Thursday, June 17, 2004

NYT Kevin Shelley profile: He Pushed the Hot Button of Touch-Screen Voting

The New York Times >by Katharine Q. Seelye, New York Times, June 15, 2004


Kevin Shelley is a big and voluble Irish politician, the son of a former San Francisco mayor, and not the sort you would figure for the heretofore semi-obscure job of California secretary of state. But Mr. Shelley, who was elected to the post in November 2002 after a career as a state legislator, has adapted the job to suit his style, taking the arcane matter of voting machines and turning it into a hobbyhorse that some predict he could ride to the governor's office.

Mr. Shelley, a Democrat, has gained national notice for his skepticism toward touch-screen voting and his insistence that voters be able to look at a paper record inside the voting booth to verify their ballots. He says such paper trails are crucial if government wants voters to have confidence that their ballots are being counted correctly.


His directive has national implications because 40 percent of all touch-screen voting machines in use are in California. If vendors start making equipment to the specifications of the huge California market, that market is likely to dictate what is available to the rest of the country.

But Mr. Shelley's advocacy of paper trails has set off a fierce and emotional reaction among local election officials in California and elsewhere and has brought the purchase of such systems to a near standstill. Nearly one third of voters nationwide this November will vote on touch screens.


To those who say he is only fanning fears, Mr. Shelley laughs.

"If a machine breaks down in San Diego, and it breaks down in Georgia, and they break down in Maryland, and they break down in Alameda and we have high schools where they can hack into the systems, the deficiencies are in the machines," he said.

"Look," he added, "I believe these machines have a very, very firm place in our future, but I also believe that in responding to the chaos in Florida in 2000 these machines were rushed out before all the kinks were worked out."

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