SacBee: Daniel Weintraub: Debra Bowen won't push for return to paper ballots

From: Arthur Keller <voting_at_kellers_dot_org>
Date: Thu Dec 07 2006 - 04:00:47 CST

Daniel Weintraub: Debra Bowen won't push for return to paper ballots

By Daniel Weintraub -
Published 12:00 am PST Tuesday, December 5, 2006
Debra Bowen, California's next secretary of
state, was accused during the recently ended
campaign of hanging too closely with opponents of
electronic voting who believe the boxes can be
tampered with to rig the results of an election.
Bowen posted items about voting security on her
own Internet Web log. She ran an ad showing
make-believe thieves stealing an electronic
voting machine. Internet sites where "black-box"
voting critics gather to exchange conspiracy
theories buzzed about her candidacy.
Now, with her victory over incumbent Bruce
McPherson secured (and undisputed, as far we
know), Bowen will be California's chief elections
officer in January and instantly become perhaps
the nation's most prominent and influential
skeptic of the technology. Or will she?
I spoke with Bowen last week as she was preparing
to leave the state Senate for a month's hiatus
from government before she is sworn in as
secretary of state. She said she has not made any
decisions yet about how to approach the issue of
electronic voting. But she did say she doesn't
intend to push to return California to a more
paper-oriented system, or to encourage the
universal use of optical scan technology, which
allows voters to make their choices on paper
ballots that are then counted by computers.
Instead, Bowen said she will likely focus on
making the new voting technology more
"It's not just a matter of the hacking and all of
the things people are concerned about," she said.
"There have been a lot of usability issues. ...
There are a variety of practical problems that
deserve some attention."
She is concerned about the training of poll
workers, many of whom are retirees with little
familiarity with computers. And she is troubled
by what happens when the electronic systems fail.
Bowen said that in one Santa Clara County
precinct on Nov. 7, a poll worker was sent to the
local Kinkos with $40 to make copies of the
sample ballot so that people could vote on paper
because the machines were too slow to handle the
demand. Elsewhere, she said, voters were in line
several hours after the 8 p.m. closing time.
"We have a lot of places where the vendors will
say it's not a machine problem, it's a user
problem," Bowen said. "But machines don't run
themselves. So problems with set-up or use or
bugs have to be considered problems with the
"It's not just an issue of how the technology
works, but what are the backup plans when things
go wrong on Election Day? You're never going to
have an election where something does not go
wrong. But telling people to come back later is
not a back-up plan."
Bowen, however, said she does not believe that
electronic voting can be scrapped because it has
brought important advances that need to be
preserved. Among them: access for the disabled,
for whom touch-screen voting is usually far
easier, and early voting in public places, which
in most counties is not viable without
touch-screen voting because there are so many
different versions of the local ballot, depending
on a voter's exact address and precinct.
Despite Bowen's alliance with the black-box
voting skeptics, then, she may one day become an
evangelist for California's voting laws and
regulations because the state is one of
relatively few that already require a
voter-verifiable paper trail and random audits of
the results.
As it happened, we spoke the same day that a
national standards board released a draft report
concluding that computer voting systems that do
not include an independent paper trail cannot be
made secure. If any security audit relies on
information that exists only in the guts of the
machine, the report said, there is no way to know
that the entire system is not faulty.
The losing side in any election is thus prone to question the result.
We're seeing just that kind of situation
unfolding in Sarasota County, Fla., where 18,000
voters failed to vote in the congressional race
even though many of them voted in races above and
below it on their electronic ballot. The machines
used in Sarasota County warned voters if they
skipped a particular race, but they provided no
paper trail that can be used to verify the
Democrats are questioning the Republican victory,
and some are even calling for Congress to seat
the Democratic candidate who lost the race on
Election Day.
"If the balance of power in Congress were
dependent on the outcome of that race, it would
be front-page news every day," Bowen said.
California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, meanwhile, is
introducing legislation that would require every
state to use voting machines with a paper trail
that can be viewed by the voter and checked later
against the electronic results.
"It is crucial that there be an independent
record that can be reviewed by election
officials," Feinstein said.
It sounds as if Feinstein is talking about making
California's systems a model for the nation. It
will be interesting to see whether Bowen, once
she takes office, supports or opposes that notion.

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The Sacramento Bee, 2100 Q St., P.O. Box 15779, Sacramento, CA 95852
Phone: (916) 321-1000
Copyright The Sacramento Bee

By the way, I'm the Precinct Inspector in Santa
Clara County who sent the poll worker with $40 to
Kinko's to make ballots.

Best regards,

Arthur M. Keller, Ph.D., 3881 Corina Way, Palo Alto, CA  94303-4507
tel +1(650)424-0202, fax +1(650)424-0424
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Received on Sun Dec 31 23:17:07 2006

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