[E-voting] (WV) Ballot Legislation Helps Ensure Voter Confidence

Catherine Ansbro cansbro at eircom.net
Mon May 9 21:37:54 IST 2005

     May 09, 2005
Hedda Haning and Julie Archer
# Ballot legislation helps ensure voter confidence

Members of the Legislature and Secretary of State Betty Ireland are to 
be commended for their support of legislation requiring a paper ballot 
for any electronic voting machine used in West Virginia. Requiring a 
voter-verifiable paper ballot is the simplest way to provide election 
officials with a paper backup to recover voters’ intents and protect the 
integrity of our elections.

The passage of House Bill 2950 should be reassuring to citizens who were 
appalled at voting irregularities and problems that occurred in a number 
of jurisdictions around the country during the 2000 and 2004 elections.

Although there are six bills currently pending in Congress to require a 
voter-verifiable paper ballot, it is quite possible that none of them 
will be considered until 2006. Passage is likely to come too late to be 
of any help in the next election. This is why the decisive action taken 
by the Legislature is so important. West Virginia is not alone in its 
decision to move forward with voter-verifiable paper ballots. Thirteen 
states already have this requirement, and over 20 other states are 
considering legislation.

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In addition to requiring a voter-verifiable paper ballot, HB 2950 
contains other important provisions, which do the following:

# Require that elections conducted on electronic voting machines must be 
subject to random recounts in 5 percent of precincts. During the 
required post-election canvass and any requested recount, the paper 
ballot will be the vote of record.
# Require that each voter be able to view (or hear) the actual selections 
recorded on the paper copy and verify they are correct before the ballot 
is cast. (Unless you have paper ballots that have been verified and 
approved by voters, no meaningful audit can be done.)
# Authorize the use of ballot-marking devices — essentially a computerized 
marking pen designed to provide privacy and accessibility to voters who 
are blind, vision-impaired, or have a disability or condition that would 
make it difficult or impossible to mark a ballot in the usual way. A 
ballot-marking device records votes on a standard optical scan ballot. 
This excellent technology can be used with a variety of interfaces, 
including touch-screens with magnified font, a sip-and-puff device, or 
an audio function; and has multiple language capabilities.
# Authorize the use of precinct scanning devices to alert voters of over- 
or under-votes and provide them with an opportunity to change ballot 
selections prior to depositing the ballot into the ballot box.

This comprehensive legislation is a positive step toward ensuring a 
valid voting process, and is complimentary to the secretary of state’s 
plan to help West Virginia counties become compliant with the Help 
America Vote Act. Under the secretary’s plan, counties will be provided 
with an optical scan system, plus one handicap-accessible voting machine 
per precinct, at no cost. Optical scan ballots have several advantages. 
First, optical scan ballots are their own voter-verifiable paper ballot. 
Second, when augmented by at least one ballot-marking device per 
precinct, optical scan systems meet HAVA requirements to provide access 
for voters with disabilities and allow all voters to use an identical 
paper ballot. Finally, voters and election officials in the majority of 
West Virginia counties currently use and are already familiar with 
optical scan ballots.

In addition to providing counties with an optical scan system, the 
secretary’s plan makes funding available to counties that currently use 
touch-screen or direct-record electronic (DRE) voting systems to 
retrofit existing machines to provide voter-verifiable paper ballots.

Some county clerks have expressed concerns about the voter-verifiable 
paper ballot requirement, citing paper jams and other printer 
malfunctions that could require poll workers to enter the voting booth, 
putting the secrecy of the voter’s choices in jeopardy. However, the 
same is already true in the case of malfunctions of existing paperless 
touch-screen or DRE voting systems. Any automated or mechanized voting 
system has the potential to violate ballot secrecy, if and when it 
malfunctions. In actual practice during the 2004 primary and general 
elections held in Nevada, problems with the voter-verified ballot 
printers were extremely rare. Furthermore, if counties follow the 
secretary of state’s recommendation, then there are no printers to 
malfunction because optical scan ballots are their own voter-verifiable 
paper ballot.

Again, the Legislature and Secretary of State Ireland should be 
applauded for their efforts to protect the integrity of elections in 
West Virginia and ensure that citizens can continue to have confidence 
in our democratic process.

Archer is an official of the West Virginia Citizen Action Group. Haning 
is a leader of West Virginia Citizens for HAVA.

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