Thursday, January 26, 2006

Yolo County picks Vote-PAD for accessibility

The elections community is buzzing with the news that California's Yolo County has selected Vote-PAD as the assistive device it will use to meet the federal Help America Vote Act accessibility requirement. Today's Woodland Daily Democrat features an article by Monica Krauth about this development. The news was also covered last week in an article for Wired News by Kim Zetter.

One big advantage of the Vote-PAD device is that it is non-technical; there is no software, no electricity, no mechanical devices. This reduces the cost dramatically. It also may mean that the Vote-PAD device does not need to be tested or certified by the state, since it is not a voting system, but rather an assistive device. If Vote-PAD can bypass the certification process, it's possible that many other counties in California and elsewhere will consider this a viable option to electronic voting machines made by the major equipment vendors.

Excerpts from the Woodland Daily Democrat article are featured below.


"It's a whole new way of voting. It's simpler. It's tactile. It's something that we can feel," said Woodland resident Lucinda Talkington, who is a legally blind senior who saw Vote-PAD for the first time Tuesday.

Vote-PAD is based on a plastic sleeve with voting positions marked by tactile bumps. Next to the bumps are small, precision cut holes correspond to the voting position. An ordinary ballot can be slipped into the sleeve and voters with vision problems can listen to a variable speed audio script them through the ballot. Votes are indicated by filling in the appropriate holes.

After voting, voters can confirm that their choices were correctly recorded by using a light sensing shivering pen that stops shivering when it hits the dark spot created by the voter's mark.

Vote-PAD will be used through out the country, however, the only California county that will use it is Yolo County, though it will be used in a mock election in Alameda County. It still needs approval from the Secretary of State Bruce McPherson.

Freddie Oakley, county clerk, said she received inquiries from Los Angeles. "If it works for Yolo, others will follow," she said.

She feels assured that because of her friendship with McPherson, Vote-PAD will pass state inspection.

Though there have not been any accuracy problems in Yolo County, Oakley said, "we have to go to a new system. We are going to an optical scan."

Oakley calls Vote-PAD the perfect solution for counties who don't want to spend a fortune on fancy black box machines and who want to keep the control of elections close to home and open to the public. "Jurisdictions are begging for solutions to this problem," she said.


Former technical writer and voting activist in Washington, Ellen Theisen, is the creator of Vote-PAD with the goal of manufacturing a low-tech solution to meet the needs to voters with disabilities and developed Vote-Pad.

Theisen is also the founder and original Executive Director of VotersUnite!, a national non-partisan nonprofit dedicated to fair and accurate elections. She has seen "so many problems with electronic systems" and how much the systems took the elections out of the hands out of the election officials, she said.

"They run the elections, they should have the power. It should be simple enough that pole workers could deal with it. Elections should remain in the hands of the voting officials." Theisen said.


Before she chose Vote-PAD, Oakley interviewed other vendors of voting systems for purchase and implementation. That committee that helped her decide, she said, was chaired by retired county supervisor Betsy Marchand, staffed by retired county clerk / recorder Tony Bernhard and included a cross-section of Yolo County citizens, including representatives of the blind and disabled communities, representatives from all areas of the county, including poll workers.

According to Oakley, they recommended a computer based system called the "Automark," which was manufactured and sold by Election Systems and Software, Inc. of Omaha, Nebraska. She said that ESS's position as the sole vendor in California places their customers in an awkward position. "How do you negotiate when there is only one candidate for your business?"

She said that the company refused to meet their contractual requirements. "Most disturbing was their refusal to give us the right to control who among their service people would have access to our computers and software. I'm pretty implacable on that demand.

"In an industry where crimes including bribery and kickbacks have been proved, and where one line of computer code could change the outcome of an election, I'm not giving in."

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