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E-voting doubts surface


By Lori Aratani

San Jose Mercury News  05 October 2004

Citing a lack of confidence in electronic voting systems, a non-partisan voting group is urging voters in Santa Clara, Alameda and eight other California counties to use absentee ballots to cast their votes next month.

``Our advice is to cast your ballots on paper,'' said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation. ``Every voting system needs to be protected against manipulation and error, and with an electronic system the voter has to depend 100 percent on secret software produced by private companies that can't be verified.''

The foundation said that people who want to ensure their votes are counted on Nov. 2 should vote by mail or off their absentee ballots at the polls on Election Day.

About 30 percent of California voters live in counties that will use electronic voting systems. Santa Clara, Alameda, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino are the largest. Merced, Napa, Plumas, Shasta and Tehama also will use electronic systems.

In Santa Clara County, where touch screen machines were used in the March primary, there were no reported problems with the electronic voting system.

``We feel very secure with the system,'' said Elma Rosas, a spokeswoman for the Santa Clara County registrar's office. ``Our electronic voting system is safe.''

Even so, Rosas encourages voters to choose the voting method with which they are most comfortable.

``Whatever system makes our voters feel more comfortable whether it's touch screen or absentee that's what we want them to use,'' she said.

A spokeswoman for California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley said that office has taken special precautions to ensure the electronic voting systems are safe and accurate.

For example, counties using electronic voting machines in November's election have agreed to special conditions, including monitoring by the secretary of state's office as well as a new program for poll-worker training on electronic-voting machines. Voters in those counties can also choose to use paper ballots that will be made available in addition to the electronic voting machines. But CVF's Alexander said it's important for voters to check with their registrar for information on whether those votes are considered ``provisional ballots,'' rather than regular votes. It is not clear how they will be considered in Santa Clara and Alameda counties.

``Our office has done everything we possibly can to ensure a safe and secure election for November,'' said Carol Dahmen, spokeswoman for the secretary of state's office. ``If for whatever reason a voter doesn't feel comfortable, we encourage them to vote by permanent absentee.''

California counties have been receiving record numbers of applications for absentee ballots in part because of a new law that allows anyone not just the elderly and homebound to vote absentee.

But ballot security continues to be an issue.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger recently signed legislation that will require a verified paper record to back up every electronic ballot cast. That law would go into effect by the 2006 primary election.

Illinois passed a first-in-the-nation law last year requiring a paper voting trail, and secretaries of state in Missouri and Nevada have also ordered e-voting changes.

At least 17 additional states have proposed the idea, but only Nevada will have a paper trail in place for the Nov. 2 election.

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