Oakland Trib Article: E-voting receipts may be useless

From: Alan Dechert <dechert_at_gmail_dot_com>
Date: Thu Aug 18 2005 - 14:45:15 CDT

This is a very interesting article. Going with the ballot printer
architecture will resolve these issues. As I've gone on some about this
before, we need to get "Summary Paper Ballot" into legal code.


E-voting receipts may be useless
California secretary of state says paper-trail recounts problematic
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 voting.

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 debating it.

"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

"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

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


OVC discuss mailing lists
Send requests to subscribe or unsubscribe to arthur@openvotingconsortium.org
= The content of this message, with the exception of any external
= quotations under fair use, are released to the Public Domain
Received on Wed Aug 31 23:17:28 2005

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Thu Sep 15 2005 - 11:44:12 CDT