Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Mercury News editorial: Paper ballot spot check is key to election integrity

Today's San Jose Mercury News features an editorial urging Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to sign SB 370/Bowen. It sums up the need for this bill quite well, and is featured below.


A paper trail, both during an election and afterward, is essential to ensure the integrity of electronic voting. A bill requiring the use of paper ballots during a post-election recount is heading toward the governor's desk. Despite the opposition of Secretary of State Bruce McPherson, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger should sign it.

For four decades, state law has required that poll officials after an election do a random manual recount of 1 percent of ballots cast, as a check against election malfunction and fraud. SB 370, sponsored by Sen. Debra Bowen, D-Redondo Beach, would require that the sample recounts for electronic voting be done using the paper printouts that voters now use to verify their ballots.

California is one of two dozen states that mandate a voter-verified paper trail for touch-screen machines. A dozen of those now use the paper printouts in a sample recount.

That should seem obvious, but not to most county registrars of voters and McPherson. They want to take the easier and quicker route of printing out electronic images of votes that the touch-screen software can create internally but that voters don't see.

The difference may seem an arcane point, but it's fundamental. If there is a glitch with the software, you won't know it by simply using images that mask the problem. Only the paper copies that voters verified when they voted can offer an accurate check.

The registrars protest that counting the paper slips would be cumbersome and might interfere with the requirement to do a recount within 28 days of an election -- a weak excuse. Some have continued to insist that a paper trail is unnecessary. But there have been enough breakdowns and bugs in touch-screen machines to warrant skepticism and justify the extra check that SB 370 would provide.

McPherson has another objection: The voter-verified paper slips don't conform in size, print clarity and paper weight to a legal ballot. That is true but shouldn't preclude their use. Regulations should be changed to incorporate the voter-verified receipts, and voting machine companies should be encouraged to produce a paper trail from larger, sturdier stock.

California took the lead in demanding accurate electronic voting. SB 370 is key to election accountability.

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