A count that everyone will trust

Catherine Turcer, Ohio Citizen Action

Joint Committee on Ballot Security
Senator Randy Gardner (Bowling Green), Chair
Senate Finance Hearing Room, Columbus

March 24, 2004

My name is Catherine Turcer and I am the legislative director for Ohio Citizen Action. Founded in 1975, Ohio Citizen Action is a non-profit, non-partisan organization with 100,000 dues-paying members. I am the author of a number of money and politics studies and I was a member of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) State Planning Commission that met and heard public testimony in 2003. Some of the points I will make were mentioned in that testimony from various groups.
Adding voter-verified paper audit trails will provide a necessary layer of security and will improve voter confidence in the election process. Public confidence in the election process is directly linked to the transparency of the process.

There should be specific, detailed, statewide procedural rules for doing hand counts and recounts. A random sample of voting machines should be checked against hand counts at every election. In cases where the computer count and hand count of paper ballots do not agree, the hand count should be the official result.

The voter should never have the paper ballot "receipt" in his/her hand. It should be viewed behind a transparent window. If accurate, the voter presses a "Vote" button, releasing the ballot into a sealed ballot box. If not accurate, the ballot is marked "cancelled" or "spoiled", and the voter re-votes. This ensures that the vote is secure and that the voter canít take the ballot or "sell" his/her vote.

If a county uses some kind of computer-generated mark sense ballot (optical scan), it is imperative that we retain Ohio's long-standing requirement for double stubs on the printed ballot. When a voter is allowed to have a ballot in hand, this double-stub system is the best way to assure that the voter is returning the same ballot that was issued, thereby preventing the vote-buying system sometimes called "daisy-chain voting."

Paper audit trail technology is already available. The voter verified paper audit trail would need to go through a certification process. If some voting system vendors cannot provide it, perhaps they could contract with those vendors that do have it.

The Florida debacle left us with a nation divided. Although it is extremely disheartening that we were not able to up-date our voting apparatus in the last four years, the presidential election is not the time to introduce a new voting system that many question. I recommend a slow deliberative process of staggered implementation in 2005. Off-election years are a time of lower voter turn-out and veteran voters. The county boards of election that selected vendors and voting systems for implementation this year may simply have made their selection because they faced a deadline and may appreciate more time.

The technology is fairly new and there are some obstacles surrounding engineering and design. Standards for a verified paper audit trail need to be established. If county boards of election proceed this year, the additional money the state of Ohio expects to receive due to savings in the bidding process (approximately $33 million) should be used to retro-fit the voting devices.

Even if you believe that electronic voting machines can be totally trusted to record votes accurately, a voter-verified paper trail is necessary because of the public perception that it is needed. It was not simply a punch card crisis that led to the Help America Vote Act but a voter confidence crisis. If voters do not trust the voting machines, they will not trust the results of elections or their elected officials.

This is not an attack on the competence or integrity of the Ohio Secretary of State, of local boards of elections or of voting systems vendors. It is a recognition that all human beings and computers are fallible, that mistakes do happen, and that Ohio needs a transparent check on the computer to assure a count that everyone will trust.