Messing up N.C.'s vote
By JOYCE MCCLOY Guest Commentary 14 July 2005
WINSTON-SALEM In North Carolina's 2004 general election, Carteret County was the victim of a single computer error that threw out over 4,500 votes. To prevent a failure of this magnitude from occurring again a bipartisan committee convened for several months this winter, hearing testimony from election officials, computer experts and citizens.
However, the legislation proposed by that committee, the Public Confidence in Elections Act, is in danger of falling victim to special interests.
The act's key requirement is that all voting systems permit voters to verify their votes on paper. The paper is kept by election officials for audit and recount purposes. This measure would have saved the thousands of votes lost in Carteret.
Today, five months after being drafted, the bill has been modified at least 25 times and now includes a proposal to turn North Carolina into a laboratory for the latest gimmicks and untested ideas from voting equipment vendors. Although the machines used in the initial "pilot program" would have paper, the stated ultimate goal of this program is a return to paperless voting machines.
Despite the fact that this very proposal was considered and rejected by the committee, the state Senate Judiciary Committee has ed the program into the bill over the vocal objection of technical experts, citizens' groups and election reform advocates.
The program would consist of one or all of the following: video cameras in the polling booths; encryption schemes; high-speed scanners; and/or audio recordings of the ballot.
Computer scientists, including those who testified before the committee, are urging the immediate removal of the pilot program. Citizens say they feel they have been experimented on enough. Election reform experts say the committee should adhere to the original bill, a work of extensive study and compromise.
The committee that drafted the original bill was a blue-ribbon panel of computer experts, election officials, county officials, legislators, lawyers and citizen advocates.
According to David Allen, a systems engineer and study committee panelist, "We will be paying for the privilege of acting as a 'beta test site' for voting machine companies....You do not make an already complex system more reliable by making it more complex....These systems will have more problems that will require diagnosis by vendor technicians. When these systems fail, they will cause spectacular problems.
"Since no financial institution relies on digital transactions without a paper backup, why should we consider paperless systems?"
I hope citizens will urge the immediate passage of the Public Confidence in Elections Act, SB 223 in the Senate, and HB 238 in the House, in its original form.