Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Alameda county poll finds nearly half the county's voters prefer to mail in ballots

Today's Oakland Tribune features an article by Ian Hoffman about the results of a recent survey of Alameda County voters' attitudes about voting and voting equipment. Excerpts are featured below.


In an Alameda County opinion poll on voting and voting technologies, 45 percent of people preferred mailing their vote from the comfort of home, underscoring a state and national trend away from the tradition of heading to the polls on Election Day.

Thirty-five percent of voters enjoy the ease and speed of voting on ATM-like touch-screen voting machines, particularly in cities in the south and east, while 20 percent prefer having paper ballots in the polling place.

The preference for paper surprised county elections chief Elaine Ginnold.

"Twenty percent is significant," she said.

Taken together, the poll's findings of high public interest in voting by mail and on paper ballots support the move by Alameda County away from full electronic voting.

By mid-December, county supervisors will vote on buying a so-called blended system — mostly optical scanning machines for paper ballots, plus a couple of electronic touch-screens — to put in each of its 700 polling places.

Five vendors are vying for the contract, and local voters will get to test drive their voting machines in mid-November.

Voting advocates applauded the county for sampling voter opinion before buying new voting machinery, the first such survey of its kind in California.

"I think it's terrific," said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, based in Davis. "I think the county's going to make better equipment purchases because of it."

But one finding of the survey alarmed county elections officials: Almost one in three local voters — 32 percent — felt their votes might not be counted regardless of the method they used to cast their ballot. Only 49 percent of county voters had faith that their votes were counted.

Those results were so unexpected that the county and its pollsters at Pleasanton-based Shawver Associates didn't include any questions to find out why.

"It could be the general feeling about governments and elections since Florida 2000," Ginnold said.

Five years ago, uncertainties in balloting and recount rules landed the presidential race in the Supreme Court.

"It makes me feel like we really need to do a big campaign to let them know we count every ballot," Ginnold said.

The California Voter Foundation and others have made similar findings in surveys of voters and non-voters. Almost one in three Californians eligible to vote doubt their vote will be counted accurately, according to a foundation survey in the spring.

"A lot of voters are unregistered because they don't have faith that their votes are counted accurately," said the foundation's Alexander.

The federal Elections Assistance Commission found in a recent study that voter turnout in counties using electronic voting was slightly lower than in places using other voting technologies.

But many experts suspect the distrust of elections reaches beyond technology to distrust of political parties and government.

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