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Voting security questioned: Perdue seeks probe after study cites risks in new state system

Atlanta Journal Constitution

INDIANAPOLIS -- Gov. Sonny Perdue on Monday called for an investigation of charges that Georgia's new $54 million system of computerized voting machines is vulnerable to tampering.

"We're very concerned about the software, about the security of the ballots," Perdue said on C-SPAN while attending a gathering of the National Governors Association. "If [the machines] turn out to be not reliable or can be tampered with, then they're -- frankly -- useless."

In Atlanta on Monday, Secretary of State Cathy Cox expressed "total confidence in Georgia's new electronic platforms," which she said "increased the accuracy of the vote count fivefold last year."

Last month, a study released by Johns Hopkins University computer researchers cited "significant security flaws" in the system designed by Diebold Election Systems and used in Georgia and several other states.

However, election officials in several other states and some computer researchers have cast doubt on the findings of the Johns Hopkins study. They said it exaggerated the machines' vulnerability to hackers and failed to take into account the physical security surrounding the machines.

After Perdue commented on C-SPAN, he elaborated: "We've got to assure the public that software cannot be rigged and it cannot be changed to stuff the ballot box electronically."

The governor said he would ask Cox, a Democrat often mentioned as a candidate for governor in 2006, to re-examine the system. She implemented it in November, after questions were raised about Florida's ballot system in the 2000 presidential race.

Although the state Republican Party has raised questions about the machines, Monday was the first time Perdue has said the Johns Hopkins study warrants a closer look.

Cox said in a statement: "Although we've not previously heard anything from Governor Perdue indicating concern about the integrity of our election system, we welcome his questions."

Perdue, one of the first public officials elected through use of the machines, acknowledged Monday the voting system's popularity with voters.

Questions about the integrity of computerized voting machines have been stronger in other states, which only now are implementing the systems. In Congress, pending legislation would require such systems to include a "paper trail" for vote checking.

On Friday, Cox plans to host an explanatory session for Georgia members of Congress.
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