Editorial: Election chaos -- Sacramento Bee

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Posted by Sacramento Cool on March 12, 2004 at 19:52:58:

Sacramento Bee

Editorial: Election chaos
Is California the next Florida?

Published 2:15 a.m. PST Thursday, March 11, 2004
Disabled voters have sued Sacramento and three other counties for
failing to provide touch-screen voting systems that the blind could
use independently, as required by federal law. Down in Orange County,
confused poll workers unfamiliar with the county's new touch-screen
voting system gave 7,000 voters the wrong ballot.
The confusion in Orange County and the lawsuits in Sacramento are
symptoms of the growing chaos that threatens elections in California.

The source of the chaos and threat are easy to discern. In the wake
of the 2000 Florida presidential election debacle, politicians in
Washington and California promised reform. Discredited punch-card
voting machines were jettisoned. Hundreds of millions of dollars were
appropriated at the federal, state and local levels to purchase new
voting machines. Many counties signed long-term contracts for
state-of-the-art, touch-screen voting systems. Reforms seemed to be
moving along smoothly. Then new problems erupted.

In response to fears raised by some computer experts that electronic
voting systems were vulnerable to tampering, Secretary of State Kevin
Shelley issued a directive that requires counties to include
verifiable paper trails on their touch-screen machines. (These are
essentially printers that produce ballots that the voter can examine
at the polling place.) In disputed elections, the printed ballots
could be used for recounts.

But the Shelley directive presented problems of its own. Printers add
considerable cost and complications to the computerized voting
systems. Paper can jam. The print has to be big enough for people with
poor eyesight to see. In some counties in California, the law requires
that ballots be produced in as many as seven different languages,
including character-based languages such as Chinese and Korean. These
are easily programmed into a computer but less easy to print out or
verify in a recount procedure. Most significant, no touch-screen
system with a voter-verified paper trail has been certified in the

That leaves counties such as Sacramento caught in a squeeze between
shifting state rules and rising costs. If the courts side with blind
voters, Sacramento could find itself forced to purchase and install
800 new touch-screen voting machines (which would have to be modified
later to accommodate printers). Counties also would be forced to train
poll workers and millions of voters in how to use the machines by
Election Day, Nov. 7.

Such haste amid such uncertainty invites chaos. And, because it's a
presidential year, it also invites risks of a Florida-size debacle
right here in California.

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