Send To Printer Email to Friend

Calif. Requires Voting-Machine Receipts
Fri Nov 21, 8:47 PM ET
By RACHEL KONRAD, Associated Press Writer
SAN JOSE, Calif. - In a major victory for voting rights advocates, California's secretary of state announced Friday that all electronic voting machines in California must provide paper receipts by 2006.

Kevin Shelley also introduced stricter requirements for testing and auditing of the software used to record and tabulate votes in the nation's most-populous state.

And because California commands a sizable share of the market for voting machines, the move may prompt changes in equipment being adopted nationwide as local governments rush to modernize voting systems.

"I think this is going to be a tidal wave from California eastward - it's going to get a lot of attention and may change a lot of minds," said Stanford University computer science professor David Dill.

Shelley wrote in his nine-page document that he is requiring the receipts not because "voting systems are inherently insecure, they are not, but rather because people understandably feel more confident when they can verify that their votes are being recorded as intended."

Computer scientists and voting-rights advocates have been warning that at least 50,000 paperless terminals nationwide expose the vote to hackers, software bugs and mechanical breakdowns.

Major manufacturers of voting machines deny that the lack of paper receipts will jeopardize vote counts, and have been fighting just such a requirement for months. Still, Diebold Election Systems and Sequoia Voting Systems, two of the nation's largest companies involved, said it will comply.

The announcement comes less than three weeks after a state task force on voting began an investigation into allegations that uncertified software was used in California's Oct. 7 gubernatorial recall election.

According to Shelley's list of requirements for voting equipment companies, all counties that purchase new touch-screen terminals must provide a "voter verified paper audit trail," starting in July 2005.

In addition, voting-equipment companies must retrofit the touch-screen systems already being used in at least four California counties to include printers and paper receipts by July 2006.

This requirement makes California the first state to force equipment vendors to retrofit machines already purchased or installed.

Congress has set aside $3.9 billion for states to overhaul their voting systems, and hundreds of counties have opted for or are considering paperless touch-screen terminals. Elections experts say as many as 75 percent of voters nationwide will cast ballots electronically by 2010, up from about 10 percent in the 2000 presidential election, when problems over the vote count in Florida threw the race into turmoil.

"This is historic - a huge development and big step toward reliable and transparent voting systems," said Kim Alexander, president of the Davis-based California Voter Foundation, which has been urging regulators to toughen software requirements and require a paper trail.

The requirements will increase cost to California's cash-strapped counties, said Alfie Charles of Oakland-based Sequoia Voting Systems. One popular Sequoia model costs about $3,200, and the company estimates that printer-related hardware, software, paper and ink could add nearly $500 to the price of each terminal. Riverside and Alameda counties - two of the nation's largest counties that use touch-screens - each have more than 4,000 terminals.

"It's definitely something that's going to be a factor for counties that are short on funds," Charles said.