Thursday, September 15, 2005

Riverside Press Enterprise endorses SB 370

The Riverside Press Enterprise published an editorial on Wednesday urging the Governor to sign SB 370. The editorial is particularly meaningful coming from the local newspaper of a county that has made a practice of obscuring its voting system from public oversight. The text of the editorial is featured below.


Faith in voting

September 14, 2005

Public confidence in the integrity of elections is worth taking the time to cultivate and maintain. So Gov. Schwarzenegger should sign SB 370, which provides a sensible way to verify the accuracy of electronic voting machines.

Yet the California Association of Clerks and Election Officials, supported by Secretary of State Bruce McPherson, has urged a veto. The group says such verification would be time-consuming and inaccurate. But those claims pale against the need for voter confidence in touch-screen machines' precision.

California law requires elections officials to conduct a manual recount of 1 percent of the ballots to ensure the accuracy of machine-counted vote totals. But touch-screen voting systems have typically lacked paper ballots that can be used in such a recount.

By 2006, all touch-screen machines in California must print out voters' choices, so that voters can verify their accuracy. SB 370, by Sen. Debra Bowen, D-Marina del Rey, would use this voter-verified paper trail for the recounts.

The county election officials say the voter-verified printouts can't be trusted for accuracy. The printouts do not distinguish provisional ballots or identify pre-Election Day votes by precinct. That means the voter-verified tally would differ from the computer results, the officials say.
But surely firms that design complicated voting software can handle the simple challenge of identifying precincts or provisional ballots on a printout.

The election officials group even argues that the printer system could be programmed to provide a different result than the computer's internal audit trail. Raising questions about faulty or malicious programming makes an odd argument for not insisting on the strictest accuracy checks available.
What better way to verify the accuracy of touch-screen tallies than by comparing them with the printouts voters approved? The computer tallies do have a backup record that can be printed out, but that is like comparing a photocopy to the original. Randomly testing voting devices, a past practice, also fails to check the machines against a record of ballots actually cast.

SB 370 does mean extra time and expense for registrars, but giving voters confidence in elections more than repays that investment.

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