SF Chroncile: Touch vote machine ban hurts counties

From: Alan Dechert <dechert_at_gmail_dot_com>
Date: Sun Aug 05 2007 - 12:53:52 CDT

I got the last line in this article. That's a good sign, I think.

Touch vote machine ban hurts counties

John Wildermuth, Chronicle Staff Writer

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Secretary of State Debra Bowen has made it clear she doesn't trust
touch-screen voting systems, and Napa and Santa Clara counties are going to
pay the price.

In a late-night news conference Friday, Bowen announced a ban on all but the
most limited use of the touch screen machines manufactured by Sequoia Voting
Systems and Diebold Election Systems. She said they were vulnerable to
hackers, who could change election results.

Bowen admitted she favors the optical scan system, which use a paper ballot
that can be easily tracked and recounted. The optical scan systems "are
easier for voters to see and understand," she said in a statement, and can
make it easier "to begin rebuilding the voter confidence in the systems we
use to conduct elections."

But for Napa, Santa Clara and the 20 or so other California counties that
use only the touch-screen machines in their polling places, Bowen's decision
is a potential disaster. While the machines can still be used, each polling
place will be limited to a single machine and every vote cast on a
touch-screen machine must be recounted by hand after the election.

That's not a major problem for the counties that use touch-screen machines
simply as a way to meet the federal requirement that disabled voters be able
to cast ballots unassisted. But forcing every voter at a polling place to
use a single machine could cause voter gridlock on election day.

Santa Clara County, for example, uses more than 4,000 Sequoia touch-screen
machines in about 800 polling places. Napa uses more than 300 of the Sequoia
machines, with about three for each polling place, said John Tuteur, the
county registrar.

"We had 24,000 people who voted in the November 2006 election," he said. "We
only had six requests for the paper ballot we're required to supply. Our
voters like our machines."

While Napa could run an election with one voting machine per polling place,
it wouldn't be easy, Tuteur said. And if the county is required to recount
every vote cast on those touch-screen machines by hand, it could take weeks.

Ever since Bowen announced her "top to bottom review" of the state's voting
systems, local election officials have complained that the tests were
designed from the start to eliminate touch-screen voting machines in

The tests, run by computer scientists from the University of California,
were "not objective or fair," said Steve Weir, Contra Costa County registrar
and president of the California Association of Clerks and Election
Officials. Bowen "was on a mission and accomplished it. She created a
feeling of crisis and mistrust, and now it's in her best interest to solve

But Bowen said the tests showed just how vulnerable all voting systems are
to hackers and others who would fiddle with election results. One reason she
put the strict limits on the touch-screen machines is that a test of their
software source code showed it was possible for someone to load a malicious
virus into a single machine and then spread it to the entire system.

Bowen's decision to allow the use of current voting machines and election
software even with the new restriction disappointed many of the voting
activists who supported her in November in her successful effort to oust
Republican Secretary of State Bruce McPherson. Many of those supporters are
convinced that accurate election results can't be guaranteed as long as the
machines and software that record and tally the votes are provided by
private companies.

Bowen is buckling to pressure from the vendors and election officials, said
Alan Dechert, president of the Open Voting Consortium.

"She is not requiring any changes in the software or hardware used," he
said. "This is not why we elected her."

While Bowen's new rulings are a first step, Dechert said, "she's got a long
way to go."

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Received on Fri Aug 31 23:17:04 2007

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