(10/10/2005)
By Bob Weaver

Federal Help America Vote Act has alloted WV $19 million for new voting systems.

Secretary of State Betty Ireland has now advised county commissions they can use the optical scanner system, which uses a paper ballot and is a system currently in use by many WV counties (including Calhoun), or go with a computerized touch-screen system.

Calhoun's commissioners will be meeting Wednesday morning at 9 a.m. to select a system for the county. If the county sticks with the optical scanner or goes to the touch-screen system, the feds will pay for the new equipment.

The touch-screen system has been given good reviews around the US, even from seniors, but many of the machines in place do not provide a paper trail when voters cast their ballots.

The federal government has not required a paper trail for balloting, but 26 states, including WV, has mandated it.

The bipartisan Commission on Federal Election Reform, headed by former President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State James Baker, found no evidence of extensive voter fraud throughout the country.

But the 21-member commission discovered numerous local examples of voting irregularities and even downright fraud. Ex-felons, the deceased and non-citizens all cast ballots in some places and some, such as the 60,000 voters found to be registered in both North and South Carolina, may even have voted twice.

Because it is critical to maintain public confidence in the electoral process, one of the commission's 87 recommendations demands immediate action at both the federal and state level - requiring a paper trail for all electronic voting machines.

You get a paper receipt whenever you use a debit or credit card at an ATM or electronic gas pump, so why can't you get one when you vote?, asked the commission.

After the hanging chad fiasco in Florida, the federal government spent $3.9 billion to help states get new e-voting machines in place by next year's mid-term elections.

Maryland Republicans unsuccessfully tried to oust State Board of Elections administrator Linda Lamone, a Democrat, after she spent $55 million to purchase touch-screen voting machines that experts at Johns Hopkins and elsewhere had warned were not tamper-proof.

The Diebold AccuVote TS - the machine Lamone said was "safe and reliable" - accidentally changed Sen. Barbara Mikulski's vote from a "no" to a "yes" at last year's Takoma Park Folk Festival.

Lamone, and many other officials, continue to insist that no printed voting record is needed.

North Carolina now admits that six e-voting machines used in a 2002 general election lost ballots because of a software glitch. It disenfranchised 436 early voters.

After extensive testing of Diebold touch-screen machines to date, California Secretary of State Bruce McPherson said they had "a failure rate of about 10 percent, and that's not good enough for the voters of California and not good enough for me."

The software on e-voting machines is proprietary and belongs to the manufacturers, and many contracts do not allow election officials to check it for problems.

Without a paper trail, there is literally no way for authorities to know whether a certain machine is working properly, whether it's been programmed correctly - or even if the election results are being electronically manipulated by somebody with password access to the system, according to industry analysts.

The Carter-Baker Commission recommends that all voting machines be equipped with a voter-verifiable and auditable paper trail by 2008 - when the next presidential election is held.

Even with paper receipts, they add, post-election audits should still be performed on at least 1 percent of all ballots cast to make sure machines are not programmed to record a vote for one candidate - but print out a receipt for another.

PROS AND CONS OF VOTING MACHINES

OPTICAL SCAN:

Voters would use a pen to fill in circles on a paper ballot. Tabulating equipment would be used to scan each ballot to tabulate the results. The process is similar to standardized tests taken by students. Pros:

The paper ballot serves as its own paper receipt.

Precinct scanners can alert voters to over votes. That occurs when someone votes for more candidates than allowed.

Equipment is less expensive, compared to computerized touch screens.

Voter education programs and other provisions are believed to help the machines meet state and federal laws.

The method is tested and proven in 28 West Virginia counties.

Cons:

Write-in candidates can be written anywhere on the ballot, forcing the examiner to look all over every ballot.

Tabulating the results is more timely and can be more cumbersome than the touch screens.

Cost of ballots can be expensive.

All unused ballots must be stored.

Over votes can still occur.

Ballots cannot be intermingled between precincts, causing each county to order more than enough ballots to satisfy every registered voter at each precinct.

TOUCH SCREENS:

Voters approach a computerized touch screen to key in each of their votes. Versions of the system have been used in WV.

Pros:

There is no cost incurred for printing of ballots.

There is no need for space to store unused ballots.

The equipment meets all state and federal laws, as long as a paper trail is provided.

Does not allow voters to over vote, forcing their ballots to be reviewed and possibly thrown out.

Votes for write-in candidates are contained within the system, and are printed out on election night. The system helps guarantee no write-in votes are overlooked.

Takes a minimal amount of time to tabulate.

Cons:

Questions still exist as to how the paper receipts will be secured.

Receipt paper rolls must be changed properly and frequently.

Updated technology could be unveiled in the future, making machines bought in 2005 obsolete.

It has not been proven that touch screen is the best method for securing data.

No such problems have been reported in West Virginia.

VOTING MACHINE POLITICS

- 80 percent of votes in America are counted by only two companies: Diebold and ES&S, owned by brothers. The chairman and CEO of Diebold is a major Bush campaign organizer and donor who wrote in 2003 that he was "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the President next year."

- Jeff Dean, Diebold's senior vice-president and senior programmer on Diebold's central compiler code, was convicted on 23 counts of felony theft in the first degree and he was convicted of planting back doors in his software and using a "high degree of sophistication" to evade detection over a period of 2 years.

- There is no federal agency with regulatory oversight of the U.S. voting machine industry, but the feds regulate gambling machines. Diebold also makes ATM's, checkout scanners, and ticket machines, all of which log each transaction and can generate a paper trail. Diebold's voting machines leave no paper trail.

- ES&S is the largest voting machine manufacturer in the US, and counts almost 60 percent of all U.S. votes.

- California banned the use of Diebold machines because the security was so bad.

- 20 percent of all U.S. votes are carried out on unverifiable touch screen voting machines with no paper trail.


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