Monday, August 15, 2005

USA Today story on paper trails in the states

Last week USA Today featured an article by Jim Drinkard highlighting the growing trend around the nation to implement a voter verified paper audit trail requirement in the states. As the article notes, already 25 states have enacted laws to require a paper trail. Last week North Carolina's legislature passed a paper trail bill, which if signed into law will bring the total number to 26. The USA Today story also features a helpful map showing the status of paper trail laws and legislation in the 50 states.

Excerpts from the USA Today story are below.


Three years into a national debate over the security and reliability of computerized voting machines, the skeptics are winning.

In the past month, legislatures in five states — Connecticut, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York and Oregon — have passed laws requiring computer-based voting machines to produce a paper backup that can be verified by the voter, according to, which monitors voting systems. That brings to 25 the number of states that require a paper trail.

Fourteen other states and the District of Columbia are considering similar legislation.

Paper printouts could be used to verify the electronic count, or as a fail-safe measure in case a recount is needed.

Advocates of requiring a paper trail say it is a response to voters' concerns about whether their ballots are being accurately tallied. Those concerns, they say, stem from the nation's traumatic experience with the disputed 2000 presidential election in Florida and a continuing close split in the nation's politics.

"We're not getting many landslides these days, so it's crucial that the votes be counted accurately," says Will Doherty, director of, which lobbies for paper trails on voting machines.

Some election experts fear that paper backup records will add a layer of complexity to an already delicate system. That could lead to even worse problems in the 2006 elections, such as jammed printers and long voting lines, they say.

"The unintended consequence of a (paper trail) mandate could diminish, rather than enhance, voter confidence," says Conny McCormack, who runs elections in the nation's largest voting jurisdiction, Los Angeles County.

"When we start using paper trails in a live election, all of these problems are going to become apparent," says Linda Lamone, administrator of the Maryland Board of Elections. "Problems with paper ballots are going to cause a whole new cloud over the system."

One example already has cropped up. In a California test July 20 of touch-screen voting machines with add-on printers, nearly 20% of the machines experienced problems, including paper jams and computer crashes. The machines were made by Diebold, a leading manufacturer of touch-screen computer voting equipment.

California has since banned the machines, and the test sent qualms through states such as Mississippi and Utah, which had decided to buy machines like those California rejected.

"That just threw holy hell into everybody's bonnet," says Kimball Brace of Election Data Services, a firm that monitors the kinds of voting systems in use across the nation.

Maryland was among the first states to go to all-electronic voting after the problems of the 2000 election, and its experience has been good, Lamone says. "If the proper security measures and procedures are put into place, it's the best system that there is," she says.


If a close election goes to a recount, disputes could arise over whether the electronic vote or the paper version is the official record. Paper could be lost, and recounts could take weeks, Lamone says.

More and more states are making decisions about voting technology to meet a Jan. 1 deadline in the Help America Vote Act, which provides federal money to replace outmoded voting machines.

Brace notes that whenever localities adopt new voting technology, the first year it is used holds the greatest risk of problems.

"There's still the potential for a train wreck coming next year," he says.

No comments:

Post a Comment