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Connor, DeBeauvoir and Kaufman: In Texas, we're working to ensure that every vote is counted
Geoffrey S. Connor, Dana DeBeauvoir and Beverly Kaufman, LOCAL CONTRIBUTORS
Saturday, August 28, 2004  in Austin American-Statesman

No one wants another Florida. As Texas election officials, ensuring the integrity and security of elections is our top priority.

To make sure every vote counts and to meet requirements under the federal Help America Vote Act of 2002, Texas has made changes to its voting systems. Under the act, states must adopt accessible voting systems by 2006 so all voters — regardless of any disabilities — can cast a secret ballot.

Voters in Harris and Travis counties, along with 12 other counties in Texas, already use the latest in voting technology to cast their ballots. Direct Recording Electronic voting systems represent an incredible advance toward ensuring safer, more secure elections with faster, more accurate returns.

But considerable media coverage and public debate have caused many to question this new technology. Take the discussion over voter-verified paper trails. They have garnered considerable attention and, at times, have led to a politically tinged debate.

The original, bipartisan sponsors of the Help America Vote Act wrote members of Congress and state election officials in March: "Not only are such (paper trail) proposals premature, but they would undermine the essential HAVA provisions, such as the disability and language minority access requirements, and could result in more, rather than less, voter disenfranchisement and error."

We share the concerns voiced by members of Congress. It is our belief that we simply cannot, and should not, rush to require paper trails, something that has not been proven to be an effective means of addressing voter verification concerns. A hasty return to paper may instead lead to other problems, including a greater possibility of fraud, tampering, vote-buying or inaccurate manual recounts like what we saw in Florida in 2000.

A healthy debate about whether a paper receipt should be given to voters or ped in a ballot box for counting by hand or machine is underway. The federal Elections Advisory Commission pledged to engage in this policy discussion, and the public, voting system vendors and local election officials also are weighing in.

Current state law requires that an electronic voting system provide records from which the operation of the system may be audited. A required real-time audit log records all significant election events. Although the log is not a voter-verified trail, it is a comprehensive audit trail that records more than just votes cast.

In addition to the audit log, state law also requires that a Direct Recording Electronic system must produce a summary screen of the voter's ballot that asks the voter to review his or her choices before finally casting a ballot. Detailed testing of the voting system is required 48 hours before an election, before the polls open on Election Day and immediately after the votes are counted.

Is this new technology perfect? No, but it's an incredibly positive advance from where we were a few years ago — with hanging chads and lever machines.

Our state's election laws and voting system certification process are among the toughest, most rigorous in the nation. Before any voting system can be used in Texas, the secretary of state must approve it. State certification has existed for nearly 30 years. Since 1998, Texas strengthened this process by requiring each voting system vendor to first obtain approval from a nationally recognized independent testing authority before submitting its system or modification to Texas for approval.

The secretary of state also is raising awareness about the voting system certification process by making more of these open records available to the public via the Internet. Not only are all certification records available under Texas' Open Records Act, but changes being made to the agency Web site will make them more easily accessible.

Once a machine is certified and in use at the local level, county clerks, election administrators and their staffs play an integral role in ensuring the proper use of the machines and a smooth, verifiable process.

All of these measures are vital to ensure fair, verifiable elections. A state working group, led by other local election officials, technology, security and legal experts, as well as the vendors of voting systems, recently convened to identify the best practices and common standards for the testing of a Direct Recording Electronic system at the local level. The truth about these systems in Texas? They're among the most secure and accurate when compared to other voting methods.

Connor is Texas' Secretary of State. DeBeauvoir is county clerk for Travis County; Kaufman is Harris County clerk.

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