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Bexar hopes to prove to critics that electronic voting safe

Ihosvani Rodriguez
San Antonio Express-News

Hoping to win a vote of confidence from a mounting group of skeptics, Bexar County officials plan to conduct a demonstration of an $8.1 million electronic voting system that they contend is safe from fraud.

Election officials plan to conduct a mock recount of a recent local election sometime in mid-August, with invited local groups and the media watching each step of the process.

But it's going to be a hard sell. Already a steady group of cynics says the demonstration will be a waste of time as long as the machines can't provide voters with a paper copy of their completed ballots.

"They could have all the mock elections and all the recounts they want. They won't mean a thing as long as a person is not able to walk away knowing their vote counted," Alyssa Burgin, a spokeswoman for the Citizens for Ethical Government-San Antonio, said Monday.

Burgin's group has repeatedly called on election officials to adopt a system that can provide a receipt of some kind. Electronic voting systems have come under fire around the country for being vulnerable to computer hacking and other forms of corruption.

While conspiracies of potential voter fraud are rampant, the most prevalent complaint is the lack of a "paper trail."

Bexar County bought its iVotronic touch-screen system in 2002 but has not bought printers that would produce a paper ballot for voters. Purchasing and installing printers could cost up to $3 million, officials have said.

As the nation gets closer to the November elections, an increasing number of groups have turned up the pressure on local governments.

Last week, the League of Women Voters joined the list of critics after reversing its staunch support for the use of electronic voting machines — with or without a paper trail.

About 800 of the League's members voted during their convention in Washington last week to reverse their position after noting the growing concerns about the machines across the country.

Computer glitches occurred in Boone County, Ind., where machines counted 144,000 electronic ballots in a precinct that had less than 19,000 voters.

In Virginia, a school board candidate learned a computer glitch actually subtracted some of her votes, according to an Associated Press report. Similar problems have been reported in California and Florida.

"In San Antonio, people are very skeptical about its government and they are talking very loudly that they don't trust the new equipment," said Deanna Frisk, the League's local chapter president.

While Frisk said there are several technical concerns with the local electronic system, which has been used in several elections, her group will not officially come out against it until after its August membership meeting.

However, Frisk said her chapter joins its national members in the call for a paper trail in all machines.

While there are no receipts in the Bexar County system, the machines do provide a procedure for printing out the final results of an election for a recount, said county elections administrator Cliff Borofsky.

It is this procedure that will likely be the central focus of the August demonstration.

Commissioner Paul Elizondo, who came up with the idea for a demonstration earlier this month, said he continues to receive complaints from residents who remain unconvinced.

Borofsky said a mock-election would be expensive and "scripting" one could prove difficult. A recount would be best suited, he said.

Borofsky and commissioners are expected to lay out their plans for the August demonstration during the Commissioners Court meeting at 9 a.m. today at the Bexar County Courthouse.

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