Thursday, March 9, 2006

From E-Voting to Paper Ballots in Piedmont, CA

Tuesday was a milestone in California's voting history. The city of Piedmont, located in Alameda County, used paper ballots in its municipal election. Piedmont was the first city in California to try out electronic voting machines, and Alameda was one of the first California counties to purchase e-voting machines. Thanks to a law enacted by the California Legislature in 2004, electronic voting machines must now produce a voter-verified paper audit trail to back up each electronic ballot. The new law took effect on January 1 of this year, and Alameda, like many counties, is struggling to figure out how they will comply with the paper trail requirement county-wide for the June primary.

In the meantime, Piedmont held its municipal election on paper ballots, and also tried out the Vote-PAD, an affordable and low-tech device that provides access for disabled voters. More details are featured in this article by Ian Hoffman for the Alameda Newspaper Group. Excerpts are below.


For elections, Alameda County is headed back to the future, and what that future looks like will play out today in the city of Piedmont.

After six years of electronic ballots, voters in Piedmont's municipal elections will be marking their choices on paper ballots, and so far that is the direction Alameda County is headed for the June primary.


California and many other states now require that voters have some form of paper printout to double-check their electronic vote and that elections officials use that paper for recounts.

But most voting machine makers did not adapt their touch screens for printers in time for use in elections this spring and early summer. So Piedmont is headed back to plain paper ballots, and so probably is Alameda, at least for the June elections.

Voters in Piedmont or anywhere in the county also will have a chance to experiment today with a new, low-tech variant designed for those with disabilities. It is a ballot-marking tablet called VotePad, with plastic pages and audio instructions to guide voters in marking their choices. Ellen Theisen, founder of VotersUnite, led the invention of VotePad as a simple, nontechnical answer to the demand and federal legal requirement for handicapped-accessible voting. Elections workers at the city community center and other polling places will be on hand to help voters try out the VotePad.

Acting Alameda County Registrar of Voters Elaine Ginnold has been around long enough to see voting systems come full circle, from the old paper punch cards to paperless electronic voting and now back to optically scanned paper.
"I think there's a lot of irony in it," she said Monday. "It's very interesting that five years later we're here in this position without any electronic voting equipment."

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