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Culver pushes for voter-verified ballot paper trail
By Bret Hayworth Sioux City Journal    26 April 2005

As lawmakers look to wrap up the legislative year by Friday, Iowa Secretary of State Chet Culver is asking them to pass legislation providing for a voter-verified paper trail for all new electronic voting machines.

Culver said he is passing along the top request of Iowans who spoke out at 12 public forums concerning implementation of the Help America Vote Act of 2002.

A meeting on HAVA was held at Western Iowa Tech Community College in Sioux City Monday evening, and county auditors and supervisors from eight counties were invited.

Following 2000 presidential election problems, Culver said, Americans became increasingly concerned that all ballots are counted. Congress overwhelmingly passed voting safeguards via HAVA, "the best piece of bipartisan legislation we've had in Washington," Culver said. As the chief elections official in Iowa, Culver's office is now tasked with implementing HAVA particulars.

Culver said the feedback of Iowans "really helps us put together, I think, the best plan for implementing the Help America Vote Act." However, Culver said, "the overwhelming majority of people I talk to at these hearings" have strongly asked for a voter-verified paper trail for all new voting equipment coming to Iowa counties. And that is a lot of machines, Culver said, since $17.5 million in state and federal money will help provide at least 2,000 machines at least one per voting precinct in the state by Jan. 1, 2006.

The problem, Culver said, is that while the Iowa Senate has passed SF351 regarding voter-verified paper trails, the matter is stuck in the House state government committee. He called on "the legislature to respond to the will of the people on this important issue." Culver said he had no idea why the legislation was bottled up. House state government committee chairman Jeff Elgin of Cedar Rapids could not be reached.

SF351 requires "that direct recording electronic voting machines used in the state produce paper records to be verified by voters." In practice, what that means, Culver said, is that "the voter is able to verify how they voted" before they leave the booth, "that the machine accurately reflected their will and there wasn't a software glitch, for example."

A voting machine that is a direct recording electronic device is capable of producing an individual paper record that the voter can review before finally casting the ballot. Once the voter is satisfied, they put forth the ballot. The paper record wouldn't contain any information to identify the person who cast a ballot, but it would be ped into a lock box, and could be accessed if a recount is needed.

Of the 2,000 new voting machines, Culver said state and federal money will pay for 90 percent of the cost, with the counties picking up about 10 percent. A federal elections official, Culver said, told him that split leave little to pay at the local level is "the most generous distribution formula in the country."

Other chief parts of HAVA well on the way to finalization in Iowa, Culver said, was creation of a centralized voter registration data base (set for the fall), training of approximately 10,000 poll workers and voter education initiatives and informing the roughly two million Iowa voters "of all these important changes that are really designed to protect their rights at the polls."

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