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Paper voters on their own

By: DAVE DOWNEY - Staff Writer  North County Times    26 October 2004

Paper or plastic? Riverside County voters will have that choice on Election Day, but they won't be asked the question.

County elections officials have instructed poll workers not to tell voters that they can vote by traditional paper ballot Nov. 2, rather than the plastic touch-screen electronic machines that have become commonplace since the 2000 presidential election. This will be the county's 30th election with the machines.

"Our poll workers are trained to assume that every voter who shows up at a polling place is there to vote electronically, unless they specifically ask for a paper ballot," Registrar of Voters Barbara Dunmore said Monday. "Electronic voting is the technology that Riverside County uses."

Dunmore said an agreement Riverside County struck with the secretary of state to provide the paper option does not require workers to inform voters that the option is available, but to furnish a paper ballot to anyone who asks for one.

Critics of electronic voting say the county should inform people so they know their options.

"This is a concern," said Kim Alexander, founder and president of the California Voter Foundation, a Sacramento-based voting activist group. "Some people will be disappointed that they weren't able to exercise their right to vote by paper ballot because they weren't informed of it at the time they voted."

Because of growing concern across the state and country that computer voting systems may be vulnerable to glitches and hacking, Secretary of State Kevin Shelley last spring ordered counties with electronic machines to provide a paper alternative.

"This is what I call our paper-or-plastic choice," Alexander said.

In Riverside's agreement with the secretary, the county agreed to provide 125,000 paper ballots, a number equal to a quarter of the half-million anticipated voters. Dunmore said a record 769,328 residents are registered to vote within the county. The deadline for registering passed last week.

The secretary's order is meant to be a transitional step toward increasing voting security. Beginning in 2006, all California electronic voting machines will have to be equipped with a paper record that voters can inspect from behind a glass, but not take home. In the event of a recount, those paper rolls would be consulted as a backup to the computer record.

"Our voting technology is in a state of transition," Alexander said. "And, yet, out of all the counties, Riverside has been the most resistant to changes coming down from the state level."

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