Lawmakers cut e-voting's paper trail
Manufacturers demonstrating new printers in Nevada were embarrassed when machine failed to recognize votes
By Ian Hoffman, Tri-Valley Herald 13 August 2004
California Democratic lawmakers killed legislation on Thursday that would require electronic voting machines to offer a paper trail for the next statewide election.
Rejection of the paper-trail bill could delay, but not prevent, use of a popular safeguard on electronic voting until after the 2006 primary election.
Los Angeles Democrat Judy Chu, chairwoman of the Assembly Appropriations Committee, pulled the bill from consideration, her staff said, because of concerns about cost.
A few days before, a major voting-machine manufacturer was embarrassed by the apparent failure of its latest machine to accurately reflect votes in Spanish during a demonstration in the state capital.
"It just sort of proved our whole point," said Darren Chesin, staff director for the Senate Elections and Reapportionment Committee, chaired by Senate Majority Leader Don Perata, D-Oakland. "Obviously, this thing was not hacked, but they are prone to certain errors. That's the point of the paper trail."
Secretary of State Kevin Shelley last fall ordered all counties using touch-screen voting machines in July 2006 to produce a paper printout so that a voter could confirm their choices were properly recorded.
Perata and Sen. Ross Johnson,
R-Irvine, the Senate elections committee co-chairman, put in legislation to move the deadline up to January 2006 for the so-called voter-verified paper trail. Both represent counties where electronic voting proved troublesome in the March primary. Shelley endorsed the bill.
Several small e-voting vendors already were producing touch-screens with paper trails. None had sold to counties. But the signals out of California and other states sent the "Big Three" vendors Sequoia Voting Systems, Diebold Election Systems and Election Systems & Software to work on paper-trail printers and devices.
California stopped short of demanding a paper trail for November. Nevada Secretary of State Dean Heller ordered it for his state. Last week, Sequoia vice president and former California assistant secretary of state Alfie Charles was showing off the new Veri-
Vote printer that his firm is supplying to Nevada when an astute legislative aide in Johnson's office noticed two votes were missing.
Charles tried again to vote in Spanish with the same result: He cast votes on two mock ballot initiatives, but they were absent from the electronic summary screen and the paper trail.
"The paper trail itself seemed to work fine but what it revealed was when he demonstrated voting in Spanish, the machine itself did not record his vote," Chesin said. "Programming errors can occur and the paper trail was the way we caught it."
Charles said his company's touch-screen actually did record the electronic votes in its memory but through an oversight failed to reflect the votes on its electronic display and printout.
"There's no problem with the way the equipment worked. It was a problem in the ballot setup," Charles said. "People do make mistakes and that's why you have ballot proofing. Because it was for demonstration purposes, we didn't put all the attention into it that we should have. That would never have occurred in a regular election."
It's one reason that more than 20 states are debating or demanding paper trails for their touch-screen voting machines.
"That's the point of the printer," Charles said. "It's to notify the voter if there's some anomaly that (doesn't) get caught before the election ... In that case I think it works very well."
Los Angeles Democrats and Republicans dominate the Assembly Appropriations Committee. County elections officials plan to purchase Diebold touch-screens as early as 2006 and have complained that requiring a paper trail will increase the cost of what will be the nation's largest single e-voting purchase.
Will Doherty, executive director of VerifiedVoting.org, said his and other voting reform organizations will keep pressing for a paper trail sooner rather than later.
Until 2006, however, existing touch-screens will remain unable to produce an independent vote record for manual recounts that are required by state law.