By BETTY IRELAND

CHARLESTON -- In recent months, several news reports have raised questions about the trustworthiness of touch-screen voting devices manufactured by Election Systems & Software (ES&S). The scrutiny arises from reports issued by a handful of states barring the further use of ES&S devices in their elections.

Since ES&S voting machines are used in 34 West Virginia counties, I feel compelled to address this issue and clarify several points in regard to their accuracy and reliability. As Secretary of State, I am personally devoted to the premise of fair, accurate and trustworthy elections in our state. After carefully and thoroughly reviewing the reports issued by these other states, I remain confident that our current voting technology will provide voters in West Virginia with dependable and accurate voting results.

The fact is, so-called "problems" that have been widely reported about ES&S voting machines, including optical scan and precinct counting machines, have never been evidenced in actual balloting by voters participating in any elections. Put another way, to my knowledge these machines have never been hacked on Election Day, and no votes have been tampered with at anytime in any election. Rather, all of the issues reported in the press have come as a result of "tests" conducted in a few states, tests which varied widely in their method and controls.

The conditions under which Ohio and Colorado conducted their tests simply do not mirror the actual conditions present in an election precinct, and they do not reflect the measures in place before, during and after an election to ensure votes are cast and counted properly.

For example, in Colorado, state elections officials claimed that a magnet held close to the device caused a failure in operation. But when county officials in Mesa County, Colorado, tried to duplicate those tests, they encountered no problems at all.

A recent news story in The (Grand Junction) Daily Sentinel reported on the Mesa County tests as follows: "Thursday's mock election conducted by the Mesa County Clerk's Elections Division, with its decertified ES&S electronic vote machines, went off without a hitch. Try as they might, elections officials could not reproduce the problems that led Colorado Secretary of State Mike Coffman to decertify the county's voting machines recently." (The Daily Sentinel, Jan. 10, 2008)

West Virginia has one of the most stringent testing procedures in the nation. State law requires that the machines be subjected to a pre-test, a public test, an Election Day test, and a test prior to canvass. Security measures required by statute and those developed by my office will protect against the concerns, however remote, identified in these reports.

Elections are always subject to corruption and error. Long before the advent of electronic voting devices, parts of our state were historically plagued with election corruption. In fact, the easiest ballots to corrupt are paper ballots.

When individuals take it upon themselves to manipulate or corrupt an election, they will, sadly, often find ways to do so. But I believe the electronic systems we have in place now in West Virginia, which include touch-screens as well as optical scan and precinct count machines, make such efforts more difficult than almost any other method of voting.

What would be truly irresponsible would be for anyone to advocate decertification of the ES&S machines based on news reports, or testing that was conducted under improperly controlled settings, or complaints that are politically motivated. (Notably, many states, including South Carolina and neighboring states Virginia, Kentucky and Pennsylvania, have used or plan to use ES&S devices in their '08 primaries.)

Responsible decision making on this issue requires a consideration only of sound, properly controlled testing procedures, and actual election conditions and results. Under those criteria, West Virginia voters can be confident in the performance, integrity and accuracy of ES&S touch screen voting machines.

Ireland is West Virginia's Secretary of State.

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