, computer science professor at the University of South Carolina, says this is like taking a very sensitive document, locking it in a safe, and then painting the combination to the safe outside on it.
State Election Commission spokesman says training is a major issue with the new machines. He cited an incident last week during the Republican primary in South Carolina where about 90 per cent of the machines in one county malfunctioned on election day.

“What happened there was that the clear & test procedure was not performed,” Chris Whitmire said.

But Professor Buell says this may be an indication that the entire process is too complex.

“If you are going to have this kind of event, you’d better make absolutely sure your process is simple. And it seems to me it's not simple enough to be fail-safe,” he said.

Following the 2000 presidential election controversy in Florida involving punch-card ballots, the U.S. Congress passed legislation allocating money to switch to an electronic voting system.

But concerns remain, and as Professor Buell says, if not addressed on the primary level, this could become a real problem at the presidential election in November.