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Paper ballot backup needed

North Carolina election officials should have way to verify totals

Opinion     Charlotte Observer    27 March 2005

From Joyce McCloy of Winston Salem, representing the North Carolina Coalition for Verified Voting:

The N.C. General Assembly has introduced legislation that would prevent the kind of fiasco that happened in Carteret County this past November, where 4,438 votes were lost giving North Carolina "the worse election problem in the country," according to David L. Dill of Stanford University.

While the Carteret County loss of 4,438 votes was devastating, other counties struggled with problems of their own. North Carolina newspapers reported serious voting problems starting with the first day of early voting in the 2004 general election and continuing through Election Day and beyond.

In Craven County, touchscreens changed voters' ions in front of their eyes. In Guilford County, tabulation equipment began subtracting votes after accumulated totals reached 32,767. Public totals for the presidential contest were incorrectly reported on election night, amended later, adding an additional 22,000 votes to the presidential contest.

In both Mecklenburg and Craven County, main tabulators miscounted or even mysteriously added votes. Touchscreens broke, froze, and stopped working in Forsyth, and skipped past important races in Buncombe County. In Burke County, one out of 10 ballots did not register a vote for president. The same machines used in Burke and Carteret counties caused simliar problems in Pennsylvania. Gaston County failed to report nearly 14,000 votes on election night. Forty N.C. counties use paperless electronic voting devices, leaving them with no disaster recovery plan. Their votes depend entirely on the software, source code and hardware of the voting machines. This software is not examined by the state for flaws, bugs or malfeasance, because the voting machine companies claim that would violate trade secrets. Furthermore, most if not all of these machines fail to meet the disabled accessibility standards of the Help America Vote Act.

Computer scientists made it clear to the Legislative Committee on Electronic Voting that any electronic voting machine can fail without warning. They testified that every vote must be backed up by a voter-verified paper ballot (VVPB), so voters can inspect individual permanent records of their ballots before they are cast and so meaningful recounts may be conducted.

Computer scientists advised that the optical scanner style voting machines currently in use in 48 counties are the most reliable and trustworthy systems. They can be augmented with a ballot marking device at each precinct to accommodate the blind or disabled. The purchase cost and operating costs are significantly lower. Optical scan voting uses a ballot that resembles the multiple choice tests used in schools.

The committee has proposed that:

? Every vote have a paper ballot so that no votes will be lost again if a machine malfunctions.

? The voting machine companies allow the state to review the source code of the voting machines to ensure that there are no bugs in the software.

? Elections officials conduct random audits of paper ballots to the machine counts to make sure that the votes are being counted properly.

When Britt Cobb conceded the race for state commissioner, he solved an embarrassing problem for our elections division, but not for voters. Thanks to the permanent loss of 4,438 votes on a paperless voting machine in Carteret County, we will never know if Britt Cobb or Steve Troxler won the contest.

Citizens can help restore voter confidence in elections by calling or e-mailing their legislators and asking them to pass the Public Confidence in Elections act (bill numbers S223 and H238). Contact our web site at www.ncvoter.net or go to the General Assembly web site at www.ncleg.net.

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