FROM:   Kim Alexander, CVF President
DATE:   October 16, 2001
RE:   Voting equipment act passes with strong paper trail provisions

Hi Folks,

AB 56, the Voting Modernization Bond Act of 2002, has been signed by Governor Gray Davis and will be placed on the March 2002 ballot. If approved by California voters, this bond act will provide $200 million to California counties to upgrade their voting systems.

The California Voter Foundation has been monitoring AB 56 all year. In the last week of the Legislature's session, AB 56 was amended to make some important changes. Legislative Democrats made good on their promise to Republicans to provide for a paper trail for computerized voting systems. Here's what the text of AB 56 says:

"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."

This is an important change from current law, which does not require a paper version of each electronic ballot cast in California to be produced and retained. While electronic voting machines are typically capable of producing a paper version of each ballot cast, in practice only one percent of ballots cast is printed (as required for manual recount purposes), and a printed tally of all votes cast on each machine during Election Day is used as a paper/audit trail for the rest of the ballots.

Under AB 56, county election officials would be required to print out 100 percent of all ballots cast, not just one percent as is current practice. This represents a major shift in computerized voting policy. Throughout this entire year the question of what kind of paper trail is needed for computerized voting has come up at every hearing and debate, and it's an issue that the California Voter Foundation has repeatedly raised as one of our concerns about the reliability of computerized voting systems.

Under AB 56, the new paper trail question will be whether counties implement voting systems that show voters the printed copy of their digital ballots before voters leave the polls, or will counties wait until the polls close and print out the paper ballots at the end of the day after the voters have left?

The concern about a paper trail has to do with the potential for rigging a computerized voting machine. Unlike a paper-based voting system, a computerized voting system is not transparent to the public, and the security of a computerized voting system is beyond the comprehension of most people.

I and others have suggested in the past that voters be shown a paper printout of their digital ballots before they leave the polls and through a glass screen so they can view but not handle the paper printout. Though this approach will add cost and complexity to the voting process for voters and pollworkers, it may be what is needed to give voters confidence in computerized voting systems.

Other changes to AB 56 include a change in the authors -- though originally introduced by Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg, the bill was amended to make the lead author Assemblyman Kevin Shelley, who is a candidate for Secretary of State. The bond amount was also reduced from $300 million to $200 million.

AB 56 also includes a retroactive provision, so that counties that purchased systems in the recent past, including Riverside's touch screen voting system, can be reimbursed under the matching fund program for those purchases as long as their systems meet the new requirements specified under AB 56. A new Voting Modernization Board and Voting Modernization Finance Committee would be created, comprised of various state officials, to administer the bond money and distribute matching funds to counties on a 3-to-1 ratio, with the state paying $3 for every $1 spent by counties on new voting systems.

AB 56 also specifically prohibits counties from using the bond funds to purchase any voting systems that utilize prescored punch card ballots, in effect prohibiting the use of the funds to purchase the infamous Votomatic or Pollstar voting machines but permitting the funds be used to purchase the more reliable Datavote punch card voting machines.

So now it's up to the voters. Because AB 56 is a bond act, it requires voter approval before taking effect.

For more details about AB 56, please visit the "Legislation" section of CVF's Voting Technology Resources web page, at

-- Kim Alexander, California Voter Foundation, (916) 452-7706,

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This page was first published on October 16, 2001 | Last updated on October 16, 2001
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