Thursday, August 25, 2005

SB 370/Bowen likely to be taken up on Assembly Floor today

Lots of people are following SB 370, a bill by Senator Debra Bowen to require that voter-verified paper audit trails are used in California to verify the accuracy of software vote counts. The bill is likely to be taken up on the Assembly floor today. Assemblyman Tom Umberg, chair of the Assembly Elections Committee, is the member who will be taking it up. If it passes out of the Assembly, the bill heads back to the Senate for a final floor vote. Once it passes the Senate it goes to the Governor for his signature or veto. You can watch legislative proceedings via the California Channel's webcast online.

There have been no "no" votes cast on SB 370, but Secretary of State Bruce McPherson did recently come out opposing it, which was very disappointing. Hopefully the Governor will sign the bill anyway. There were several reasons the Secretary of State decided to oppose the bill -- one reason was that county election officials said it would take too much time to perform this verification process. But without this step in the election process it is impossible to give the public any reasonable assurance that computerized election results are accurate. This verification process has served California voters well for forty years using paper-voting systems but has been undermined over the past five years with the use of paperless electronic voting machines.

Why are some election officials so opposed to public verification of election results? What are they afraid of? I've thought about this a lot over the years working on these issues, and have concluded that what they are afraid of is this: they know that there are going to be problems with their vote counting software, that there will be glitches and snafus. There have always been problems with vote counting software, just as there have always been problems with any kind of software we use. I think some election officials would prefer to quietly solve these problems in the back room rather than have to account for them in public. But elections aren't for election officials. They are for the public, and the public deserves and demands a reasonable degree of confidence in the accuracy of our election results.

The Legislature responded to this need last year when it unanimously enacted and Governor Schwarzenegger signed SB 1438, to require that electronic voting machines produce a voter-verified paper audit trail. Now the Legislature needs to act again to ensure that paper trail is used by county election officials to verify the accuracy of software vote counts. Several other legislatures across the county have already passed laws this year mandating paper trails and their use to routinely verify software vote counts. Check out Verified Voting's new summary for details. Not only have other states passed this law, but the percentage of ballots counted in other states' verification process is higher than California's.

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