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Ruling on voting machines expected
Lawsuit seeks clarification on how recounts are handled

By Christine Mahr
The Desert Sun
September 9th, 2004
Larson Justice Center A judge could rule in a week on a lawsuit over how Riverside County handles recounts of votes cast on touch-screen voting machines the kind of machines that will be used in the November election.

Former county Board of Supervisors candidate Linda Soubirous in July sued the county and former Registrar of Voters Mischelle Townsend because they refused to provide touch-screen machine electronic records for a recount of the March supervisors’ election.

Joining in the suit were other concerned voters and VerifiedVoting.org, a national non-profit lobbying organization, who all are concerned about the county’s electronic system.

Judge James Hawkins’ decision could ensure public access to records stored in electronic voting machines in future recounts, said Gregory Luke, Soubirous’ attorney.

Even if Hawkins rules against Soubirous, he still could rule that in the future the electronic voting recount has to be handled differently, Luke said.

Hawkins said after a hearing Wednesday he needed more time to review the case before ruling.

Hawkins and attorneys for both sides did agree to allow the county to transfer March election data from voting machines to CD-roms while Soubirous and others observe the process.

Charles Bell, attorney for the county, said he made that request because the county needs to prepare for the November election by reprogramming the voting machines.

Although Luke agreed to the request, he said the information being provided was only some of what the lawsuit seeks.

Soubirous in March lost her chance for a runoff election by less than 50 votes. In seeking a recount, she asked for electronic records but Townsend refused the request, saying the electronic materials weren’t relevant to a recount.

Soubirous sued not to challenge the election results but to access the electronic data from the March election and future elections.

"It’s the next best thing to paper ballots," Soubirous said.

Luke said the materials Soubirous requested were items the Registrar of Voters and the voting machine vendor, Sequoia Voting Systems, tout as security features of the machines.

Those include audit logs, the "redundant memory" stored in the machine and chain-of-custody records.

"These materials are advertised as the reasons we should trust these machines," Luke said.

Without them, there’s no way to determine votes were recorded and counted properly in the machine, he said.

Critics of electronic voting voice concern about undocumented software glitches, hackers, mechanical errors and d ballots.

Bell said everything the lawsuit requests amounts to an audit and that "the right to a recount is not a right to an audit."

Bell also argued there’s nothing in the law specifying what is meant by the "meaningful recount" the lawsuit seeks.

If the plaintiffs felt there was a problem with the way the Registrar of Voters handled the election, they should have contested the election, Bell said.

"I think they have a much broader agenda to attack the electronic voting machines," he said.

But those who joined in the suit say they just want to protect voters’ rights.

"This is a basic freedom and we can’t let it go slipshod," Russell Henson said.

"I voted touch-screen and I want to make sure my vote was counted as I cast it," he said.

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