by Mike Sharkey
Local elections watchdogs and voters have been clamoring for years for a paper record of elections. Tuesday, the City Council’s Finance Committee approved funding for the Supervisor of Elections Office to purchase printers for the office’s 360 touch-screen voting machines.
The printers will cost $176,000 ($50,000 for repairs and maintenance, $75,000 for miscellaneous services and $51,000 for office supplies). They should be installed before the March 20 primary.
“This is not a silver bullet and it won’t cure everything,” said Robert Phillips, deputy supervisor of elections.
The bill approving the funding was introduced to Council in early December and also scrutinized by the Rules and Audit Council committees. According to Phillips, the printers will create a “Verifiable Paper Audit Trail.” That printed “receipt” of a voter’s choices, however, will be printed within the voting machine and maintained by the Elections Office.
“The voter will not see it and they cannot take it,” said Phillips. “The paper trail will be rolled up in the machine.”
Supervisor of Elections Jerry Holland said there are two reasons for the addition to the voting process.
“This will increase the voters’ confidence in the process,” he said, adding the paper audits — by state law — will not be permitted for use in the event of a recount. “But, if someone sues over an election, (the courts) can see the receipt.”
Holland said there’s a good reason voters will not be allowed to take any kind of printed receipt with them on election day.
“We do not want to promote people buying votes,” said Holland, explaining a scenario in which a voter would enter a precinct, vote, get a receipt and then leave the precinct with printed proof they voted as they were paid to.
Phillips explained how the system works using the touch screen voting machines. Voters go through the ballot. At the end of voting, summaries of the voters’ choices appear, and voters are asked if they want their ballot printed. If so, their choices are recorded and their votes are officially cast. Phillips said his office doesn’t intend to do much voter education on the process, but every precinct will have knowledgeable poll workers on hand.
“Most voter education happens at the polls,” he said.
Neither Phillips nor Holland believe this is the end of problems on election day, but it’s very close. From a technological standpoint, they said, an internal paper trail may be the final step to perfecting that facet of the voting process.
Making sure the process is ethical is another matter. Holland said the other big issue during elections is voter fraud through either over-voting or double-voting. Over-voting is when people vote twice in the same race (those votes are discounted). Double-voting occurs when, for example, people cast absentee ballots and also vote at their precincts on election day.
“The security of the election is important and there will be more enhancements to correct over-voting and double-voting,” he said. “We have six cases of double-voting from the November election we are turning over to the State Attorney General’s Office.”