December 27, 2005

The Morning Call


Ex-Bucks officials stump for machines


They say county needs voting equipment with hard-copy record.


By Hal Marcovitz

Of The Morning Call


Seven former Bucks County commissioners have called on the current board to select voting machines that create a hard-copy record of electronic ballots.


The seven former officeholders have signed a letter calling for machines that create ''voter-verified paper ballots.'' Signing the letter were Republicans G. Roger Bowers, Walter Farley, Denver Lindley Jr. and Charles Meredith and Democrats Andrew Warren, Carl Fonash and Lucille Trench.


Commissioners expect to spend up to $10 million to buy new voting machines in early 2006. All machines under consideration by the commissioners are electronic.


For months, the citizens group Bucks County Coalition for Voting Integrity has been pressuring the commissioners to select machines that create a paper record of votes. The group's leaders have suggested that in the event of a machine malfunction, electronically cast votes can disappear.


''You can look at an electronic machine and not know if there is something wrong,'' said Bowers, who served as a commissioner in the 1970s. ''We have to make sure there is a paper trail so that we know what we are getting out of the machines.''


Bowers, Farley and Warren addressed the commissioners last week.


Commissioners must replace the county's old lever machines under the provisions of the U.S. Help America Vote Act, which was passed by Congress after the 2000 presidential election.


The lever machines do not meet the terms of the law because they are not accessible by handicapped people and are not equipped with devices that would alert the voter of an ''under-vote,'' meaning a vote wasn't cast in all races on the face of the machine.


David Sanko, chief operating officer for the county, said the state Elections Bureau is still certifying machines that comply with all the law's provisions. No machines that create paper records have yet been certified, Sanko said.


The problem with the paper records, he said, is that no manufacturer has yet devised a way for the ballots to be printed while ensuring that the identity of the voters remains secret.


For example, he said, one of the machines reviewed can replicate all the votes cast on the device in a continuous stream of paper.


''Someone could sit back, unroll the tape and tell that the 53rd vote cast equates to the 53rd person in line,'' he said. ''Accuracy is important; secrecy is paramount.''


Still, the former commissioners said it is vital that a system be developed to ensure votes are not lost.


Farley, who served as a commissioner in the 1960s, said many close races result in recounts. Under the current system, a recount is conducted by opening the backs of voting machines and verifying that the counts recorded on the odometer-like wheels inside the machines match the numbers transferred to the tally sheets.


He wondered how a recount could be conducted using electronically tallied votes. ''We have to emphasize to the present commissioners that they have to have the ability to recount the votes by using a paper trail,'' Farley said.


Commissioner Charles H. Martin pointed out that if the county buys machines that do create a paper record of votes, but the state refuses to certify the paper ballot component of the system, the county would be prohibited from using the paper records to verify votes in a recount.


Warren urged the commissioners not to make a hasty decision.


''We support what you are doing and we applaud you for moving slowly,'' he said.


215 230-4930


Copyright 2005, The Morning Call



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