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Riverside County abandons vote challenge

By: DAVE DOWNEY - Staff Writer

RIVERSIDE The county Tuesday ped its voting lawsuit against the state and reached terms for conducting the Nov. 2 election with touch-screen machines.

Roy Wilson, chairman of the Riverside County Board of Supervisors, said he and colleagues voted 5-0 in closed session not to appeal last week's unfavorable federal court ruling, which rebuffed Riverside's bid to throw out Secretary of State Kevin Shelley's rules for electronic-voting counties.

"We have an election coming up in November and we think it's time to get on with business," Wilson said.

The board chairman said supervisors also unanimously approved terms with the state that will require Riverside County to print paper ballots for one-fourth of the anticipated voters. That would be in addition to the absentee ballots the county already was preparing to print for the roughly one-third of voters who are expected to vote early or be out of town Election Day.

Carol Dahmen, spokeswoman for the secretary of state in Sacramento, said, "We're pleased that the indication is that Riverside County plans to work with the secretary toward recertification."

On April 30, Shelley decertified electronic machines in 14 counties because of growing concerns about reliability and the potential for tampering with election results. At the same time, he issued rules for clearing the way for 10 of those counties, including Riverside, to continue using their electronic machines in the fall.

Joining Riverside County on Tuesday was San Bernardino County, which also announced it had reached an agreement with the state. San Bernardino had been party to Riverside's suit.

With Tuesday's developments, eight counties have been cleared to offer electronic voting in November, Dahmen said.

The terms are geared toward giving every Election Day voter the option of voting by paper ballot instead of on an ATM-like touch screen, amid growing concern nationally and throughout the state about whether the electronic machines are tamperproof. In 2006, counties will have to provide a voter-verifiable paper trail essentially, a printout showing how each person voted that voters could view from behind a window.

For now, paper ballots are enough. But Riverside County elections officials figured they were going to have to print 700,000 paper ballots enough for every single registered voter, in case everyone were to turn out at the polls in November and every voter were to request to vote on paper instead of plastic touch screens. And that paper-ballot printing cost was estimated at $2.2 million, roughly two-thirds of the $3.2 million total the county maintained it would have to spend to abide by Shelley's rules.

Wilson said he did not know how much less the county will have to pay, under terms of the agreement approved Tuesday. But the ballot printing bill clearly would be much less than $2.2 million.

While voting has been brisk in presidential elections in Riverside County, turnout never approaches 100 percent. The highest in recent years was 73 percent in 1992, and the 2000 turnout was 72 percent, according to county records. Assuming a repeat turnout of 72 percent this year, that would mean about 500,000 people would vote. And providing ballots for one-fourth of them would mean printing 125,000 a fraction of the 700,000 estimate county officials were using.

Wilson said the county will pay the upfront costs for printing paper ballots and buying other necessary equipment, and the secretary of state will reimburse Riverside for its expense after the election.

County supervisors said they were pleased the secretary came up with a lower target for paper ballots than they had expected, but that 25 percent is still largely unnecessary, as most Riverside County residents enjoy voting on the easy-to-use touch screens that have been around for 29 elections now.

"There still will probably be quite a bit of waste because not everybody is going to want them," said county spokesman Ray Smith.

The closed-session vote followed a morning open session in which 15 area members of a national voter activist group, Democracy for America, urged the county to its suit. Members sported red-white-and-blue armbands and red shirt badges that read: "No paper, no evidence, no recount, no trust."

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