All Iowa Counties Will Eventually Replace Touch Screen Voting Machines
Noting that more work still needs to be done to secure the accuracy of Iowa's elections, a citizens' advocacy group praised legislation passed by the Iowa House of Representatives today. Senate File 369, which passed the Senate in March, cleared the House 52-42 Saturday afternoon. SF 369 brings an end to paperless electronic voting in Iowa, and will eventually make voter-marked paper ballots the universal standard in Iowa elections.
“It's a welcome first step toward verified voting in Iowa,” said Iowans for Voting Integrity co-chair Sean Flaherty.
The bill will require that all direct-recording electronic, or “DRE,” voting machines in Iowa offer a voter-verifiable paper record in time for the November 4, 2008 elections. As many as 20% of Iowa's voters cast their votes on DRE machines in the November 2006 elections.
Counties could continue to use the touch screen DRE machines as long as they have a paper trail, but when the machines wear out, counties would have to replace them with optical scan equipment that is compatible with traditional paper ballots. For voters with disabilities, each precinct will eventually have a “ballot-marking device,” which also has a touch screen function, but only to help the voter mark a traditional paper ballot. Unlike a DRE machine, a ballot-marking device does not tabulate the vote. A ballot is inserted into the machine, the voter makes choices using the touch screen, and the machine then ejects the ballot, which can be scanned or counted by hand. 21 counties, including Wapello County, Polk County, and Woodbury County, now use optical scan with a ballot-marking device; eventually all Iowa counties will use this system.
“Having a paper trail roll is much better than having paperless e-voting, but we need to get back to paper ballots for all voters,” Flaherty said. “This bill gets us there.” Paper ballots are superior to the paper trail printers because the paper trail printers store all the votes on a continuous roll, raising questions of voter privacy. The quality of paper they use is very poor, and the printers have been prone to printer jams. The continuous paper rolls take much more time to count by hand than separate paper ballots.
The Assembly approved $2 million from the Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund for grants to counties to purchase new voting equipment. Rep. Mary Gaskill, D-Wapello, says the Assembly may look at adding more grant money in the next session.
Virginia passed a law that phases out DREs earlier this year, and Florida's new Republican Governor, Charlie Crist, is pushing hard for legislation to get rid of DREs and use optical scan with ballot-marking devices statewide. Maryland's legislature is also taking steps to convert the state to optical scan voting.
In the last year, serious security questions have been raised about both types of touch screens used in Iowa, the Diebold company's Tsx, used in 71 counties, and the Election Systems & Software's iVotronic, used in 8 counties. “Computer scientists have said that the iVotronic needs significant security upgrades before it's safe to use it another election,” Flaherty said.
The next step for verified voting advocates is pushing for legislation to require routine hand audits of the paper ballots to check the electronic tallies. Even with paper ballots, the vote totals are almost always generated by computer scanners. Last year, a panel of computer scientists that included Microsoft's former security chief Howard Schmidt, University of Iowa voting machine expert Douglas Jones, and scientists from Stanford, MIT, and other institutions concluded that all types of voting equipment used in the United States are vulnerable to error or fraud. Unless governments hand count a sample of ballots to check the electronic tallies, paper ballots “are of questionable security value.”
“When a team of the best computer security experts in the world tells us we need to hand count a sample of ballots to be confident of election results, we'd better listen,” Flaherty said. Pending legislation in the U.S. House would require hand audits of of federal elections, but audits are necessary up and down the ballot. “We have a lot of work ahead of us, but this is a very good day for voters who have been paying attention to voting system issues.”
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