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Mississippi: Ballots to Have Paper Trail PDF  | Print |  Email
By Chris Joyner, Clarion-Ledger   
August 10, 2005
This article was originally posted in the Clarion Journal. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.

New Voting Machines Will Come With Printers, Clark Says


Mississippi's new touchscreen voting machines will come equipped with a paper trail, Secretary of State Eric Clark announced Wednesday.

In a statement, Clark said he had brokered a deal with Diebold Election Systems to purchase paper printers for each of the 5,164 touchscreen ballot machines the state plans to buy from the Ohio-based manufacturer.

"All Mississippians must have confidence that their votes are accurately counted," Clark said.

"These printers will give voters an additional level of comfort as they use the new, more accurate touchscreen machines."

Last month, Diebold inked a $22.5 million contract with the state to provide the machines as part of the state's effort to comply with the Help America Vote Act, a massive voter reform bill passed in the wake of the disputed 2000 presidential election. The Diebold machines have drawn criticism in some quarters for not providing "a paper trail" — that is, a paper record of a voter's choice to compare with the electronic version.

In a speech Monday in Jackson, Clark said he supported buying printers, although they are not required under the federal law.

At the time, Clark estimated he would need Congress or the state to come up with an additional $2 million to purchase the printers, but Wednesday he said he struck a deal with Diebold to buy them for $1.1 million using existing funds.

Groups critical of the Diebold purchase greeted the announcement with subdued enthusiasm.

"That's a great step forward," said Ann Williams, president of the Mississippi Democratic Club. "That doesn't answer everything."

Williams said she still wants Clark to commit to testing at least 3 percent of the machines on Election Day to make sure they are counting votes accurately.

David Blount, Clark's spokesman, said the secretary of state lacks the legal authority to order such an audit.

However, he said Mississippi law allows candidates themselves to challenge the accuracy of the machines in individual precincts by requiring the paper record to be hand counted and matched with the electronic count.

In response to other concerns, Blount said the state's contract with Diebold guarantees the machines will meet federal standards for compliance with HAVA, including requirements the machines be accessible to people with disabilities.

Counties can opt-in to the Diebold contract or take a smaller cash payment and come up with their own plan to comply with federal law to upgrade their voting machines by 2006.

So far, 38 counties have signed onto the state plan, while no counties have officially opted out, Blount said.

Clark said the addition of a paper record should encourage counties to sign on.

"We believe that adding a voter-verified paper trail will give every county the assurance that this is the right step to take," he said.
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