"Every Vote Must Count," San Francisco Chronicle editorial, August 20, 2004
Today's S.F. Chronicle features an editorial urging the California legislature to pass SB 1438, which would require a voter verified paper record of each electronic ballot before the next statewide election, which is the March 2006 primary.
In a democracy, perhaps the only thing more frustrating than being denied the right to vote is voting without ever really knowing whether your ballot was actually counted.
That is why it is so hard to understand how an Assembly committee last week killed a bill that would have required paper printouts for electronic voting machines.
SB1438 would have required by January 2006 that the machines provide each voter with hard copies to verify their selections upon leaving the polling place. The bipartisan legislation, co-authored by Sens. Ross Johnson, R- Irvine, and Don Perata, D-Oakland, would have mandated the printouts six months sooner than the July 2006 deadline set by Secretary of State Kevin Shelley as a way for voters to confirm that their choices are accurately recorded.
The bill survived the Senate but died last week in the Assembly Appropriations Committee after opponents called it too costly -- up to $16 million to upgrade machines in the counties now using them without the printout capacity.
Disabled voters also opposed the bill, fearing counties might return to paper ballots that hinder their right to vote independently and in private.
The arguments have merit but are irrelevant if the machines are unreliable -- as with the one demonstrated in the Capitol a few days before the bill was killed. A highly touted touch-screen machine repeatedly discounted intended votes, a critical glitch that would have gone unsuspected without paper printouts.
"If these machines malfunction ... at the Capitol, why should we believe they are going to work at the polls?" Perata rightly wondered. The Assembly ought to revive SB1438. Voting is too precious to be entrusted to unreliable machines.