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March 4 Snapshot: Ohio, Rhode Island, Texas, and Vermont
New from National Issues - General Topics
By Verified Voting Foundation   
March 01, 2008
Ohio, Rhode Island, Texas, and Vermont hold Presidential primaries on March 4. Ohio and Texas will also hold state primaries. In all four states, turnout is expected to increase substantially from 2004. The March 4 states use a mix of voting system types. Ohio has a mix of counties useing direct-recording electronic (DRE) machines with a voter-verifiable paper audit trail, and counties using only optically scanned paper ballots. Texas has a very wide diversity of voting systems, including many paperless DREs. Rhode Island and Vermont use paper ballots exclusively. None of these states require manual post election audits of their inital, software-generated, results. In all four states, the primaries are under the jurisdiction of the state election officials, rather than of the political parties.
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Pesky Details with Getting a Voting System Correct
New from National Issues - General Topics
By Dan Wallach, Rice University   
March 01, 2008
This article was posted at Ed Felten's Blog and is reposted here with permission of the author.

Today was the last day of early voting in Texas’s primary election. Historically, I have never voted in a primary election. I’ve never felt I identified enough with a particular political party to want to have a say in selecting their candidates. Once I started working on voting security, I discovered that this also allowed me to make a legitimate claim to being “non-partisan.” (While some election officials, political scientists, and others who you might perhaps prefer to be non-partisan do have explicit partisan views, many more make a point of similarly obscuring their partisan preferences like I do.)

In Texas, you are not required to register with a party in order to vote in their primary. Instead, you just show up and ask for their primary ballot. In the big city of Houston, any registered voter can go to any of 35 early voting locations over the two weeks of early voting. Alternately, they may vote in their home, local precinct (there are almost a thousand of these) on the day of the election. There have been stories of long lines over the past two weeks. My wife wanted to vote, but procrastinating, we went on the final night to a gigantic supermarket near campus. Arriving at 5:50pm or so, she didn’t reach the head of the queue until 8pm. Meanwhile, I took care of our daughter and tried to figure out the causes of the queue.
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Mississippi Voters Threatened by Illegal Purge, if New Bill Passes Legislature
New from States - Mississippi
By Project Vote   
February 26, 2008
Senate Bill 2910 Would Force Nonvoters to Reregister in Violation of Federal Voting Rights Law

A new bill working its way through the Mississippi State Legislature threatens the hard-won voting rights of elderly, minority, and disabled voters throughout the state. Senate Bill 2910 was proposed as an election reform cure-all, but one of its provisions would likely result in thousands of voters being purged from the voting rolls in violation of federal law.

Filed by State Senator Terry C. Burton and supported by Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, SB 2910 would cancel the registration of any voter if he or she did not “appear to vote” in a single election between Nov. 3, 2008, and Dec. 31, 2009. Purged voters would then have to reregister before they could vote in subsequent elections. If signed into law, the bill would take effect in January 2009.

In a letter to Senator Burton and copied to Secretary of State Hosemann, the national voting rights organization Project Vote notified Burton that the bill violates the federal National Voter Registration Act (NVRA). The NVRA explicitly prohibits states from removing any voter from the rolls as a consequence of failing to vote.
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Electionline: Back to Paper
New from National Issues - General Topics
By Pew Charitable Trusts   
February 23, 2008
Case study examines five states' efforts to limit paperless voting.

A new report by electionline.org details how five states that implemented electronic voting have chosen or are considering statewide paper-based optical scan systems.

"Back to Paper" explores the process by which California, Colorado, Florida, New Mexico and Ohio -- having adopted electronic voting systems -- subsequently decided to de-certify, re-examine or re-think their use.

Although it focuses on five states, the report describes a growing trend. Six years and millions of dollars into a major overhaul of the U.S. election system, a number of states are contemplating returning to paper-based voting systems after failed or troubled experiments with newer voting technology. Even as bills in Congress have stalled, nearly half of all states have adopted requirements for voter-verified paper with electronic voting and/or the use of paper-based voting systems, including optical-scan machines.

In the five states that are the subject of the electionline.org case study, problems at the polls, pressure from voter integrity groups and rising concern among lawmakers prompted leaders to scrap -- or in one case, strongly consider scrapping -- recent purchases of direct-recording electronic systems in favor of paper-based optical scanners.
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Will Some Ohio Polling Places Be Inadvertantly Shut Down on Election Day?
New from States - Ohio
By Joseph Lorenzo Hall   
February 22, 2008
This article was posted at Joe Hall's Blog and is reposted here with permission of the author.

Many of us are seriously worried about Ohio's March 4 primary. I highly recommend Ned Foley's article, "Administering the March 4 Primary in Ohio", which lists five things we should all keep our eyes on. In the 8th paragraph of Prof. Foley's article, he mentions a bill that the Ohio House was poised to pass on Tuesday. That bill was SB 286, and it did pass on Tuesday with little opposition.

Prof. Foley talks about concerns he has with a particular feature of the bill: a new practice allowing mid-day pickups of ballot materials at the polls. Foley is primarily, and appropriately, concerned with chain of custody issues; that is, the procedures that ensure ballot materials make it from the controlled environment of the polling place to the controlled environment of election headquarters without any additions, subtractions, modifications or damage.

However, there are other aspects of this bill that are troubling. For example, on the issue of mid-day pickups of ballot materials, neither the legislature nor the Ohio Secretary of State seem to fully understand what this process would entail. In order to hand-off ballot materials at mid-day, pollworkers will essentially have to do all the things they normally do at the close of polls. Most importantly, they'll have to reconcile the number of ballots cast up to that point with the number of signatures in their pollbook. This means that the pollbook will be entirely unavailable to voters who arrive at the polling place during this process. Since the various steps of ballot accounting take on the order of an hour (maybe two), this means that the polling places in Ohio that do midday pickups will be closed to voters for this amount of time. SB 286 makes no provisions for the exact procedures involved with this; it appears that polling places in Ohio using central-count optical scan will be shut down for a period of time on 4 March.
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New Jersey: Voting Machine Discrepancies Leave Questionable Results
New from States - New Jersey
By Verified Voting Foundation   
February 21, 2008
Discrepancies in the results reported by electronic voting machines in New Jersey's Presidential primary highlight the urgent need for that state—and any other state still using paperless voting machines—to adopt a paper ballot voting system, the Verified Voting Foundation (VVF) said today.

“It's a reminder that it is not possible to depend on software alone in elections,” said VVF president Pamela Smith. The discrepancies involved the political-party turnout reporting. Sequoia Advantage machines in several counties showed different figures between the result tape from the machine and the records of a secondary memory cartridge, for the number of Democratic and Republican voters. Counties were under deadline this week to certify the election results, despite being unable to reconcile or explain the non-matching results. Penny Venetis, a law professor at Rutgers University who represents citizens suing to have the touch screens scrapped, was quoted in yesterday's Star-Ledger, "I realize the clerks are caught in the middle here," she said. "If you can't certify an election, I feel you shouldn't certify it. Period. Why is it that the citizens of this state can't be protected?"

The machines involved do not allow voters to see their choices on paper before casting their votes, and the tallies cannot be audited effectively. New Jersey was supposed to have voter-verified paper records by January of 2008, to meet a new standard passed into law in 2005. But the deadline was pushed back to June and further delays loom, while debate continues about how New Jersey should accomplish the move to verifiable voting. NJ was listed at “high risk” in Verified Voting/Common Cause’s recent report due to its unverifiable systems.

New Jersey could adopt an increasingly popular system of precinct-based optical scanners, in which voters mark paper ballots with a pen or an assistive device for voters with disabilities. The ballots are tallied by an optical scanner, and can be recounted by hand. The state’s plan, however, is to add paper-trail printers to the existing touch screen machines. The printer would show voters a paper record of their votes before the ballot is cast, but proposed printers failed the first round of state testing. “Vendors have to go back to the drawing board, and voters have to wait—yet a better option has been available for years,” said Smith. “It’s sad that a state with both a paper ballot law and an audit law is still conducting high risk elections—and apparently will keep doing so.”
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When the Nominating System is a Whole Lot Better than the Argument Against It….
New from National Issues - General Topics
By Bob Bauer   
February 19, 2008
This article was posted at Bob Bauer's Blog and is reposted here with permission of the author.

Everyone’s a critic, and in political argument, this is reason for celebration.  It is better still if the criticism is reasoned, exhibiting a coherent point of view and not simply a reflex action.  Two prominent historians have criticism to offer of the Presidential nominating process, and this, the criticism, comes through, with no trace of the coherent point of view. Sean Wilentz and Julian E. Zelizer, "A Rotten Way to Pick a President,"  Washington Post (Feb. 17, 2008) at B3.  Granted that no system is perfect—granted, too, that this system in place will have weaknesses that alternatives could correct.  Sean Wilentz and Julian Zelizer steer an erratic course through their diagnosis of the problem, with no prospect of arriving at convincing answers.

Wilentz and Zelizer dislike machine politics, prevalent prior to the party reforms of the l970’s, but it turns out they dislike those reforms, too.  They were marred by “excesses.”  The authors mean that while the “old ways were unfair and autocratic,” the new and reformed ways could be “highly undemocratic.”

They are referring here in part to caucuses.  Now caucuses did not as a group come under fire until people began turning out at them and casting votes with a significant effect on the nominating process.  Only the Iowa Caucuses have been consistently rapped over the years with any meaningful objection, but this was less as a caucus (the virtues of which were highly touted for years, as a vindication of retail politics) and more because its first-in-the-nation place on the calendar was believed to give it undue influence.

If either author warned about the role of caucuses prior to this year, I, for one, missed it.  In 2004, John Kerry swept caucuses, when they barely mattered as his momentum carried him to victories across the nation, and not a word of protest was heard.  Now that they have mattered, Wilentz and Zelizer are moved to complain.  An objection lodged against a process only when participation increases and counts for something could strike a reasonable observer as “highly undemocratic.”
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New York: DREs Lose Round Two
New from States - New York
By Bo Lipari, New Yorkers for Verified Voting   
February 18, 2008
Counties Choose Paper Ballots Despite Court Ruling

“It ain’t over till it’s over.”
- Yogi Berra

Just 3 weeks ago, when we thought the ruling by the State Board of Elections had finally eliminated DREs from New York State after a long hard five year campaign, I used a Gandhi quote about grassroots movements. But the DRE vendors weren’t done fighting, and voters were dealt a setback when the State Supreme Court ruled that DREs must be allowed to be purchased by counties. Now, we’ve taken another important step to our goal. But this time, while searching for a quote to capture the true spirit of New York’s contorted, inside out journey to new voting machines, Yogi Berra seems more appropriate.

Earlier this month, Judge O’Connor overruled the decision of the State Board and allowed DREs to be selected by New York counties. But when the county choices were released on February 8 and reaffirmed on February 14, it showed the depth of support for paper ballots created by citizens in our long struggle. As it turned out, of New York’s 58 Boards of Elections, all chose Ballot Marking Devices compatible with paper ballots and scanners but for one -  Hamilton, the smallest, which ordered only 11 LibertyVote DREs.

This is very, very good news. For even though counties had the option, ordered by the Court, to choose DREs, they did not! This is a demonstration of the success of the work voting integrity advocates did educating the public, election commissioners and the media. In the end, the commissioners chose paper not because they had to, but because they wanted to. That’s pretty huge and says a lot about how deep our success has been.

But, just like Yogi said, it ain’t over till it’s over, and friends, it ain’t over yet.

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February 19 Snapshot: Hawaii and Wisconsin
New from National Issues - General Topics
By Verified Voting Foundation   
February 17, 2008
On February 19, Hawaii's Democratic Party will hold its caucuses, and Wisconsin will hold its Democratic and Republican Presidential primaries.

According to the state Democratic Party, Hawaii caucus-goers will cast their votes on paper ballots, which will be counted by hand. Any registered voter can join the state Democratic Party at the caucus location. Hawaii has roughly 610,000 registered voters, and voters do not register by party in Hawaii. Turnout is expected to increase substantially in the 2008 caucus.

Wisconsin's party primaries are open to any registered voter, and voters may register on election day.  The state has over 3.3 million registered voters, a number which may increase substantially with registrations on election day.  In the 2006 general election, almost 17 per cent of the total turnout consisted of election-day registrations.

Wisconsin has a number of different voting systems. Paper ballots, either optically scanned or hand-counted, are the primary method of voting in all but one county.

Election jurisdictions are organized at the municipal level in Wisconsin, and there are over 1,900 local election jurisdictions.    
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Voters Say Diebold E-Pollbooks Crashed During Primary; Official Says They Didn't
New from States - Georgia
By Kim Zetter   
February 12, 2008
This article was posted at the Wired.com Threat Level Blog and is reposted here with permission of the author.

I've been getting a number of reports from voters in Georgia that the electronic pollbooks the state used during last week's Super Tuesday primary crashed in a number of counties, resulting in the long lines that I reported about last week and in voters leaving without casting ballots.

Numerous voters in at least five Georgia counties have complained that there weren't enough e-pollbooks and that the machines crashed or were otherwise inoperable. But an election official in Fulton County, Georgia, where many of the crashes were reported, denied that any machine crashed, and said voters were mistaken. (I've posted some .mp3 files below that come from a voter hotline in which voters discuss crashes and inoperable machines.)

The ExpressPoll e-pollbooks, made by Diebold Election Systems, are used to verify that a voter is registered. (Georgia uses an older model of the ExpressPoll pictured above.)

Ralph Presley, who voted at a church in Fulton County, said there were about 200 people waiting in line at his precinct and although the church had fourteen voting machines, only two of them were being used at any one time due to a backup caused by problems with the e-pollbooks.

“They were crashing, and then they’d call the technician and wait for the technician to come out,” he told me by phone.

There were only two items on Presley's ballot -- the presidential primary and a bond referendum -- and while it took only 30 seconds to cast a ballot, it took 90 minutes to reach the poll booth. Presley said voters had to wait until a technician arrived to re-boot one of the e-pollbooks that was down. It took the machine about five minutes to re-boot, he said.
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