E-vote pioneer will return to paper ballots

Piedmont, first in state to use touch screens, returns to old technology in city balloting today


By Ian Hoffman, STAFF WRITER

Inside Bay Area

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.


The city has a history of being a pioneer in voting technologies for the county, even for the state. Piedmont made California history in 1999 with the state's first election conducted on ATM-like touch-screen voting machines. Riverside County and Alameda County were close behind, and by the last statewide race more than a third of state voters were casting fully electronic ballots.


Yet paperless touch-screen voting has fallen from favor after three years of criticism from computer scientists and voting activists who say fraud and errors on the machines can be virtually undetectable. 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 intime 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."


Contact Ian Hoffman at


2006 Chico Enterprise-Record



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