Election panel advises a return to paper ballots
Paper: Desert Sun, The ( Palm Springs, CA)
Date: July 18, 2007
By Nicole C. Brambila
After seven months of study, a panel charged with investigating the county's electronic voting system came back with a unanimous recommendation: Use paper ballots.
The Election Review Committee told supervisors to "move as quickly as possible to a hybrid voting system whereby able-bodied voters mark their preferences on paper ballots, which are then counted by optical scanners." Electronic voting would be an option for handicapped voters and others who can't handle the paper ballots, Supervisor Marion Ashley said Tuesday.
Riverside County supervisors - who ordered the probe after a deluge of voter complaints - accepted the report, and then immediately created another subcommittee to further investigate the issue.
"I'm not ready to throw the baby out with the bathwater, yet," said Supervisor Jeff Stone. "I think we need not to purposively delay, but let's not shoot from the hip."
"I'm not diluting the statement at all," said committee member and Judge Robert Taylor. "I think we should transition as quickly as possible."
Taylor, the only member to vote electronically in the November election, said he preferred electronic voting before serving on the committee.
"Do you mistrust it?" asked Supervisor Bob Buster, who created the committee last year.
"Yes," Taylor said. "I believe the touch-screen system has vulnerabilities that need not be there when other options are available."
After the November election, supervisors were inundated with complaints about long lines at polls, machine malfunctions and, in some races, a weeks-long wait for results.
About a dozen people attending the Tuesday meeting voiced agreement with the report, urging the board to act quickly.
"They took the committee report and immediately formed another committee," said Paul Jacob of Temecula.
How we got here
In 2000 - before Florida's hanging chads entered the American lexicon - Riverside County was among the first nationwide to implement electronic voting when it bought a $14 million Sequoia system.
After supervisors failed in their bid to challenge state law that requires a voting paper trail, they approved spending $12.9 million in 2006 to buy a second system. The federal government ended up chipping in $7.5 million of the nearly $13 million.
Some maintain the county's portion of the second buy could have been mitigated had Registrar Barbara Dunmore acted sooner and purchased printers rather than new voting machines. Dunmore offered no response to the report.
Those who spoke at the meeting said they are concerned feet-dragging could lead to further costs, chiefly the bid award that went out last week for a new $700,000 scanner to count absentee ballots.
Stone, who continued to vouch for the security of electronic voting despite his own admission that he is computer illiterate, suggested getting voter input.
"If we're going to embark on this expensive transition, we need to get the faith and confidence of the public," he said.
The report stated the costs would be negligible because the recommendation includes electronic and paper voting, which is already done in county elections.
Secretary of State Debra Bowen is expected to release her own security review next month, which could mean, if deemed a security risk, that Riverside County will have to abandon its machines anyway.
Author: Nicole C. Brambila
Dateline: Riverside County
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