FROM:   Kim Alexander
DATE:   May 23, 2003
RE:   CVF-NEWS Voting Tech Round-up - paper trail gaining support

Hi Folks:

Voting technology issues are heating up again. There were many important developments this week. In this issue of CVF-NEWS:

* Mendocino County opts for optical scan voting system
* Sacramento County likely to put off touchscreen purchase
* San Mateo County registrar publishes paper trail commentary
* Bill requiring a voter-verified paper trail introduced in Congress
* CVF letter appears in the New York Times

* * * * * * * * * *
* Mendocino County opts for optical scan voting system

This week the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors approved the county clerk's proposal to purchase optical scan voting machines to replace existing Votomatic-style punch card units. Mendocino is one of nine California counties under a federal court order to replace its voting machines by March 2004. Mendocino is the first of these nine counties to decide to go with paper-based, optical scan voting units rather than touchscreen machines.

Mendocino will also be purchasing one touchscreen per polling place to comply with new state and federal disability access requirements, and will require these units to provide a voter-verified paper trail. Mendocino has chosen Diebold as its vendor. The cost of the entire system is $850,000, a fraction of what it would cost if Mendocino had gone all-touchscreen.

In addition to being the first punch card county in California to move to optical scan, Mendocino is also the first county to require a voter verified paper trail for the limited number of touchscreens it will be purchasing and deploying in polling places, and the first jurisdiction in the nation where Diebold, one of the major voting equipment vendors, has agreed to provide a voter verified paper trail.

In a Ukiah Daily Journal article published this week about the decision, Mendocino County Clerk Marsha Wharff said, "I have been requesting an electronic system with a paper trail for the last couple of years. Most of the vendors did not have them or weren't interested in providing them....A couple of years ago, nobody was interested in providing paper trails. One company was developing a system; the rest wouldn't even talk to us about it. Some said it would be expensive, but now it looks like everybody's going to get some version of it."

Wharff told the paper she's not convinced that with computerized systems voter fraud is inevitable, but she understands why people are suspicious. "I'm not sure there's a danger but if you're going to have credibility, if you can't provide (paper proof)... they really don't have a way to believe what you're saying. If you can't prove that when you touched on the screen, that was the result printed out, what do you have? It makes them wary, and I can't blame them."

The full story, "County blazes trail on new voting system", is online at,1413,91%257E3089%257E1406072,00.html.

* * * * * * * * * *
* Sacramento County likely to put off touchscreen purchase

Sacramento County is another one of the nine California punch card counties ordered to replace its voting system by March 2004. Sacramento was the first jurisdiction in the nation to utilize touchscreen machines with a voter verified paper trail for an early voting program conducted at five sites for the November 2002 election.

Earlier this year, Sacramento requested proposals from vendors to purchase touchscreens for all of the county's polling places. The Sacramento request for proposals asked vendors to submit bids for voting systems both with and without a voter verified paper trail. Five vendors submitted bids and the county anticipated spending approximately $20 million on the new voting system.

But Sacramento, like many communities throughout California, is experiencing a severe budget shortfall this year and next week will consider cancelling its request for a new voting system and instead converting its punch card system to an optical scan system until a new voting system is selected, a move that is expected to cost only $85,000. The Sacramento Board of Supervisors meets next Wednesday, May 28th at 2 p.m. to take up this matter; the agenda is online at:

* * * * * * * * * *
* San Mateo County registrar publishes paper trail commentary

San Mateo County Registrar of Voters Warren Slocum has been the most outspoken of the state's 58 county election officials in support of a voter-verified paper trail. Monday's San Jose Mercury News featured a commentary from Slocum explaining his position. In this piece, Slocum writes:

"Can we afford to have another statewide computer fiasco? Do we want to run the risk of an election meltdown like Florida? Should we gamble with the integrity of our election process because we didn't demand a voter verifiable paper trail? Voters should know that their vote counts and that every legal vote is counted correctly.

"In order to avoid egregious voting errors and to ensure a smooth transition to electronic voting, voting companies should be ordered by the secretary of state to do a better job and deliver voting systems that are reasonably priced, work correctly and have a voter verifiable paper audit trail."

Slocum's commentary is available online at:

The Mercury News also published another editorial supporting the paper trail and discussing Slocum's efforts. It's online at

* * * * * * * * * *
* Bill requiring a voter-verified paper trail introduced in Congress

Yesterday Congressman Rush Holt (D-New Jersey) introduced HR 2239, the "Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act of 2003". In his news release announcing the bill, Congressman Holt said,

"Imagine it's Election Day 2004. You enter your local polling place and go to cast your vote on a brand new "touch screen" voting machine. The screen says your vote has been counted. As you exit the voting booth, however, you begin to wonder. How do I know if the machine actually recorded my vote? The fact is, you don't."

HR 2239, if enacted, would require all voting machines to produce an actual paper record by 2004 that voters can view to check the accuracy of their votes and that election officials can use to verify votes in the event of a computer malfunction, hacking, or other irregularity. The bill would also require recounts to be automatically conducted for .5 percent of a jurisdiction's ballots selected at random. This provision is similar to California's existing manual count law, which requires one percent of a jurisdiction's ballots to be selected at random and publicly tallied by hand to prove the accuracy of automated vote totals. Election officials in other states often cite California's manual count law as an important security measure that should be replicated in other states; if HR 2239 is enacted this kind of audit process would be required throughout the entire nation.

Congressman Holt's news release is available online at The bill text will be available shortly at

* * * * * * * * * *
* CVF letter appears in the New York Times

Last week the New York Times published a story about touchscreen
voting called "To Register Doubts, Press Here", online at

The story mentioned a poll that found Georgia voters felt confident about their state's new paperless touchscreen voting system. My letter to the editor, published in yesterday's paper, pointed out that the poll also found a significant racial disparity in voter confidence between black and white Georgia voters: while 79 percent of white voters said they were very confident their votes would be accurately counted, only 40 percent of black voters expressed that level of confidence. My letter is available online at The Georgia poll results are available from the Carl Vinson Institute of Government's web site, at

That's all the news for now. FYI, we are publishing new articles and resources on our Voting Technology Resources page all the time -- for the latest news, please visit

Have a great weekend!

-- Kim Alexander, California Voter Foundation,
(916) 441-2494

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This page was first published on May 23, 2003 | Last updated on May 23, 2003
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