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Calif. Panel Urges Overhaul of E-Voting Systems
Published on Thursday, April 29, 2004 by Reuters
Calif. Panel Urges Overhaul of E-Voting Systems
by Jim Christie
 

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Electronic voting systems should not be used in November's presidential election unless they produce a paper trail as a safeguard against vote tampering, a California panel said on Wednesday.

The advisory panel also urged California officials to require manufacturers of the systems to upgrade security measures to prevent hackers from tampering with votes.

The motion specifically recommends new electronic voting machines be required to print paper-based vote records that voters could use to verify that their ballots had been cast as intended.

The motion comes amid a national debate about the use of electronic voting machines, which had been put forward as a way to avoid the kinds of punch-card irregularities that dogged the last presidential vote in Florida.

"Paper is coming to California," said John Mott-Smith, a member of the California Voting Systems and Procedures Panel. "It's not a question of if, but a question of when."

Seven members of the eight-member advisory panel backed the motion and one abstained.

The vote followed hearings over the past two weeks in which activists, including president of the California Voter Foundation, demanded paper-based proof of votes.

By contrast, elections officials from a number of California counties warned they would have to scramble to prepare for the November election if electronic voting were scrapped altogether, as some had urged.

The California panel has been closely watched because many of the high-tech state's counties have scrapped punch-cards in favor of electronic voting, which holds the promise of more efficient elections.

Voting on the systems in March in some California counties, however, was marred by a number of glitches.

A report by the Secretary of State found that 55 percent of polling places in San Diego County were unable to open on time because a component on a system did not function properly. Some polling places in Alameda County experienced the same problem but had paper ballots on hand for voters.

For the March election, California counties fielded 42,720 electronic voting machines, in theory allowing 42 percent of the state's voters to vote on touchscreens or on paper ballots scanned into computers.

In addition to its recommendation for new electronic voting machines, the panel said existing machines other than those supplied by a subsidiary of Diebold Inc. also should be required to print a paper trail of votes, or counties with the machines must offer voters paper ballots.

The panel voted last week to recommend that California counties not use Diebold Election Systems Inc. machines after finding they failed to work as expected in the March election.

The panel recommended that California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley decertify the subsidiary's AcuVote-TSx Voting System for use in California and recommended its findings should be referred to the state's Attorney General for possible civil and criminal charges.

An aide to Shelley, who since last year has urged that touchscreen machines produce paper records of votes, said the Secretary of State could act on the panel's recommendations by the end of the week.

Copyright © 2004 Reuters Limited.

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