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Bucks making sure its votes count
By Lorraine Sciuto-Ballasy 07/21/2005
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The move is on for all Bucks County voters to believe their vote is secure, starting with the elections in 2006.


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New federal and state laws stipulate replacement voting machines must be ordered by the end of the year, in place and ready for use by next year's May primary.
Since the switch from the decades-old manual machines to new electronic voting machines is not voluntary, county commissioners are forced to explore the issue further and make a change soon.
Under the federal mandate, the county's lever voting booths don't meet current standards established as a result of the widespread vote-counting debacle discovered in the aftermath of the contested 2000 presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore.
In a recent memo, County Solicitor Guy Matthews confirmed the county's voting machines fail to meet both federal and state guidelines.
For example, the solicitor's memo states the county's voting machines are not ADA (American Disabilities Act) compliant for handicapped accessibility and violate requirements for a "manual audit capacity" which allows voters the opportunity to double check their ballot before registering their vote. It further suggests revisions to the state law might also be forthcoming, since the memo reads "the state is still waiting for additional clarification" on the federal requirements and "may modify its interpretations" of the federal law. In other words, the state might consequently revamp its own requirements.
Meanwhile, the state is considering its options, trying to determine which voting machines are the best alternatives to the county's lever machines.
The Bucks County Coalition for Voting Integrity, a local activist organization, contends the federal guidelines, as written, are simply "too confusing" and arbitrary in meaning. They think any changes would be premature despite the fast approaching deadline.
"The law is not clear - it's open to misinterpretation," said Madeline Rawley, one of the coalition's founders. "The problem is even the new electronic machines are not always accurate."
All across the country there are voting districts refusing to use electronic voting machines because they are more easily subjected to tampering.
Rawley said although lever machines have served the county well over the years, they do not record individual votes, only registering a vote was made and total tallies. She said she is anxious to see how the commissioners react in this matter, and if they make a recommendation of their own.
Bucks County Commissioner Jim Cawley has said though the county plans to replace its voting machines as required, it hopes to receive more guidance from the state before they decide their direction.
"We're waiting to hear more because while we have old machines, they still work quite well," he said.
According to Rawley, the state has specifically stated that lever machines must be replaced because they do not provide a detailed manual audit capacity. This conclusion is based on the state's interpretation of the federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) passed in 2002.
Cawley said commissioners have been asked to join the coalition's effort to petition federal and state governments to suspend HAVA's implementation, and they will consider it.
The opening text of HAVA reads as follows: To establish a program to provide funds to States to replace punch card voting systems, to establish the Election Assistance Commission to assist in the administration of Federal elections and to otherwise provide assistance with the administration of certain Federal election laws and programs, to establish minimum election administration standards for States and units of local government with responsibility for the administration of Federal elections, and for other purposes. Oct. 29, 2002 [H.R. 3295]
Gail Borger, Pennsylvania's HAVA administrator, explained the state department, in a May 2003 memo to the counties, said its office concluded HAVA requires lever machines be replaced. It is interesting to note, however, other states, such as New York and Connecticut, have interpreted HAVA much differently, and, therefore, have not reached the same conclusion.
In conjunction with this measure, the state has offered voting machine vendors the opportunity to request an invitation to bid on providing (replacement) voting systems. Vendors meeting the Election Assistance Commission's 2002 Voluntary Voting Guideline and Pennsylvania's 17 Points standards will be approved and placed on a list supplied to the counties on Sept. 1. These vendors offer counties a discounted price. The counties, however, are permitted to purchase voting machines from unapproved vendors (not on the list) if they (their machines) meet all applicable federal (and state) standards. By Sept. 30, counties must reply to the state, reporting which machine(s) they have chosen to purchase.
According to Rawley, there are "great problems" with the state's decisions and timetable.
"First of all, the EAC has produced new Voting Systems Guidelines for 2005. They stated that these new guidelines were needed because new complex technology had created problems with security and accuracy. However, these new guidelines have not yet been published," she elaborated.
"The state is, therefore, using old guidelines which do not ensure security or accuracy."
In reaction to this dilemma, the National Association of Counties, joined by other organizations, has drafted a letter to Congress in an attempt to obtain a waiver of the Jan. 1, 2006 deadline created by the HAVA.
"It explains very clearly the illogic of being mandated to buy (voting machines) according to already outdated guidelines," Rawley said.
In the federal government's quest to ensure all Americans' votes are cast securely and counted accurately, many political activist and civic organizations worry it has adopted mandates and provided alternatives that will only prove to worsen the situation. Like many Americans across the country using lever voting machines in their districts, Rawley and her group believe one of three things has to happen to achieve secure and accurate voting as early as 2006.
The Coalition for Voter Integrity is working on all three ideas, hoping to evoke a change on at least one of the following levels:
-A congressional waiver allowing counties to continue their use of lever machines.
-The state revises its interpretation of HAVA and decides counties are permitted to continue their use of lever machines.
-County commissioners a precinct-counted, voter-verified paper ballot optical scanner from the approved state list, if available.
"The more I read and learn; the more committed to this cause I become. If we have to use a voting system that is not accurately counting every vote and is open to fraud, we have lost the most precious right we have," remarked Rawley, adding a call for all citizens to come out to voice their opinion on this issue.
"The public is an influence, with their research and their knowledge, it's important they speak out. This really affects our democracy."

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