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E-voting's paper trail gets OK by Napa official
Thursday, September 9, 2004

Napa Valley Register Staff Writer

Some voters are feeling a bit more secure about electronic ballots, and Napa County is a step closer to using a new technology at the polling place following the first-in-the-nation trial of a paper trail system in Nevada.

Nevada introduced the innovative feature as part of its electronic voting process in its primary election Tuesday, and Napa County Registrar of Voters John Tuteur was there to see how it was received by voters.

"It was a good experience," Tuteur said of his trip to Washoe County. Tuteur made visits to at least eight polling places during the course of election day. "Many voters said it was nice knowing the paper trail is there, but some felt it was a waste of time and money."

The paper trail, known as Veri-Vote, was created by Sequoia Voting Systems, which is the company that provides Napa County's equipment. The system evolved as a result of persistent questions about the reliability of electronic voting and vote-counting, and concerns about whether elections officials could perform a reliable recount if necessary.

Concerns about electronic voting caused some groups to urge voters to use the absentee or early voting process in order to avoid the new touch screen systems altogether.

Tuteur said Napa County touch screen machines will be equipped with the Veri-Vote system for the March 2006 election. Earlier, Tuteur had to promise California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley that he would provide the system in order to get the current equipment certified for use this November.

Current law and Shelley's controversial directive require the paper trail to be in place by July 1, 2005, but barring a special election, Napa County will not have an occasion to use it until 2006.

Tuteur described the device as a small glass window on the voter's left that shows the touch screen results and gives the voter the opportunity to either change the vote or cast the ballot. When completed, the paper scrolls out of view for the next voter.

"Some folks said it was nice knowing it's there," said Tuteur after his return from Nevada. "It takes some extra time, but they were pleased to know there's a record of their vote."

Sequoia itself had a glowing review of the Tuesday Nevada election. Sequoia President Tracey Graham said there had been debate as to whether such a system could effectively be deployed, but Nevada officials "proved that implementing the new technology is not only possible but also immensely popular with the public."

Tuteur said the biggest negative he sees would come in the event of a heavy turnout, adding to the time it takes voters to complete the process. That was not a problem in Nevada on Tuesday with a relatively low voter turnout.

"When you add up an extra 45 seconds times hundreds of people, it takes time," he said.

The citizen watchdog group Common Cause recently released a "Statement on Voting Machines" that concluded, "... we believe that no one's right to vote has meaning if the voter cannot be reasonably assured that their vote was counted as cast."

Nevada's Secretary of State Dean Heller concurs. "As election officials, our responsibility is to provide voters with the highest level of accountability possible that their votes are recorded accurately," he said. "It seems apparent that the inclusion of a voter verifiable paper trail assists in adding to the public's trust in voting equipment."

Every polling place in Nevada provided the new systems. Washoe County has about three times the number of voters as Napa County. More than a dozen California registrars were on hand as was a representative of the MIT-Cal Tech Voter Project which is monitoring the results of the new system.

Heller expressed his gratitude to Sequoia Voting Systems for its support on the issue and for, "going the extra mile to produce the Veri-Vote printer that passed federal certification with flying colors, thus allowing Nevada voters to be confident their votes are being recorded accurately and securely."

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