Thursday, April 8, 2004

Panel urges paper proof for voters

By John McCarthy
The Associated Press

COLUMBUS - A House-Senate committee studying the security of electronic voting machines recommended Wednesday that boards of election be required to allow Ohio voters to confirm their choices with a paper receipt, beginning in 2006 elections.

The Joint Committee on Ballot Security reviewed standards required by the federal Help America Vote Act, which had been scheduled for implementation this year. However, Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell received a waiver putting off the requirement to convert all voting systems to electronic touch-pad or optical scan machines until 2006.

The state Controlling Board, made up of six legislators and a representative of Gov. Bob Taft, has held up the $127 million in federal money to begin making the conversion to new machines this year.

About one-third of Ohio's 88 counties were expected to get new machines in time for the August elections, but the committee's recommendations put that date in doubt.

Blackwell wants to meet with Senate President Doug White, joint committee Chairman Sen. Randy Gardner and others to discuss the future of the project, Blackwell spokesman Carlo LoParo said.

"Secretary Blackwell will not directly comment on the committee's recommendations until he's had the chance to review them and discuss them with President White, Chairman Gardner and other appropriate parties," LoParo said. "We feel we've done everything necessary to move forward."

White also wants to meet with Blackwell before proceeding further, spokeswoman Maggie Mitchell said.

The committee also recommended that the state seek new bids on contracts already in place to pay for the conversion to electronic voting. The new bids should include the cost of producing paper receipts.

The difference would have to be made up by the local boards of election because it is not included in the federal money. The requirements already include a paper audit trail, but not one that voters can see.

The recommendations also include forming another joint committee to specifically study paper receipts.

The idea is for voters using new touch-screen machines to see their own vote printed out before leaving the polling place. Critics say the machines could be subject to error or tampering and voters need the assurance that their choices were properly recorded.

Diebold Election Systems, whose machines have been selected by more counties than those of the three other vendors, says 9 million voters used its machines in the March primaries without any security problems.

Two other states, California and Nevada, recently passed legislation requiring such a "voter-verified" paper trail.

Under the federal law, new voting machines already are required to produce a paper printout of all votes cast, known as an audit trail, for cross-checking electronically tabulated totals.

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