Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Mercury News Editorial: Lock in Shelley's e-voting gains

Secretary of State has political trouble, but his work on election reliability is groundbreaking; Governor should sign SB 1438

San Jose Mercury News editorial, August 31, 2004


Secretary of State Kevin Shelley has hit the trifecta of trouble.

As the state's chief elections officer, he's under investigation for possible cronyism in distributing voter education money.

As a candidate, he's under investigation for possibly receiving improper campaign contributions.

As a boss, he's under investigation for alleged abusive behavior.

The effect of all this to Shelley's political career is his problem. What California voters should worry about is the threat to his groundbreaking work on assuring the reliability of touch-screen voting.

Shelley's troubles are all the more reason that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger should sign a bill ensuring that Shelley's wisest decision -- requiring a paper trail -- becomes California law.

SB 1438 would mandate that, no later than January 2006, every county using a touch-screen voting system include a paper copy of the ballot. Voters would use it to verify the accuracy of their electronic votes. The bill is headed toward Schwarzenegger's desk.

When Senators Don Perata, an Oakland Democrat, and Ross Johnson, a Republican from Irvine, first proposed the bill this year, it appeared redundant. Shelley essentially had already done the same thing, through regulations from his office, in the fall of 2003.

But regulations, which another secretary of state can undo, aren't protection enough.


In his two years as secretary of state, Shelley has made plenty of enemies among county registrars of voters who resent the secretary's mandates for more security and accountability for electronic voting systems. They'd love to see him take a fall so they could try to roll back the paper trail and other important safeguards.

We doubt they'd succeed. But Schwarzenegger's signature on the paper-audit bill would build a moat around Shelley's reforms.

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