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Voting Technology

August 31, 2005


The Honorable Arnold Schwarzenegger
Governor of California
State Capitol Building
Sacramento, CA  95814

RE:  Senate Bill 370 – SUPPORT

Dear Governor Schwarzenegger:

I am writing on behalf of the California Voter Foundation to urge you to sign Senate Bill 370, authored by Senator Debra Bowen.  This bill would mandate that voter-verified paper audit trails be used to verify the accuracy of computerized vote counts and has received strong, bipartisan support in both houses of the Legislature.

The California Voter Foundation (CVF) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan 501(c) (3) organization dedicated to advancing the responsible use of technology in the democratic process.  We normally do not take positions on legislation, but were invited by Secretary of State Bruce McPherson to submit a position on Senate Bill 370, and we did so, urging his support.

California has required routine and public verification of software vote counts since 1965, shortly after punch card voting and computerized vote tabulation were introduced. This procedure is performed by local election officials who first select a subset of paper ballots at random, tally those ballots by hand in a public and open process, and then compare the hand-counted vote totals to the software-counted vote totals (Election Code Section 15360). It is expressly stated in California statute that the purpose of the manual count is to “verify the accuracy of the automated count” (Election Code Section 336.5). 

This manual count is the one and only procedure performed in California’s voting process that gives the public any assurance that the software used to count votes has not been compromised.  The manual count offers the only window into the computerized vote counting process, providing members of the public with the opportunity to observe for themselves that the software used to count ballots is accurate and reliable.

This law has served California voters well for most of the past four decades by ensuring that software glitches, human error, or attempted vote fraud do not result in erroneous vote totals.  The manual count law provides a form of transparency in our voting process which is crucial given that the software used to count ballots is proprietary and not open to public inspection.

However, over the past five years, the manual count law has been undermined with the introduction of paperless, electronic voting machines.  Counties using electronic voting machines do not have an independent audit trail they can use to verify the accuracy of their software vote counts.  Instead, and in violation of the manual count law, these jurisdictions have printed out images of electronic ballots after voters have voted and polls have closed.  If an electronic ballot was not properly recorded or stored in the first place, these printouts will not detect this error, since they originate from the same data source to which they are being compared.  This procedure also means that election officials are wholly relying on their vendor’s proprietary software to record and count votes.

Fortunately, last year California’s legislature unanimously passed SB 1438, which became law with your signature and requires that all electronic voting machines produce a voter-verified paper audit trail of every electronic ballot cast.  The purpose for this paper record is two-fold:  to give an individual voter confidence that his or her own ballot was properly recorded; and to give election officials a meaningful audit trail they can use to publicly verify the accuracy of software vote counts and satisfy the manual count law.

SB 370 would clarify in California statute that the voter-verified paper audit trail is the record to be used to perform the one percent manual count.  We strongly urge you to sign this bill. The voter-verified paper audit trail must be used to perform the one percent manual tally.  Otherwise, the voter-verified paper audit trail is practically meaningless, and the one percent manual tally is totally meaningless.  If the paper audit trail that the voter verified is not used to verify the overall election results, then it will be possible for the paper record to reflect one set of votes while the electronic record reflects a different set of votes without ever being detected.

We realize that Secretary of State Bruce McPherson has taken an “oppose” position on this bill, which is unfortunate.  One concern he has raised is that the voter-verified paper audit trail cannot be verified at present by sight-impaired voters.  This matter has already been considered and settled by the Department of Justice and in federal court, where disability rights activists sued to prohibit the paper trail altogether and lost their case against the Secretary of State in 2004.  More information on the Department of Justice opinion and the federal court decision is enclosed with this letter.

Please do not let perfection be the enemy of the good; the fact is sight-impaired voters do have the opportunity right now to confirm their ballots cast on touchscreens and vendors are continuously developing their voting technology.  It serves the interests of all voters to ensure that elections officials are required to conduct a meaningful audit of election results.

The only other opposition to SB 370 has come from the county registrars’ association due to cost and time constraints.  California should not forfeit the only form of public verification of software vote counts due to such concerns.  It is the responsibility of California elections officials to ensure that vote counts are publicly audited.  Administrative concerns, while valid, must come second.  Elections are designed to provide the public with a meaningful opportunity to express their views on candidates and measures.  If we lose public verification of election results, one can anticipate that many Californians will lose their incentive to vote altogether.  Already we see signs that confidence in California’s voting systems is eroding; an October 2004 Field Poll found that more than a third of California’s voters were not confident about the integrity of electronic voting machines.

More than two dozen states have followed California’s lead and enacted a voter-verified paper audit trail requirement.  Half of those states have also enacted laws that require the voter-verified paper audit trails to be used to audit the accuracy of overall election results.  Your signature on SB 370 will ensure that California voters can have confidence in the accuracy and integrity of software vote counts.


Kim Alexander, President
California Voter Foundation



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