Thursday, February 10, 2005

LA Times reports on costs of adding printers to California's e-voting machines

Monday's Los Angeles Times featured an article by Stuart Pfeifer reporting that local election officials estimate it will cost between $18 and $23 million to comply with California's new voter verified paper trail requirement, which takes effect in 2006.

According to the story,

"Five of the 13 counties with electronic voting systems say their suppliers will make the changes at no additional cost because the printers were part of their original contracts. But other counties are wondering where they'll find the money. Orange County estimates it will cost $9 million to make the changes. Riverside County estimates its cost at between $3.4 million and $4.7 million, and Alameda County may have to pay between $5 million and $8 million.

"The financial effect on Los Angeles County will be minimal, because it uses only a few electronic voting devices during early voting. For several more years, the county plans to use InkaVote paper ballots on election day."

Cathy Darling, the registrar of Shasta County, which expects to spend $200,000 to upgrade their machines with the paper record, told the Times that "Every dollar that [we] seek out of the general fund is money that can't go to local fire, can't go to local law enforcement, can't go to the local library". The thing is, Shasta spent far more than that -- over $1.6 million

-- to buy the touchscreens in the first place. Most of those costs were covered by state and federal dollars, and the same will be true for the printers.

Other registrars, such as Brad Clark of Alameda County, continue to insist the paper trail isn't necessary. "I really don't think it's necessary. I really don't," Clark told the Times. "But unfortunately the people who wanted it have raised such a fuss that they've created this atmosphere of distrust in the public." That's a funny comment coming from a man who oversaw the implementation of Diebold's touchscreen voting system, only to later join in a lawsuit seeking millions in damages because the company sold the county uncertified software.

The good news is that not all the registrars are unhappy about the paper trail requirement -- those counties with the foresight to build a paper trail feature into their contracts before signing on with a vendor will enjoy free or reduced rates on the printers. Pfeifer writes that "Santa Clara, San Diego, San Bernardino, San Joaquin and Kern counties have contracts with suppliers who agreed to provide the printers if they were ever required by state law. "I'm absolutely thrilled about it," said Donna Manning, registrar in San Bernardino County, which approved a contract in July 2003 that included printers at no additional cost."

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