FROM:   Kim Alexander
DATE:   June 3, 2003
RE:   CVF-NEWS Voting Tech Round-up

Hi Folks:

In this edition of CVF-NEWS:

* MLK III & Greg Palast circulate computerized voting/paper trail petition
* Sacramento cancels plans to purchase $20 million touchscreen voting system
* CA Ad Hoc Touch Screen Voting Task Force report update

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* MLK III & Greg Palast circulate computerized voting/paper trail petition

Martin Luther King III, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and Greg Palast, author of the book, "The Best Democracy Money Can Buy", are circulating an Internet petition to raise awareness of how computerization in elections threaten election accountability. The petition cites the use of touchscreen voting machines with no paper trails and the computerized purges of voter rolls as the prime examples of this threat, and demands "a halt to further computerization of balloting until such methods are made unsusceptible to political manipulation, fraud, and racial bias."

The petition was launched on May 27 through Working Assets' "Working for Change" web site and has gathered more than 25,000 signatures so far, which will be delivered to Attorney General John Ashcroft. To join in or learn more about this effort, visit:

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* Sacramento cancels plans to purchase $20 million touchscreen voting system

Last week the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to cancel its $20 million "Request for Proposals" to provide the county with a new touchscreen voting system. Below is a brief summary of the meeting.

Sacramento Registrar of Voters Ernie Hawkins and his staff addressed the board at its May 28th meeting to explain Hawkins' reasons for making this recommendation. These include: 1) uncertainty about the future of touchscreen voting due to the California Secretary of State's convening of the Ad Hoc Touch Screen Voting Task Force; 2) the cancellation of March and April California voting equipment certification meetings which prevented Sacramento from considering new models and enhancements that have not yet been certified; 3) the recent introduction of federal legislation (HR 2239) that would require computerized voting systems to provide a voter-verified paper trail; 4) forthcoming federal "Help America Vote Act" requirements which are expected to be out a year from now; and 5) the county's serious budget shortfall.

Sacramento will instead implement a temporary optical scan voting system that uses a card similar to the Votomatic ballot card but rather than punching holes voters will mark spaces on the ballot. This interim solution will cost Sacramento $85,000 and meets the federal court order requiring California counties to stop using prescored punch cards by March 2004.

Hawkins also noted that he anticipated the ongoing cost of moving to touchscreen voting systems were considerable. His department's current annual budget is $7 million; Hawkins anticipated needing an additional $5 million per year to pay additional touchscreen voting costs, which include delivery and pick-up of voting units to and from polling places, programming the units and checking them on site; a new, larger, secure, and environmentally-controlled facility to warehouse the units; ongoing maintenance and licensing agreements; and principal and interest costs resulting from borrowing money to pay for the system.

Hawkins noted that vendors have said they will have new models for their units out in the near future that will be less expensive and have more features. Several vendors under consideration by Sacramento have developed prototypes for a voter-verified paper trail feature but were not able to bid those units because they have not yet been certified. Supervisor Don Nottoli noted that the process of buying new voting equipment was like purchasing PCs but not getting them for nine months and that anything the county gets could be obsolete in a short period of time. He suggested the county could reduce overall investment costs in new voting equipment by looking at a different precinct structure, noting that bigger precincts would mean less equipment to purchase. Hawkins responded that it would be wise to also consider how precincts could be consolidated in light of the increasing trend of voters opting to vote by mail.

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* CA Ad Hoc Touch Screen Voting Task Force report update

Many people have been asking me when the California Ad Hoc Touch Screen Voting Task Force's report will be published. The answer is: I don't know. The task force members concluded our meetings and signed off on the report in mid-May. It is up to Secretary of State Kevin Shelley and his staff to decide when they want to release it. As soon as it's available I will post an announcement to CVF-NEWS.

That's all the news for now. Have a great week,

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

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This page was first published on June 3, 2003 | Last updated on June 3, 2003
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