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Voting group calls for paper ballots, more training for Georgia elections


Associated Press  20 October 2004

ATLANTA - Georgia's voting machines should create paper ballots and poll workers should get more training, a group of international election observers said in a report released Wednesday.

The California-based Fair Election International ed Georgia to study because it is one of only two states that will exclusively use paperless electronic voting this year.

The report is the result of a visit to Georgia in September by a 20-member team of civic leaders, professors, lawyers and others from 15 countries.

Georgia election officials say no system is perfect - but that the state's uniform computer voting system will be dramatically more accurate than the way Georgians voted in the last presidential election.

The group met with state election officials, politicians, citizens groups and others. The team prepared similar reports on voting practices in Arizona, Florida, Missouri and Ohio.

In its report, the group recommends "the upgrading of machines to incorporate a paper-verified record be investigated further."

They cited community groups concerned that electronically transmitted information could be tampered with. Skeptics of the system - some of whom spoke with the international delegation - say the state's paperless machines do not provide voters enough assurance that their ballots will be counted accurately.

"Unfortunately, with this technology of electronic voting, it makes it very difficult for the average citizen to be able to scrutinize the process," said John Fortuin, of Decatur, who heads Defenders of Democracy, a voting rights group.

Chris Riggall, spokesman for Georgia Secretary of State Cathy Cox, said adding a paper receipt at the ballot box would not be as simple as some advocates say.

"The application of a paper receipt is obviously being hotly debated and is something that we're examining," said Riggall, whose boss oversees Georgia elections. "But there are serious problems that we see currently with the addition of a paper receipt function."

He said adding a paper ballot would raise questions over which vote total was official and would leave the system just as vulnerable to fraud as it was before the overhaul.

Georgia's uniform touch-screen system - rolled out for state elections in 2002 - replaced one in which each of Georgia's 159 counties could choose which type voting equipment to use.

That resulted in a combination of optical scanners, punch-cards, lever-activated machines and paper ballots.

There have been no major voting problems associated with the new machines.

The report also said Georgia, like other states, should provide more training for poll workers on how to use the machines. Riggall said more training is always a good idea, but said after five statewide elections, Georgia poll workers are growing accustomed to the machines.

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