TO: CVF-NEWS FROM: Kim Alexander DATE: January 23, 2003 RE: SJ Merc calls for touchscreen voting paper trail
The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors is on the verge of approving a new contract for $20 million in touchscreen voting equipment. Today the San Jose Mercury News wrote an editorial urging the Board of Supervisors to revise their proposal to include a verifiable paper audit system.
"The county would be doing the nation a service by forcing vendors to deal with the issue. It's only a matter of time before a close election marred by a touch-screen system's irregularities creates another electoral crisis, leaving politicians wondering why they spent billions on flawed technology," the paper wrote. The editorial also discusses a new petition being circulated by Stanford computer scientist David Dill to build support for computerized voting equipment that provides a voter-verifiable audit trail.
If Santa Clara county, home of Silicon Valley, were to require its prospective vendor, Sequoia Voting Systems of Oakland, to modify its systems to provide a voter-verifiable paper audit trail, it would mark the first time such a demand has been placed on a vendor, and would send a powerful message about how to truly modernize the voting process.
Below is the Mercury News' editorial, which is also online at: http://www.bayarea.com/mld/mercurynews/news/opinion/5011944.htm
-- Kim Alexander, California Voter Foundation
(San Jose Mercury News editorial, posted on Thu, Jan. 23, 2003)
Gee whiz, voter fraud?
BEFORE SIGNING $20 MILLION CONTRACT, SUPERVISORS SHOULD REQUIRE VENDORS TO INCLUDE A TOUCH-SCREEN PAPER TRAIL
SANTA Clara County supervisors are within weeks of signing a $20 million contract for a new touch-screen voting system. They should pay close attention to technologists who are warning: Not so fast.
A growing number of computer scientists are concluding that the new computerized voting systems, while simple and convenient for voters to use, have underlying design problems that leave them potentially open to error and fraud. This week, Stanford University computer science professor David Dill began circulating a petition, quickly signed by some of his colleagues, expressing concern.
Dill's message to election officials is, Don't be mesmerized by the "gee whiz" lure of flashy technology. Voting machines without verifiable security checks pose ``a serious threat to democracy.''
Dill's petition doesn't call for abandoning touch-screen technology, which is used already by nearly one in five voting precincts nationwide and is quickly spreading. But it urges officials to steer clear of systems that don't offer a "voter-verifiable audit trail" -- essentially a paper copy of the touch-screen ballot that voters can inspect to verify their choices. This permanent record could be used in the actual count or set aside in the event of a recount.
State law does not require this type of paper audit, and none of three vendors who submitted bids to Santa Clara County offers it. The one company that now does offer this feature in California was certified too late to enter a bid.
Sequoia Voting Systems of Oakland, whose system the county registrar is recommending, has backup systems to ensure votes can't be lost when power is out or when the system locks up. It can also print out a machine's vote totals, or, at the end of the day, the printed images of the votes that were cast. But only a simultaneously produced paper copy would provide enough protection from software glitches or tampering that voters and poll workers wouldn't otherwise notice.
Isolated but disturbing cases of malfunctioning and wrongly programmed machines continue to crop up. In one Florida precinct last November, votes that were intended for the Democratic candidate for governor ended up for Gov. Jeb Bush, because of a misaligned touch screen. How many votes were miscast before the mistake was found will never be known, because there was no paper audit.
Santa Clara County is under pressure to choose a system quickly. It's one of nine California counties under court order to replace their punch-card systems by March 2004.
But supervisors must not rush to sign a contract they might come to regret. With computer scientists' testimony to back them up, they'd have a legitimate reason to ask the judge for a delay.
The supervisors should revise their proposal to include a verifiable paper audit system. The county would be doing the nation a service by forcing vendors to deal with the issue. It's only a matter of time before a close election marred by a touch-screen system's irregularities creates another electoral crisis, leaving politicians wondering why they spent billions on flawed technology.
© 2003 mercurynews and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.
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This page was first published on January 23, 2003 | Last updated on January 23, 2003
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