September 27, 2006 - Meeting Aims to Restore Public Confidence in Election System
Paper: Compton Bulletin, The (CA)
Title: Meeting Aims to Restore Public Confidence in Election System
Both federal and local election experts educate, reassure voters in country's largest election jurisdiction
Date: September 27, 2006
Safeguarding citizens' right to vote and restoring public confidence in the American election system was the hot topic of discussion at Cal State Dominguez Hills last Monday night.
It was there that U.S. Congresswoman Juanita Millender- McDonald held a town hall meeting to educate voters on the election system in place in L.A. County as well as encourage them to continue exercising their rights by heading to the polls come Election Day.
She, along with members of the U.S. Election Administration Commission (EAC) and a representative from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) - the organization charged with creating guidelines to ensure voting systems nationwide are accurate, reliable, secure and accessible to all - reassured the audience that much is being done to prevent the travesties of the past two presidential elections from happening again.
"From hanging chads in 2000 to long lines at the polls in 2004, recent elections have brought to light many problems that have plagued the way we administer elections," said Millender-McDonald, the ranking member of the Committee on House Administration, which oversees the federal election process.
Helping America Vote
"We've had an interesting time of voting in the United States," said EAC Commissioner Gracia Hillman, who touched on the struggles first women, then African Americans, then those for whom English is a second language and finally seniors and the disabled have endured to secure the right to vote in an unobstructed and accessible manner.
"Then came the presidential election of 2000, and America quickly learned just how complex a process it is to conduct elections," said Hillman. "All of a sudden a topic that is in fact fundamental to democracy in America became an everyday conversation."
It was the debacle in Florida in 2000 that led to the passing of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), which aims to help election officials meet the standards and mandates of the law and make certain that every person who casts a vote will have that vote counted as he or she intended it to be. The law, passed in 2002, appropriated millions of dollars to each of the 50 states to replace outdated equipment and conduct voter education.
In fact, according to EAC Commissioner Donetta Davidson, one-third of American voters will for the first time be using new and improved voting machines in the upcoming Nov. 7 election.
Most importantly, said Hillman, HAVA endorses a decentralized voting system, or the conducting of elections on a state-specific basis. This means that state by state, and sometimes even county by county, the voting apparatus and what is required to register to vote or cast a ballot varies.
But what doesn't vary, she said, is the HAVA-mandate that every person who shows up to a polling place on Election Day is entitled to cast a provisional ballot, even if the person's eligibility to vote is in question. In other words, no one should ever be turned away from a polling place without having had the chance to cast a ballot, even if his or her name is not on the list.
Davidson said voting machines - about which many nationwide are rather leery - are only half of the equation. The other focus should be the integrity of the voting process.
And with the recent revelation on FOX News that two students and a professor from Princeton University were able to - in just 10 seconds time - hack into a Diebold voting machine and infect it with a virus that reverses votes using nothing more than a hotel mini-bar key and basic knowledge of software writing, peoples' confidence is in a state of limbo.
Only about 5 percent of the voting population, including voters in both Florida and Ohio, uses Diebold machines, according to the same report.
L.A. County's Checks and Balances
Voters in L.A. County are part of the nation's largest election jurisdiction. The county boasts approximately 3.8 million registered voters, 79 percent of whom participated in the last presidential election.
To put wary voters' minds at ease, L.A. County Registrar- Recorder/County Clerk Conny McCormack brought along and demonstrated how to use the county's standard voting equipment, InkaVote, which will be found at all 5,026 of the county's precincts.
In L.A. County, three voting options exist: absentee ballots, early touch-screen voting and showing up at one's assigned polling place on Election Day. State law only requires that two options be given: absentee and polling places.
This year, 17 locations will offer touch-screen voting Oct. 25-Nov. 3.
And since June, all votes statewide must have a paper trail. "Every single vote cast on Nov. 7 will have a paper component attached," McCormack said - even those cast using touch-screen machines.
In the 28 days following an election, the Registrar-Re-
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corder/County Clerk's Office is abuzz with activity verifying and then double-verifying each signature on every roster and matching up the number of signatures to the number of ballots cast, McCormack said.
"Every single precinct is reconciled during the 28 days," she said. This means every ballot, whether cast, uncast or spoiled, must be accounted for. And the entire process is open to the public. Such a complete audit is required in California, but, according to the county clerk, "a lot of the states don't require it."
Additionally, a random sample of 1 percent of the precincts is chosen and every single vote on each ballot is hand counted and matched up to the numbers generated by computers, McCormack said.
And come November, voters who are used to the InkaVote equipment will be welcomed with the additional security of a machine that checks ballots for mistakes.
Before the night was over, Millender-McDonald noted a piece of legislation in the nation's capitol that she likened to a "21st century poll tax." The potential law would require all voters to show proof of citizenship in order to vote, which she said would unfairly disenfranchise those without driver's licenses, birth certificates or passports.
"I encourage you to go to the polls, because there are too many laws that are trying to suppress your right to vote," said the congresswoman. "Tonight we hope that you will live your life a little easier in knowing that there are some safeguards that are in place."
For more information on registering to vote in L.A. County, voter materials and options and polling locations, visit www.lavote.net.
Author: Allison Jean Eaton Bulletin Staff Writer
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