FGate: CALIFORNIA/Paper trail law for e-voting has fans, foes/System criticized as inefficient, praised as good safeguard

From: Alan Dechert <dechert_at_gmail_dot_com>
Date: Tue Jan 10 2006 - 20:09:28 CST

We need to respond to this crap.

Alan D.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006 (SF Chronicle)
CALIFORNIA/Paper trail law for e-voting has fans, foes/System criticized as
inefficient, praised as good safeguard
John Wildermuth, Chronicle Political Writer

   California will require all electronic voting machines to produce a
printed record of votes in the June election, but there are still concerns
that the expensive overhaul may cause more problems than it solves.
   The Pacific Research Institute, a free-market think tank, has called the
paper trail requirement one of the state's top 10 policy blunders of 2005.
The new law "may force California to relive the mistakes of America's
punch-card voting past," the group said, and will make voting
"increasingly difficult and negate the original virtues of e-voting:
speed, cost-savings and efficiency."
   "We're moving in the wrong direction," said Sonia Arrison, director of
technology studies for the institute. "The whole point of e-voting is to
move away from paper."
   In a briefing paper written last year, Arrison and Vince Vasquez, a
at the institute, argued that a system of printouts that allows voters to
verify their choices and election officials to do a physical recount to
confirm the results is not the perfect solution its supporters proclaim.
   "Passing sweeping laws ... to require voter-verified paper trails for
touch-screen machines, though well-intentioned, could bankrupt
cash-strapped counties and may erode the efficiency of electronic voting
management," they said in the paper.
   Arrison and the institute are swimming against the tide. Growing concerns
about the vulnerability of the complex electronic voting systems to
hacking, electronic glitches and simple errors by local election officials
have persuaded an increasing number of states to require paper backups for
election results.
   In California, support for a paper voting trail was one of the few recent
bipartisan efforts in the Legislature. In 2004, SB1438, which required
electronic voting machines to produce a voter-verified paper trail in the
coming June primary, passed the Assembly on a 73-t0-0 vote.
   "Without a paper trail, you don't have hard copy to show voter intent,"
said Pamela Smith, national coordinator of VerifiedVoting.org, a group
concerned about electronic-voting problems. "Instead, you have electronic
copy, which may or may not reflect voter intent."
   Without a paper printout, election officials are at the mercy of the
electronic voting system, with little or no recourse if something goes
wrong, Smith said.
   Horror stories abound, gleefully repeated by foes of the electronic
systems and the companies that sell them.
   In November 2004, for example, more than 4,500 votes disappeared forever
in Carteret County, N.C., when an electronic storage unit was overloaded
with ballot information. Although officials with the voting machine
company said the unit could store 10,500 electronic ballots, it actually
could hold only 3,005.
   While the machine accepted an additional 4,530 electronic ballots, it
didn't store any of the information. With a paper backup system, election
officials could retrieve the missing votes by hand-counting those
additional ballots, Smith said. Without it, those votes disappeared into
the ether.
   "Will that happen again? Probably not," she said. "But it's inevitable
that some new glitch will come up."
   Glitches are the least of the potential problems with electronic voting,
say some advocates of paper backup systems. Each voting machine company
uses its own proprietary software to record and count the electronic
votes, then has its own technicians to deal with any problems with the
electronic systems.
   "We've created a system where the oversight of elections is by private
companies, and that's not acceptable in a democracy," said Kim Alexander,
president of the California Voter Foundation. Without a paper verification
system, "you're at the mercy of the vendor to tell you who won and who
   Despite concerns about the power of the voting machine manufacturers,
there's been no evidence that an electronic voting machine was ever hacked
or election results purposely changed.
   "These same people worried about electronic voting machines are perfectly
fine using an ATM machine or being in an airplane that uses computers for
everything," Arrison said. "Experts know how (voting machines) can be
hacked, but they also know it's not as dire as it's made out to be."
   The paper backup systems come with problems of their own, Arrison said.
a special test of electronic voting machines in Stockton in July,
officials from the California secretary of state's office ran 10,000
ballots through 96 printer-equipped machines from Diebold Election
Systems. The results weren't encouraging.
   More than 20 percent of the machines had problems, including 10 with
jams or other printer problems. The results convinced Secretary of State
Bruce McPherson to deny certification of the voting system.
   While McPherson has been a longtime supporter of paper verification, he
has listened to concerns about the program and is keeping a close watch on
the performance of the printing systems, said Jennifer Kerns, a
spokeswoman for the secretary of state.
   "The secretary has a duty to uphold the law that requires a paper trail
for voting and helps counties enforce that requirement," she said. "But
he's heard media reports on both sides of the issue. ... He's in the
position of being the referee."

   E-mail John Wildermuth at
jwildermuth@sfchronicle.com. ----------------------------------------------------------------------
Copyright 2006 SF Chronicle

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