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Radio ads criticize paperless balloting
Ben & Jerry's founder Ben Cohen is campaigning against Snohomish County's touch-screen system.

By Jerry Cornfield
Everett Herald Writer   05 August 2004 

EVERETT - The latest concoction from a millionaire founder of the Ben & Jerry's ice-cream empire is a bit too sour for Bob Terwilliger's taste.

Its flavor is politics, 100 percent pure, no sugar added.

The Snohomish County auditor got a big scoop of it this past week as dozens of residents phoned his office to voice concern about the use of touch-screen voting machines.

People called after hearing a radio ad created by TrueMajority, the Vermont-based Internet political operation funded with Cohen's riches.

The 30-second spot contends that electronic voting machines cannot be trusted to record votes as cast unless there is a paper record of the individual vote. "The truth is your vote might disappear," warns a narrator, who dishes up the county auditor's phone number and urges listeners to call Terwilliger to "demand a paper record."

Ten people did that first day, July 28. By the time the last ad ran Tuesday, 82 calls had been logged by Betty Scrapper, Terwilliger's secretary.

She talked to nearly every caller.

"Some thought we had put it on. Some people just registered the fact that they wanted a paper trail. Almost everyone was concerned with the national picture, and they always said Florida," Scrapper said. "Almost everybody that I talked with thought their vote in Snohomish County would be fine."

The 30-second ad aired 40 times over five days, July 28-30 and Aug. 2-3. It ran during commute hours on KIRO 710 AM. Similar advertisements ran on radio stations in New Mexico and New Jersey directing calls to local election officials. TrueMajority did not disclose how much was spent on the commercials.

The effort is the latest in Cohen's nationwide "Computer Ate My Vote" campaign, which fixes a spotlight on potential failings of electronic voting devices. It follows rallies held in cities in 18 states on July 13, including one in downtown Everett.

Snohomish County began using its touch-screen system in 2002. Terwilliger has repeatedly said, and did so again Tuesday, that there have been no technological miscues. He has invited skeptics to watch when experts certifiy the devices for upcoming elections. He said monitoring will be stepped up for the coming elections.

"There is no perfect machine," said Mark Floegel, a spokesman for TrueMajority. Without a paper record for voters to verify how they voted, there is no way to know if a machine recorded votes correctly, he said.

Floegel, echoing speakers at the July rally, wants Terwilliger to mothball the electronic voting machines and return to the optical scan system that involves feeding a paper ballot into a machine.

Floegel shouldn't hold his breath. Terwilliger said switching systems won't happen.

However, he added, there is a more common-sense solution for voters to consider if they are worried about electronic voting machines.

Paper ballots are issued to those who vote by mail. The mail-in ballots are counted by optical scanners. So anyone concerned about the machines can request an absentee ballot instead.

Floegel said that might be the theme if the group pays for a second round of radio ads.

The goal is for paper ballots, he said, "and if every voter asks for an absentee ballot, then it would be accomplished."

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