February 2, 2006 - Election process under scrutiny
February 2, 2006 "Election process under scrutiny"
North County Times – (Lee Enterprises) – Serving San Diego and Riverside Counties
Election process under scrutiny
By: LAURA MITCHELL - Staff Writer
RIVERSIDE ---- As the county prepares to spend $14 million for new touch-screen voting machines, a group of area residents insists the system is still too vulnerable to tampering and potential election fraud.
Members of Democracy for America, a local group that encourages voter participation, said Thursday they want residents to be able to verify election results ---- something mandated by state law.
"We are asking for greater input for citizens," group coordinator Jerry Ewig, said Thursday, adding that the group does not expect to change the Board of Supervisors' minds about buying the machines, but that it wants the county to take steps to make the election process more secure and inclusive.
Last month the five-member board voted unanimously to approve a plan to trade in the county's 6-year-old touch-screen voting machines for new ones equipped with printers, to provide a voter-verified paper trail.
Under state law, such devices are required for use in all 2006 elections in California as a safeguard to prevent error or fraud. Riverside County has been scrambling to get a paper trail system in place in time for the June 6 primary.
Democracy for America wants county Registrar of Voters Barbara Dunmore to manually recount 1 percent of all ballots as a doublecheck; to post immediate election results at precincts; and to allow voters to have more oversight when ballots are counted. They plan to make their request before the county Board of Supervisors at its meeting at 9 a.m. Tuesday at the County Administrative Center, 4080 Lemon St. in Riverside.
Dunmore said Thursday the first request, the 1 percent manual count, is already taken care of, she is working on the second ---- and the third cannot be legally done.
"We are required to use the paper record to do manual recounts," Dunmore said, adding the state law became effective in January. She said she first did the 1 percent manual recount after polls closed during the city of Riverside's council runoff election Jan. 17.
But Democracy for America member Jim Woodward said Thursday the paper record of the ballot is printed on thermal paper, the type many credit card receipts are printed, and which is infamous for causing ink to fade in a relatively short time.
Dunmore said, however, that the thermal paper is certified by the secretary of state's office and will be stored in a temperature-controlled room to reduce the potential for fading. She is required to store the receipts for state and local elections for six months and federal elections for 22 months. But Dunmore said she does not know how long the receipts will last, since the county first started using them in January.
The democracy group also wants voters to be able to independently check the validity of the election by comparing election results posted at precincts when polls close against those recorded by the registrar of voters office, Ewig said.
Dunmore said the voting machines do not have a means to print the report at each precinct but she is working on adding a printer hookup at each location that could do that. But the supervisors had concerns about people hanging around waiting for results at some precincts, including schools and private residences, she said.
"We might do an Internet posting with a breakdown by precinct," Dunmore said.
Ewig said the group would also like the county organize a citizens panel that would observe ballot counting. The county says its system is open to the public ---- but it's not open if no one can see anything, Ewig said.
Dunmore said ballots are counted in a room that has one solid wall and three large glass windows on three walls. County security officers have strongly recommending against allowing anyone else but elections workers inside the room, she said.
"If you let one in, you have to let everyone in," Dunmore said.
But Ewig said a county-appointed observation panel could represent the voters while still following the rules of county security officers.
Woodward said the ballot tally should have more security than just keeping voters out of the counting room. The system is vulnerable to manipulation once it is connected to a computer network, he said.
Dunmore said, however, that the tallying computer is only hooked up to the county's internal network, its intranet, while votes from the eastern desert are being transmitted. It will be disconnected immediately after to help prevent tampering, she said.
But Woodward said he is more concerned about someone hacking into the system from inside, not from the outside.
Dunmore insisted that the system is secure.
Contact staff writer Laura Mitchell at (951) 676-4315, Ext. 2621, or email@example.com.
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