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Lawmakers want ban on paperless voting machines

By Tom Sheehan Lacrosse Tribune Capitol Bureau   27 November 2004
MADISON ? Two Democratic lawmakers say they'll push for a ban on electronic voting machines in Wisconsin, if such machines don't record a vote on paper each time a ballot is cast. State Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison and state Sen. Jeff Plale, D-South Milwaukee, say this year's presidential election revealed problems with electronic voting systems in three states that might have disenfranchised some voters. The lawmakers want to prevent problems that could occur in Wisconsin if communities adopt electronic voting systems, Plale said.

Without a paper trail, votes can be difficult or impossible to verify if questions arise, or if there's a need for a recount, Plale said.

About 87 percent of Wisconsin's municipalities rely on optical scanning equipment to count votes, said Kevin Kennedy, executive director of the state Elections Board. Optical scanning is based on paper ballots, which can be reviewed manually if there's a

problem. About 10 percent of Wisconsin municipalities rely only on paper ballots, and one community still uses lever-operated machines, Kennedy said.

The city of Peshtigo is the only municipality in the state whose electronic voting system would have to be replaced if the ban is passed, according to an analysis of a similar proposal introduced last year.

But several states have moved toward electronic-only voting systems, and some municipalities and states are contemplating new voting systems as the deadline approaches for new federal election standards. The Help America Vote Act requires voting systems that accommodate disabled voters, Kennedy said. In Wisconsin, municipalities are able to decide which type of voting system to use, but they face losing federal funding if they don't meet the act's requirements.

Without a paper backup, entire communities could be disenfranchised because of a power failure or some other problem, Plale said. Battery power on two electronic voting systems in Florida failed during the Nov. 2 election, according to the votersunite.org Web site, which compiles voting problems based on news reports.
"Just so long as somewhere in that machine it's marking things down, so if there's a malfunction you have somewhere to start," Plale said.

Computer glitches or electronic equipment problems in Nebraska and North Carolina during the fall presidential election also meant some votes might have been miscounted or not counted at all, according to reports on the Web site.

In Nebraska, a computer problem doubled the count of some votes, adding 3,000 "phantom votes" to the totals. The outcome of two races in North Carolina came out wrong initially because a computer didn't have capacity to handle the vote totals.

Plale said the Assembly bill will be introduced during the next legislative session, which begins in January. A similar bill with some bipartisan support passed the Assembly last year but didn't make it through the Senate because time ran out, Plale said.

Plale said as long as a paper trail is maintained, he can appreciate the advancement of technology. But he admitted he misses the large, lever-operated machines that once dominated many polling places.

"When we went from those machines to the other ones, it just doesn't feel like you're voting," Plale said.

The city of Kenosha is the only Wisconsin municipality still using that type of voting machine, Kennedy said.

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