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Electronic ballot critics reiterate their concerns

By Jerry Cornfield
Herald Writer

EVERETT - The national debate on the security of electronic voting machines played out in Everett on Tuesday as critics of the machines urged reform to a small crowd that included the county's chief election official.

"We want to get our votes counted fair and accurately," said Ray Minchew, executive director of Democracy for Washington, which organized the Computer Ate My Vote rally at Matthew Parsons Memorial Park. Similar events took place in 19 other states Tuesday.

In Everett, about 30 people gathered to hear speakers argue that touch-screen voting machines used in Snohomish County must be equipped to generate a paper ballot receipt to ensure each vote is recorded and counted as it is cast. Without that capability, they said, votes may be altered through flaws in the software, or worse, deliberate high jinks by designers of the high-tech equipment.

"You cannot have a closed system, devoid of outside scrutiny, and only ask the system if it performed flawlessly," said Linda Franz of Whatcom Fair Voting. "You cannot take people out of democracy."

Organizers said they collected 20,000 signatures on petitions urging Snohomish County Auditor Bob Terwilliger to not use the machines this fall unless the devices produce receipts. They suggest using pens to mark traditional paper ballots.

Terwilliger was on hand to listen and to see portions of the 18-foot-long collection of petitions stuffed into an oversized ballot box. He then spoke, saying the touch screens would not produce a paper trail this fall but would be used nonetheless. Retrofitting will be done by January 2006 as required under federal law.

He promised increased monitoring of machines before, on and after election days. "That will demonstrate that your vote is not going where you don't want it to go," he said. Also, more poll workers will be hired and they will receive extra training, he said.

Terwilliger said that "no anomalies" had been found since the machines first went in use in September 2002.

John Gideon of VotersUnite.org followed Terwilliger at the podium and challenged him to prove that there have been no lost or changed votes.

"He cannot do it. I can prove that they have happened all over the country," said Gideon, who did not cite any specific problems in Snohomish County.

Gideon, like Franz, said underscoring their concern about the technology is a worry about the growing influence by makers of the machines on local, state and national officials who conduct elections. "Every time we open the newspaper and read a quote from an election official, the vendors are speaking to us," Gideon said.

Last week, Secretary of State Sam Reed issued a new proposed policy for use of electronic voting machines that focuses on more monitoring and better training. State lawmakers debated but rejected a proposed law to require paper ballot receipts sooner than 2006.

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