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Paper trail required under bill
Counties would have to keep record of ballots, perform sample recounts

By GARY D. ROBERTSON, The Associated Press    22 July 2005

A Senate committee Thursday recommended new voting machine standards that would require a paper record of each ballot cast and require sample hand counts to ensure accurate totals.

The bill is the outgrowth of recommendations from a commission that met after a Carteret County voting machine lost 4,438 votes in November.

The measure approved by the judiciary panel after numerous rewrites would require counties to use only three voting systems: optical scan ballot machines, electronic recording machines or paper ballots counted by hand.

The electronic machines also would have to generate a paper record that is "viewable by the voter before the vote is cast electronically" so that the voter can correct any error.

The paper record couldn't be touched by the voter because it would be considered the backup record for any recount. Voters might inadvertently take it home otherwise, said Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, a Carrboro Democrat and a primary sponsor of the bill.

Sen. Janet Cowell, a Raleigh Democrat and the only committee member to vote against the bill, said she didn't like a provision that would allow the State Board of Elections to experiment during the 2006 elections with alternatives to a paper record of a ballot. That might include audio playbacks of a voter's choice or a photographic image of an electronic ballot.

"Voters don't want to be experimented on," said Joyce McCloy with the grass-roots N.C. Coalition for Verified Voting.

The experiment would be limited to nine counties, with no more than two voting sites per county. Voters still would be able to use traditional voting systems at those sites.

The bill, which now goes to the Senate Appropriations Committee, would give the elections board a larger role in ensuring that voting machines bought by counties meet minimum standards.

Voting machine companies also would have to make computer programming code for their machines available for review by political parties and state officials.

State elections officials have said it would cost roughly $70 million to ensure machine upgrades statewide to meet federal and state standards. But only about $52 million in federal and state election grants now is earmarked for those improvements.

The bill sets aside $20.6 million for the coming year, but that amount may change. A federal elections panel has yet to finalize its own voting machine standards.

"We have no idea what these machines are going to cost, what the upgrades are going to be," Kinnaird said.

Elections officials also would perform sample hand recounts statewide and compare totals to ensure voting systems are accurate.

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