E-voting Issue Splits League of Women Voters

From: Alan Dechert <alan_at_openvotingconsortium_dot_org>
Date: Sat Jun 12 2004 - 22:43:05 CDT

E-voting Issue Splits League of Women Voters

By Rachel Konrad

June 10, 2004, Associated Press


We think the league has in some way failed us. I can't
remember an issue that has gotten members so upset.
- Genevieve Katz, 74, a member of the Oakland, Calif.chapter

A battle over electronic voting is threatening the cohesion
of the nonpartisan League of Women Voters, whose national
leadership is refusing to endorse demands by hundreds of
mem for a paper trail to guard against fraud, hackers and

Some local chapters are so angry that they are flouting
regulations and planning to speak against the national stance
Friday and Saturday at the league's biennial convention in
Washington. They're threatening to nominate new board members
and a new candidate for president who would rescind the
league's support for paperless voting systems.

``We think the league has in some way failed us,'' said
Genevieve Katz, 74, a member of the Oakland, Calif., chapter
who has collected more than 700 signatures from members upset
with the league's national stance on paperless terminals. ``I
can't remember an issue that has gotten members so upset.''

The 130,000-member nonpartisan organization, a champion of
social reforms and voting rights since 1920, weighed in on
the e-voting controversy last year. Leaders said paperless
terminals, which about 30 percent of the electorate will use
in the November election, were reliable.

They had ``no reason to believe'' computer terminals would
``steal your vote,'' the league said officially.

That infuriated hundreds of members from chapters around the
country -- particularly in Silicon Valley -- who argue that
the systems jeopardize elections. Legitimate recounts are
impossible without paper records of every vote cast, they

League bylaws stipulate that local chapters must act ``in
conformity'' with the national organization's stances.
Individuals who take contrary positions cannot identify
themselves publicly as league members.

League president Kay Maxwell says paperless computers, which
can be equipped with headsets and programmed in multiple
languages, make voting easier for the blind and illiterate,
and for people who don't speak English.

Furthermore, she said, demanding a paper trail so close to
the presidential election would require hundreds of counties
that have installed electronic systems to spend millions of
dollars on printers, paper and technical upgrades at the last

Maxwell said the league could reverse its stance, but that
was unlikely -- particularly before November.

``We'll continue to look at this issue and others and take
our stances based on where we think the facts lead us, not
being concerned about anything else except being as honest as
we can be,'' Maxwell said.

Founded by gutsy suffragettes, the league rarely shies from
controversial subjects and has a history of vigorous internal

Despite overwhelming support among members for the Voting
Rights Act of 1965, the league took no national stance.
Outraged members demanded systemic changes, and by 1974 the
league amended its bylaws to give the national organization
more power to advocate social reform.

For current members, Maxwell said, voter registration
problems and dismal turnout -- particularly among minorities
-- should be bigger worries than potential hackers.

``From a voting rights perspective, we care a great deal
about the openness of the system and access to the system,
that everyone eligible be able to participate freely,''
Maxwell said. ``But simply printing out a piece of paper will
not, in our opinion, address all the security concerns.
People are talking about a simple solution to a complicated

Despite the league's official support for paperless voting
systems, the technology has been questioned after a series of
failures in elections across the nation.

In a January special election for a Florida state house seat,
134 people using paperless voting terminals in Broward County
failed to cast votes for any candidate. The race was decided
by a margin of 12 votes. It's unclear why some voters didn't
select candidates; a without a paper trail, poll workers
couldn't figure out voters' intentions.

In North Carolina's 2002 general election, a software bug
deleted 436 electronic ballots from six paperless machines in
two counties. Election Systems & Software Inc., which built
the terminals, determined that the machines erroneously
thought their memories were full and stopped counting votes,
even though voters kept casting ballots.

Earlier this year, California Secretary of State Kevin
Shelley banned the use of a paperless system made by Diebold
Inc. after he found uncertified software and other problems
that ``jeopardized'' the outcome of elections in several
counties. At least 20 states have introduced legislation
requiring a paper record of every vote cast.

Some say the League of Women Voters' support of paperless
systems has lulled politicians into thinking the machines are
reliable. E-voting critic and league member Kim Alexander
called the league's support of paperless systems ``a
significant roadblock on the path to reform.''

Barbara Simons, 63, past president of the Association for
Computing Machinery, is running for league president on a
paper trail platform.

The league's endorsement is out of touch with younger,
computer-savvy voters who ``know computers are risky,'' she
said. The average age of league members is above 50.

Marian Beddill, 68, recently resigned her position as second
vice president for the chapter in Bellingham, Wash., because
of the league's position on e-voting.

``It was pretty severe, but I'm passionate about protecting
our votes and our ability and competence in having our votes
counted correctly,'' she said.

Beddill doesn't plan to stop paying dues -- yet -- but
worries that others might drop out.

``I have serious concerns that this issue could jeopardize
the league in the future,'' she said.

2004 Associated Press
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Received on Wed Jun 30 23:17:14 2004

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