Today's San Francisco Chronicle features an article by Greg Lucas about several California counties' plans to use electronic voting machines with voter verified paper audit trails in the November 8 statewide special election. Excerpts from the article are featured below.
California voters may notice changes at their polling places during this year's special election as several counties test electronic voting equipment that will be required in 2006 to verify ballot choices and allow the disabled to vote unassisted.
Seven counties, including Monterey County, are using new technology that lets voters double-check their selections before casting a ballot electronically.
State law requires all counties using touch-screen voting systems -- 14 of the state's 58 -- to offer voters this option starting with the June 2006 primary.
"This is the perfect opportunity for us to introduce these printers to voters. It gives us an opportunity to find out if there are any problems with the units and start to make voters familiar with how they work," said Kari Verjil, registrar of voters for San Bernardino County. "And if we have the units, why wait for the June primary? Let's roll them out."
Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, said the counties are doing the right thing.
"Many counties are wisely choosing to implement this new equipment sooner rather than later so they and their voters and their poll workers can gain experience with it," Alexander said.
Local election officials aren't worried about introducing the new devices next month in part because it's a simpler ballot than next year's primary, but they do worry they may be saddled with the $44.7 million tab for conducting a statewide election.
In 2003, California was one of the first states to require voter receipts on touch-screen systems. Then-Secretary of State Kevin Shelley issued the order, in part, to allay fears about the reliability of the electronic systems.
Only counties using voting systems built by Oakland-based Sequoia Voting Systems can use the new voter receipt attachments because the company's VeriVote Printer is the only such device certified by the state so far.
But that certification is only for two ballot types -- English and Spanish -- which prevented Santa Clara County from using the devices this election. Santa Clara County also prints its ballot in Chinese, Vietnamese and Tagalog.
"We'll be using them next year after they are certified for all of our languages," said Elaine Larson, assistant registrar of voters.
Diebold Election Systems, whose touch-screens are used by Alameda and Plumas counties, has failed to win state approval for a voter-verified printer but expects to do so well before the June primary.
"We're continuing to work with the secretary of state," said David Baer, a Diebold spokesman.
Alameda County uses an older Diebold system which the company has decided not to retrofit with printers. Instead it offered to sell the county its new model. But the county is shopping for a new voting system that will use optical scan ballots for most voters and touch-screens for disabled voters.
With optical scan systems, voters fill in their choices by darkening ovals on the ballot. The ballot is later scanned electronically and tabulated.
"Federal requirements are changing all the time for electronic voting and we don't know what they're going to be two years down the road," said Elaine Ginnold, Alameda County's acting registrar. "There wasn't a paper trail requirement until just two years ago."
Also beginning next year is a requirement established by the Help America Vote Act in 2002 that every county have at least one voting machine in each polling place equipped to allow disabled voters to cast their ballot without assistance.
Touch-screen systems like those used in Santa Clara, Alameda and Napa counties satisfy the accessibility requirement because they are designed for use by the disabled and offer an audio ballot for the blind.
Sacramento and Contra Costa counties are introducing a device which marks optical scan ballots for disabled voters using a variety of methods, including Braille keyboard, foot pedal or oral prompts. The machine reads back the choices the voter has made before the ballot is cast.
Sacramento County is introducing the device countywide, Contra Costa County only in 20 percent of its precincts.
"The (manufacturers) were not prepared to roll this out in a lot of counties," said Stephen Weir, Contra Costa County's registrar. "We had to kick, scream, yell, fight, cajole to get our system up and running in time to do just this limited rollout."
San Mateo County is also using technology to help absentee voters, an increasingly larger bloc of the electorate, find out if their ballot arrived safely.
A bar code system already placed on ballots to compare signatures to those on absentee ballots now will also let a voter know the ballot was received if they log onto the county's Web page, www.shapethefuture.org, and click on "track and confirm."