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ISSUE 117 VOL 19 PUBLISHED 5/14/2004

Electronic Shame

By Rebecca Lofft
Staff Writer


Friday, May 14, 2004

On Friday ,May 7, Calif. Secretary of State Kevin Shelley banned four Calif. counties, including Solano, San Joaquin, Kern and San Diego from using electronic voting machines. In addition, Shelley ordered 10 other counties to improve the security and reliability of the devices before approving their use for the Nov. election. As a San Diego native, I hold mixed feelings about Shelleys action. Understandably, Shelley is concerned about security of the pres. election; apart from George Bush, no one wants another Florida miscount.

Electronic voting is a valuable tool for disabled and non-English speaking voters to cast ballots in private. Although Shelley is concerned about security, his action makes him seem less concerned with fair representation of all voters. By banning the use of electronic voting, nonEnglish speaking and disabled people will likely be underrepresented during elections.

According to Greg Lucas article from the San Francisco Chronicle May 1, more than 40 percent of Californias voters in the March primary used an electronic voting machine. This represents a significant portion of the states society which Shelley would not be wise to dismiss without due consideration.

Last year, the state conditionally approved TSx, the touch-screen voting machine used by the aforementioned California counties, for use in the March primary on the condition that federal approval would be given. Federal approval has not been given, leading Shelley to state that Diebold Election Systems, the company who manufactured the touch-screen voting machines, broke the law. Diebold representatives maintain that their system will win federal approval before Nov. but it is unlikely that Shelley will approve any of these machines for use before Nov. 2.

Is Shelley correct to automatically disregard the 40 percent of voters who used the touch-screen method? Nowadays, it is widespread knowledge that almost anything electronic is susceptible to intervention by a third party and is therefore not completely secure, particularly new devices such as electronic voting. One might argue that voters realize the risk of electronic transmission but persist if they find the risk tolerable. Should we trust the voters or Shelley, and what can be done about the lost votes?

Alameda County was smart to use paper ballots as a backup, but even so, Shelley named Alameda among 10 counties that need to take additional security steps before using electronic voting. I would advise Shelley to allow voters whose votes were thrown out with the electronic votes of Alameda, San Diego, Kern and San Joaquin, to have another chance to submit their vote again. From there, the 10 counties should rapidly increase their security to Shelleys standards in time for the upcoming election.

Shelley is requiring all counties using touch-screen machines in Nov. to produce paper ballots at each polling place as a backup, as Alameda County has done. I am sure Shelleys decision was not frivolous; from the looks of his political platform, Shelley values modernized voting systems, private voter information, and increased voter-turnout. It is true that the electronic votes were not secure; paper records were made only in Alameda County to compare the true vote to the electronic vote, thus bringing the validity of other counties votes into question, which was Shelleys main complaint. The Chronicle reported that the encoders, which programmed ballot options, failed in Alameda and San Diego; some voters in San Diego were turned away from the polls.

I believe technological developments are important, particularly for certain factions of society. Electronic voting may be a realistic path toward encouraging college students to vote. I know from experience that San Diego is packed with non-English speakers whose voices need to be heard. Shelley must realize that disabled and non-English speakers deserve to make their opinions known through voting.

Shelley should have made his mandate no touch-screen voting machines without paper receipts before the March primary so as to circumvent such hindrances to the election. However, hindsight is 20/20 and we can only hope that Shelleys new mandates will prove effective before the next election.


Staff Writer Rebecca Lofft is a junior from San Diego, Calif. She majors in English and Norwegian, with a Nordic studies concentration.


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