California secretary of state says paper-trail recounts
By Ian Hoffman, STAFF WRITER
California's secretary of state, a proponent of backup paper
records for electronic voting machines, is nonetheless opposing their use in
vote recounts as legally problematic and impractical, an opinion that could
influence national voting reforms.
After months of collecting public opinion, Secretary of
State Bruce McPherson recently urged rejection of a new bill that would mandate
counting of paper-trail records on e-voting machines.
That, according to voting activists, would render paper
trails useless as an independent check on voting computers and software.
"We're at risk of losing the one form of independent
verification that we have when counting electronic votes," said Kim
Alexander, president of the nonprofit California Voter Foundation. "Unless
it's used in a recount, there's no reason for voters to be confident in the
accuracy of software vote counts."
Computer scientists latched onto the idea of paper trails
after the controversial 2000 elections and a flood of new, computerized,
touch-screen, voting machines took the place of older punch-card and lever
With a printed paper audit trail, the logic went, voters
could verify their computerized ballots, and elections officials would have a
paper record of every vote to count as a check on the computers. More than 20
states now require a paper-trail printer on electronic voting machines or are
"It's clear to me that the momentum is behind paper
trails," said Dan Seligson, editor of Electionline.org, a nonpartisan
clearinghouse for voting reform information.
At issue is a bill authored by Redondo Beach Democrat Debra
Bowen, chair of the Senate Committee on Elections and Reapportionment. No
lawmaker has voted against the bill in any committee vote or in a full Senate
floor vote. It is headed for a full vote in the Assembly.
"To me, it's so obviously the right thing to do to
protect the integrity of the vote that it's hard to imagine the governor
vetoing it," Bowen said.
"The idea is astonishing that you would go to all the
trouble of a paper trail and then use it for nothing," she said.
The problem, as McPhersonsees it, is the paper trail itself
doesn't fit the legal definition of a ballot — no thick paper, no watermarks,
no rules on size — but using it for recounts would treat it like a ballot.
Beyond that, visually handicapped voters can't see the paper
trail, McPherson said Monday. "The disabled groups really can't determine
whether the paper trail accurately records their votes."
The state association of local elections officials also
opposes the Bowen bill as burdensome.
For 40 years, elections officials have been required to
recount 1 percent of the ballots cast in an election, selected at random. With
the emergence of touchscreen machines, elections officials are having the
machines print out images of the electronic ballots and recounting those.
Berkeley law professor Deirdre Mulligan said it's hardly
surprising that paper trails don't meet the legal definition of a ballot.
"It's true," said Mulligan, who teaches law at Boalt Hall and directs
the Samuelson Law, Technology and Public Policy Clinic. "We have these
laws that haven't kept pace with technology."
But if the governor agrees with McPherson's opposition based
on a "technicality," she said, "You're kind of left with a poor
choice. The electronic ballot images that they're talking about counting are
less likely to provide a check on the machine."
McPherson proposes pooling federal voting-reform money for
several states and devoting it to research on the best way to verify electronic
The paper trail still would have value, he argued,
"just to give any voter who might go into the booth a double-check: 'This
is how I voted.' It's just to give voters more assurance."
Contact Ian Hoffman at email@example.com.
© 2005 ANG Newspapers
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