Recall delays County voting system fixes

From: Dennis Paull <dpaull_at_svpal_dot_org>
Date: Wed Aug 20 2003 - 13:47:30 CDT

Hi all,

Here is an article from the San Mateo County Times regarding County
Registrar Warren Slocum's attempts to get an acceptable voting machine.

Dennis Paull


Recall delays County voting system fixes
New registration system pushed back one year, touch-screen voting by two


California's recall election has derailed San Mateo County's planned overhaul of its voting systems, pushing back plans for a new registration system by one year and putting off the acquisition of new voting machines for as long as two years.

Instead of installing and testing new registration software, the County elections department is trying to hire and train 2,000 poll workers in less than two month's time, among other recall-related tasks.

"The recall has changed the timetable. The county was going to implement a new registration system this summer, but that has now been delayed until summer 2004," said Warren Slocum, the County's chief elections officer. "It's a huge undertaking to change a community's way of voting."

In addition to upgrading the registration software, which Slocum says is not in tune with new election laws, the County planned to purchase new voting machines to replace its 11-year-old optical scanning system by the end of 2004. Now, he said, if new machines are purchased, they will not be in polling places until 2006.

San Mateo County has qualified for $4.5 million in state funds to help pay for the upgrade and more federal funds should be available in the future.
And there's no respite in sight. After the Oct. 7 recall vote, the County has to quickly prepare another 2,000 poll workers for the Nov. 4 municipal, school and special-district elections. After that, preparations for the 2004 presidential primaries next March will begin.

Only after the presidential primary will the County be able to refocus on the upgrade.

San Mateo County is not alone. San Bernardino County's planned upgrade to touch-screen machines also has been delayed by the recall. According to Scott Konopasek, the county's registrar of voters, the new machines will not be in place until next March.

A deliberate approach The recall is not the only factor delaying the County's efforts to upgrade its voting machines. Slocum has taken a deliberately slower -- and somewhat controversial -- approach to changing San Mateo County's voting systems than other counties.

The County's upgrades are part of its compliance with the Help America Vote Act, a federal voting reform passed after the 2000 presidential election debacle in Florida. So far, counties in California that had been using old punch card machines -- including San Diego, Riverside, Alameda, Santa Clara and others -- already have bought and implemented the ATM-like touch-screen voting machines, which sell for about $3,000 apiece, to replace their archaic systems.

But Slocum is an outspoken critic of touch-screen voting machines.
"My view is that voters should verify their votes before they leave the polling place. The paper ballot should be the official ballot, not the electronic copies," he said.

Slocum believes electronic voting machines present too many opportunities for mistakes.

Kim Alexander, president of the nonprofit California Voter Foundation and member of California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley's Touchscreen Voting Task Force, echoes Slocum's concerns. She has been working to get a state regulation passed that would require all forms of electronic voting machines to have a paper record that a voter can verify.

"The best way to address most risks associated with computerized voting is for machines to provide a paper backup of each digital ballot cast that a voter has a right to inspect before they leave the polls," she said.

The questions that Slocum and others have raised about the lack of a verifiable paper trail have begun to take root in other California counties, and in states throughout the nation.

"A lot of counties are now taking a wait and see approach or putting paper-trail clauses in their contracts," said Alexander, referring to counties like Santa Clara and Mendocino that have included automatic upgrades or other paper-trail-related clauses in their touch-screen contracts.

And more questions about the security of touch-screens have been raised with the release of a recent Johns Hopkins University report warning that the source code of Deibold touch-screen machines easily could be accessed by computer hackers.

The concerns backed the longtime assertions of computer scientists, including Stanford University's David Dill and others, over the security pitfalls of touch-screen voting.

The paper trail idea has gained momentum, and now all three major touch-screen manufacturers -- ES&S, Diebold Election Systems Inc. and Sequoia Voting Systems -- are working on some kind of prototype to bring to market. A touch-screen machine with a paper receipt is not available and Slocum has not yet seen a voting system in which he has enough confidence to purchase.

Since there are no voting machines on the market that inspire Slocum's confidence, he decided to design his own. Based on Slocum's ideas, a representative from the County's voting machine vendor, Omaha, Neb.-based Election Systems & Software, has come up with a prototype for a new voting machine that the company currently is trying to get certified by the federal government.

"Slocum came to me and described what he envisioned it being and what it should look like," said Louis Dedier, vice president and general manager of ES&S for California. "He was the driving force behind it."

In Dedier's Sacramento garage he modified a current touch-screen machine with a vacuum system that whisks a paper print-out of each voter's electronic ballot from inside the machine into a clear tube. Once the ballot appears in the tube, a voter can verify his vote for accuracy. If the vote is accurate, the ballot is again whisked through the tube into a locked ballot box.

"It's air-driven. Rather than using a printing mechanism that could jam, it prints inside the machine and is blown into the tube," Dedier explained.

"Our customers have seen our prototype and they know it's an add-on that they can add at anytime," said Dedier, whose company also provides voting equipment for the city and county of San Francisco. "We don't know if it will catch on and we're not for it or against it; we make the equipment our customers need. Now that some skeptics have looked at it, people are changing their minds."

Supporting touch-screens While the paper-trail idea has taken hold in some California counties, not everyone agrees. Many in the elections community view the paper add-on as an expensive and unnecessary cost.

"The League of Women Voters supports touch-screens," said Marion Taylor, the California League's legislation director, who served on the state's HAVA advisory committee. "The League does not believe that an individual paper confirmation for each ballot is required to audit elections using touch-screens. We like the touch-screens because they allow easy access to many languages and better access for disabled voters."

Shelley assembled a task force last February to examine the paper-trail issue. The group did not support the concept of requiring touch-screens to provide a paper receipt for each voter. Instead, its report stated that local jurisdictions should decide the issue for themselves.

Many California counties that already have switched to touch-screens see the paper-trail requirement as a bad idea. "I believe it's unnecessary," said Michelle Townsend, registrar of voters for Riverside County, the first county in the state to switch over to touch-screen voting. "It's injecting the complexity into the polling places of the mechanical printers. Once the mechanical printer goes down, it brings down the DRE voting equipment and will erode confidence of the voter."

Townsend also is concerned about the cost of upgrading her machines, which are made by Sequoia Voting Systems. "It's been estimated by the vendors as costing about $500 per machine. That's the one-time cost; what would concern me are the ongoing operational costs -- the paper."

But Slocum's ideas for San Mateo County have had an impact on the state and national debate over electronic voting. Some people believe his ideas for the prototype have helped move the state a step closer to a more secure voting system.

"He's the most technologically advanced registrar in the state, so I'm not surprised he'd be the one to innovate the voter-verified paper trail feature," said Alexander, from the voter foundation and the task force. "Slocum was going against the tide of the elections community, and I'm grateful he's stood up and supported this reform. What he's done is to make room for other elections officials to do the same."
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Received on Sun Aug 31 23:17:13 2003

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