Friday, March 12, 2004

California senators want decertification of e-vote systems

By Anna Oberthur, Associated Press, 03/12/04

State senators Don Perata, a Democrat from Alameda county, and Ross Johnson, a Republican from Orange County, are urging California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley to decertify electronic voting machines and prevent their use in November. Perata and Johnson, who are the chair and vice-chair of the Senate Elections Committee, respectively, said in a letter to Secretary Shelley that if electronic voting systems are not decertified by the Secretary of State they will introduce legislation to prohibit e-voting in November.

Wired News featured a story on the news conference yesterday, along with the San Jose Mercury News, the Los Angeles Times,

the Sacramento Bee, and many other news outlets.

I attended yesterday's news conference and spoke in favor of the move to decertify touchscreens. Here is the statement I made:

Putting 21st century voting equipment into a ninetheenth century voting system is a recipe for disaster. It’s like putting a fuel cell engine into a Model-T Ford -- if you step on the gas the thing will fall apart, or explode. That’s pretty much what happened in three of our largest counties last week.

Our polling places are located in garages, churches, community groups -- not exactly the kinds of places that are appropriate for high-tech voting. Our pollworkers are essentially volunteers who give their service with limited pay and training.

The California Voter Foundation is not opposed to touchscreen voting but if it’s to be used, it must be done safely, which means having a voter verified paper trail, strong regulatory oversight, and high tech voting centers.

It is the position of the California Voter Foundation that any voting system that does not require a voter to directly mark on the ballot must still create a verifiable audit trail of each ballot cast that can be viewed by the voter at the time the ballot is cast; given today's technology the only practical voter-verifiable audit trail is a paper ballot image.

One reason some county registrars oppose the paper trail is because they think if pollworkers have to manage one more duty in the polling place the whole system will fall apart. But it’s already falling apart.

No amount of pollworker training is going to overcome the problems we saw on Tuesday. The problems in Alameda and San Diego can be attributed to the vendor, not the pollworkers. And San Diego knowingly used a voting system that was not federally approved.

Fourteen counties, comprising over 40 percent of California’s electorate, used electronic voting systems on March 2. All of these counties also have low-tech, paper-based optical scan systems they use for absentee voting. These optical scan systems can also be used in polling places, without having to purchase any new polling place equipment. All the counties have to do is print more ballots.

The safest thing we can do right now is for counties with electronic voting systems to put them away until they are safe to use.

Not every e-voting county had problems on Tuesday. But even if everything appears to go fine we still can’t verify the results. We still don’t have a paper audit trail to ensure the computerized vote count is accurate. And we shouldn’t end every election praying for wide margins.

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