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E-voting backup is demanded

By Thomas Burr
The Salt Lake Tribune

    Bytes shouldn't replace ballots.
    That was the cry of a group at the state Capitol on Tuesday who handed Utah election officials a 2,000-signature petition calling for some type of paper record to back up new election technology.

    "Four years ago there was a problem with our voting system," said California computer expert Alan Dechert, referring to Florida's chad debacle that tossed the presidential election to the courts. "Four years later, we've made some progress, but there still are problems.

    "We still have a messy problem on our hands."

    Tuesday's "Computer Ate My Vote" rally attracted some 50 people, including political candidates, computer experts and activists, and was one of 23 across the nation calling for voter-verifiable ballots. Utah is one of the last states to switch from punch-card voting to a newer technology in the wake of the 2000 election fiasco. Officials plan to buy a new system by the end of the year.

    Holding signs that proclaimed "Trust the chad" and "No more stolen elections," group members cheered for speakers who demanded Utah ensure the voting process is not lost in cyberspace.

    "If I can send one message to Utah, it's 'Wait,' " said Barbara Simons, a national e-voting expert and past president of the Association of Computing Machinery. "There're other technologies coming."

    While mentioning other concerns, the group aimed its rally at ensuring that Utah's new election technology allow a voter to check to make sure a ballot is properly cast. National experts have complained that some systems either do not record votes accurately or do not allow for any type of recount. 

    Utah election officials opened the bidding last week for vendors to vie for the $20.5 million in federal money to supply the state's new voting technology. The bid request does not say the new voting devices must be electronic and Utah's elections director, Amy Naccarato, says other technology may qualify.

    The selection committee plans to look at the bids after Aug. 10, make a decision in November and negotiate a contract in December. Voters, under that plan, will encounter new voting devices in the 2005 municipal elections.

    Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate Paul Van Dam, speaking at the rally, said a paper ballot is needed just in case a recount is needed. He called on elections officials to ensure voters have a secure system.

    "Let's not allow democracy to be hacked," Van Dam said.

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