County's e-vote machines will produce paper record
Andrew Silva, San Bernardino Sun 05 November 2005
Paper is back.
After the voting debacle in Florida five years ago sent officials nationwide scrambling for a better way to cast ballots, electronic voting seemed a good way to ensure "hanging chads" would not taint a future election.
On Tuesday, San Bernardino County will become California's first large county to use electronic voting machines that simultaneously produce a paper record of each ballot cast.
Observers from Washington state, Chicago and the California Secretary of State's Office will be on hand to see how the system works.
Tacking printers onto the electronic machines to produce hard copies of ballots is the culmination of much debate and controversy that began with the infamous 2000 election.
Punch-card ballots, which had been used in San Bernardino County, were outlawed in California.
But many, including the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors, were hesitant to completely surrender three-dimensional paper ballots to the flightiness of electrons.
When the switch to electronic voting was being debated in the months after George W. Bush became president, supervisors demanded that any new system have a paper backup system voters could check and which could be used for a manual recount.
None of the electronic systems on the market at the time had such a feature.
State law now requires all electronic machines to have paper backups by 2006.
"I think it's clearly a step in the right direction about giving people a comfort level about the security and accuracy of their votes," 3rd District Supervisor Dennis Hansberger said.
The county's 4,000 electronic voting machines have been equipped with printers that will create a paper printout of their ions. Voters can review the hard copy of their ballot before hitting the "yes" button on the screen.
Voters who make a mistake or want to change a ion can hit the "no" button on the screen, and the paper ballot is underlined with "voided" in large type.
The paper backup ballots, called VPATs for verifiable paper audit trail, are on rolls about the width of a cash register's receipts.
After making ions on the screen, the paper rolls up under glass where voters can verify their choices. Then the paper rolls up onto another spindle, and the voter never touches the paper.
"We've run tests on every printer. We don't anticipate any problems," said Terry Kouba, chief deputy registrar of voters.
The thermal paper is sensitive to heat and must be stored at temperatures below 78 degrees, he said. Local results must be kept for six months. After next year's federal election, the paper must be kept for 22 months.
The latest wrinkle in voting comes after the San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters Office has endured several black eyes in recent years.
In 2001, before the electronic machines were brought in, a programming error caused erroneous results in several races. A recount fixed those mistakes. During the first use of the electronic machines last year, counting was delayed for eight hours, and some machines didn't work.