A State's Troubled Foray into Electronic Voting ; by Jettisoning Its System Because of Reliability Worries, California Causes Other States to Reexamine Voting Methods

By Daniel B. Wood writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, May 5, 2004 | Go to article overview

A State's Troubled Foray into Electronic Voting ; by Jettisoning Its System Because of Reliability Worries, California Causes Other States to Reexamine Voting Methods


Daniel B. Wood writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Three and a half years after Election 2000's fiasco of hanging, pregnant, and dimpled chads - and just six months until election 2004 - the nation is hitting another speed bump on the road to election voting reform.

The decision by California late last week to withdraw from one of the nation's biggest moves into electronic voting is likely to reverberate across the country as other states consider alternative balloting systems.

Nationwide, some 32 million registered voters are still expected to use punch cards to vote this November. But about 50 million others in 25 states were scheduled to use some version of electronic voting. As they make the transition, states are looking at what methods seem relatively voter-friendly and tamperproof.

The abrupt retreat by California, traditionally a leader in voting reform, from one type of Digital Age democracy because of reliability concerns will certainly have election officials - and voters - across the country rethinking what machines to put in booths.

"For a state as significant and groundbreaking as California is in the nation's push for election reform to be making a sweeping decision like this will have major consequences nationally," says Dan Seligson, editor of Electionline.org, a nonpartisan group that analyses election reform issues. "Already, states which have been looking seriously at moving forward quickly in this area are ... making sure they don't act hastily."

The California move, prompted by concerns over the reliability of touch-screen systems, but by allegegations procedural infractions by machine vendors, comes as the newly created US Elections Assistance Commission holds public hearings on electronic voting Wednesday in Washington.

The California move, an announcement by California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley, was prompted by several problems in the March primary:

* Malfunctions in one county led 55 percent of polling places there to open late and prevent unknown numbers of voters from casting ballots.

* In another county, thousands of voters were issued wrong ballots on voting machines made by a different vendor, leading to ineligible votes being cast in some races and preventing votes in other races.

* Allegations that Diebold, a leading touch-screen manufacturer, misled the state by saying its equipment was nearing mandated federal approval for its system.

All three concerns are raising caution flags across the country, according to several national observers. …

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