February 11, 2003
TO: Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors
FROM: Kim Alexander, President, California Voter Foundation
RE: Proposition 41 paper trail requirements

Dear Members of the Board:

I am writing to you on behalf of the California Voter Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization promoting and applying the responsible use of technology to improve the democratic process.

The issue of new voting technology is one which we have been closely following for many years, and with which we are very concerned. We're grateful that you are closely scrutinizing your county's proposed touchscreen voting system contract and I am providing you today with this written memo to give you additional information that I hope will help you make an informed decision on behalf of Santa Clara County voters.

On January 31, I addressed your Finance and Government subcommittee regarding your county's plans to purchase a new touchscreen voting system. I informed the subcommittee that while Proposition 41 does not require that your voting system produce a voter-verified paper trail, it does require your elections department to produce paper ballot images for one hundred percent of the ballots cast on your touchscreen units. I have shared these concerns with California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley and have agreed to serve on his new task force that will examine the paper trail issues.

First, I think it would be helpful to provide you with some definitions. There are essentially three kinds of paper audit trails that can be generated by touchscreen units:

1. A "printed vote summary", which is an printout of all the votes cast by all voters on an individual voting machine through the course of the election day;

2. A "paper ballot image", which is a replication of a voter's individual ballot, produced after the polls have closed; and

3. A "voter-verified paper trail," which is a paper ballot image produced at the time the voter votes and available to the voter for verification.

All of these kinds of paper trails are designed to be maintained by local elections departments. They are not intended to yield receipts that voters can take with them from the polls.

The third kind of paper trail, which is voter-verified and produced at the time the voter votes, is the only kind that can sufficiently back up digital ballots and protect California's elections from error and fraud. Both the first and second kinds of paper trails are produced after the polls close. If there are any hardware or software glitches in voting machines, or attempts to commit election fraud by tampering with them, both the first and second kinds of printouts will merely reproduce the corrupted information that exists on the machines themselves.

Due to these concerns, it is the position of the California Voter Foundation that any voting system that does not require a voter to directly mark on the ballot must still create a verifiable audit trail of each ballot cast that can be viewed by the voter at the time the ballot is cast; given today's technology the only practical voter-verifiable audit trail is a paper ballot image.

Proposition 41 leaves it up to county supervisors to decide whether your voters need touchscreen voting with a voter-verified paper trail or not. The Legislature could not come to an agreement on this issue, but it did agree on one thing: touchscreen counties must print paper ballot images of all digital ballots cast.

Specifically, Prop. 41 requires:

"Any voting system purchased using bond funds that does not require a voter to directly mark on the ballot must produce, at the time the voter votes his or her ballot or at the time the polls are closed, a paper version or representation of the voted ballot or of all the ballots cast on a unit of the voting system. The paper version shall not be provided to the voter but shall be retained by elections officials for use during the 1 percent manual recount or other recount or contest."

The September 18, 2001, Assembly floor analysis of AB 56 included mention of this language, noting that the bill as amended would require certain voting systems purchased with bond funds to "produce a paper version of ALL marked ballots for use during a manual recount or contest" (emphasis added). The "Comments" section of the bill analysis went on to say that "The Senate amendments are consistent with the intent of this legislation as it passed out of the Assembly. Certain amendments fulfill the commitment of the author to address ballot security and paper trail issues raised at the Assembly policy committee hearing and on the Assembly floor." Once amended, AB 56 received the two-thirds vote the bill needed to be placed before voters as Proposition 41.

While this provision leaves it up to counties to decide whether paper versions of digital ballots need to be voter-verified, it is clear from reading the language that counties, at a bare minimum must print a representation of all the BALLOTS cast on a unit of the voting system if they are to receive Prop. 41 funds. If the law said counties must print a representation of all the votes cast, rather than of the ballots cast, then the printed vote summaries would be sufficient to meet the paper trail requirement. But the language of the law plainly states that a representation of ballots must be printed. Therefore, the printing of mere vote summaries is insufficient to meet the requirements for Proposition 41 funding.

Printed vote summaries are also insufficient to meet the requirement that a county conduct a public manual tally of one percent of its precincts' ballots chosen at random. Election Code Section 15360 requires that:

"During the official canvass of every election in which a voting system is used, the official conducting the election shall conduct a public manual tally of the ballots tabulated by those devices cast in 1 percent of the precincts chosen at random by the elections official. If 1 percent of the precincts should be less than one whole precinct, the tally shall be conducted in one precinct chosen at random by the elections official."

This "public manual tally" serves as a check of tabulation software to verify machine-tabulated results. With punch card and optical scan systems, the hard copy ballots are counted by hand, in a public and open process, and the results are checked against those generated using the vote tabulation software. In order to conduct this kind of manual public tally with a touchscreen voting system, the county cannot rely on the printed vote summaries but rather must print ballot images of one percent of its precincts' ballots, and then publicly tally those ballot images by hand and compare the results to those generated by the touchscreen system's software.

The fact that the paper trail language of Proposition 41 requires that the representation of ballots produced must be of the kind used for one percent manual recount purposes is another reason why these representations must in fact be printed ballot images and not mere vote summaries.

What does this mean to you? It means that you need to find out what it will actually take for any vendor you pick to accomplish this task. Can their software compile all of a voter's choices onto one piece of paper? The vendors have said they are capable of producing printed ballot images, but how it will actually be done has not been explained, nor have the costs or administrative procedures for producing, storing and maintaining those paper ballots been examined.

Several other counties whose touchscreen voting systems have been authorized for funding by California's Voting Modernization Board are in a similar position and will need to figure out how they will fulfill Prop. 41's paper trail requirement. Fortunately for you, you have not yet made your final contract selection and still have time to fully explore this issue with your prospective vendors.

If you do amend your RFP to require your vendor to produce one hundred percent of your ballot images on paper, you will be halfway to a voter-verified paper trail. Perhaps you can consider modernizing Santa Clara County's voting system in stages -- first by producing printed ballot images for digital, touchscreen ballots in order to qualify for Prop. 41 matching funds and in time to meet the March 2004 replacement deadline, and then second, by setting a goal to convert your ballot image printing process into a voter-verified paper trail.

I am happy to to discuss these issues with you or your staff anytime, and can be reached at (916) 441-2494 or by email, kimalex@calvoter.org.

Main Page

What's New




Contact Us

Support CVF

This page was first published on February 11, 2003 | Last updated on February 11, 2003
Copyright 2002, California Voter Foundation. All rights reserved.