Fight for voter paper trail heats up

CLEVELAND – Ohio voters are becoming increasingly concerned about the security of some of the new electronic voting machines (EVMs), especially those manufactured by the Diebold company. The CEO of Diebold is a heavy contributor to the Bush-Cheney campaign who has vowed to do all in his power to carry Ohio for Bush.

Democratic State Sen. Teresa Fedor and State Rep. Peter Ujvagi are leading a campaign to demand a voter-verified paper trail for all EVMs in Ohio. U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) strongly supports the campaign.

About 125 people attended a public awareness meeting April 23 called by the Greater Cleveland Voter Registration Coalition. At the meeting, State Sen. Fedor called upon those in attendance to pressure their state legislators to support a bill she has introduced, SB 262, which would require a voter-verifiable paper record of each vote cast. A petition campaign has been launched in support of the bill, which states that such a paper trail is the only way to assure a true recount in cases in which fraud or human or machine error are suspected.

Republican Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell has been pressuring all Ohio counties to purchase EVMs now from vendors chosen by Blackwell’s office, even though many security problems exist with those machines. About one-third of the counties have complied with Blackwell’s request. Others are on hold.

Cleveland is in Cuyahoga County, one of the state’s largest, which has not yet purchased its machines. County Board of Elections Director Michael Vu said at the public meeting that his office would wait to assess the use of EVMs elsewhere in the November elections before introducing such machines in Cuyahoga County. A joint bipartisan committee has been set up in the state Legislature to consider the matter.

Millions of dollars in contracts are at stake. Diebold, one of the leading contenders for such contracts, was recently decertified in California because of gross inaccuracies in election results in that state when Diebold machines were used. California election officials also ruled that no voting machines that lack a verifiable paper trail will be permitted in the state.

“What’s the rush?” Fedor demanded to know at the meeting. According to Kaptur, the state has until 2006 to comply with the requirements of HAVA (Help America Vote Act) that all states use electronic voting machines.

The demand for a voter-verifiable paper trail in Ohio is part of a growing national movement. Many states have already experienced serious inaccuracies and flaws in EVMs, which in some cases have changed the outcome of elections.

“How can we be sure our vote is counted, and counted accurately,” people in the Cleveland audience asked, “if there is no paper trail and no possibility of a recount? Are we going to see what happened in Florida in 2000 all over again?”

Fedor told the audience, “We must be able to verify the results of any vote.” She said, “Not blind trust, but ‘trust, and verify’ should be our slogan.”

In Washington, Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) has introduced the Voter Confidence and Increased Accountability Act (HR 2239) to require all voting machines to provide a paper trail and to mandate surprise recounts and software that can be audited. Sens. Bob Graham and Bill Nelson, both Democrats of Florida, have introduced companion legislation in the Senate. Common Cause and an online group, VerifiedVoting.org, have launched a grassroots movement in support of the Rush-Graham legislation. The critical issue is to insure that the election process is in the hands of public officials fully accountable to the people and that the process of counting the votes is transparent.

More information on the potential errors and fraud linked with electronic voting machines is available at www.BlackBoxVoting.org.