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Election Security
by Alaska Lt. Gov. Loren Leman


August 23, 2004

One of the changes I looked forward to soon after my inauguration as Lieutenant Governor, was ensuring that Alaska's visually impaired, blind and disabled voters would be able to vote secret, independent and verifiable ballots. With former Representative Joe Green, I sponsored legislation mandating this in Alaska. As Lieutenant Governor, I have promised to ensure Alaskans' confidence in the integrity of the election process through fair, accurate and honest elections. Federal law has helped and hindered this goal.

The Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002 is to improve elections in the United States, by:

  • creating a new federal agency to serve as a clearinghouse for election administration information;
  • providing funds to states to improve election administration and replace outdated voting systems; and
  • creating minimum standards for states to follow in several key areas of election administration.

HAVA requires every state to have at least one Digital Recording Electronic (DRE) system , also known as a touch screens, in each precinct by 2006. These voting machines provide audio translation of the ballots, which assists those who are blind and disabled to vote without another person's help. In response to the HAVA mandate, the Division of Elections purchased 100 machines to use in the 2004 elections. The intent was to conduct a "pilot program" making the touch screen units available in a limited number around the State. Alaska provides great challenges for delivery and use of voting equipment. It's important to find out whether a voting machine can handle being delivered by bush plane, skiff, ATV or snowmachine.

Concerns have been raised nationally and in Alaska recently about the integrity of the touch screen machines. While voting equipment technology has made great advances and provides important opportunities to voters who have never cast a ballot without the assistance of another person (thereby denying them the secrecy of their vote), it is not the only element of a fair and accurate election process.

Many states are waiting for the Federal Election Assistance Commission (FEAC) to set standards for this new voting equipment. While systems like the one Alaska has purchased have been tested in independent testing labs and certified by the National Association of State Election Directors, we will delay implementation of the touch screen voting machines until after the Primary Election.

Although the machines that have been purchased are certified by the National Association of State Election Directors and the Federal Election Commission, many critics of touch screens have complained that these machines should produce a voter verifiable paper trail. Although our new touch screen machines have the ability to print a voter verifiable paper trail, the more important question is whether the machine is tabulating information accurately. Some states have reported additional challenges with touch screen machines with a voter verifiable paper trail. These challenges include voters leaving the polling place before waiting for the ballot to print, ballot printers being jammed, printed ballots being hard to read and the inability of the voter to change his or her mind if he or she does not agree with what was printed. According to the Election Administration Report, "mandating voter verifiable paper audit trails at this point would introduce more problems than it would solve."

The debate over the security and reliability of touch screen voting machines is fogged by politically motivated naysayers and by what may actually be deficits in the machines. I believe the technology is reliable, provided the State runs sufficient tests on the machines before they are then secured and presented to voters.

I have waited through the summer for Congress to reconsider the issue of its HAVA mandate to use the machines in every precinct by 2006. When the machines are used, we will ensure that they will withstand public and legal scrutiny for potential recounts.

Exit polls show that voters appreciate the technology. In preparation for their use in Alaska, key Division of Elections employees participated in a roll-out of these machines in a California county the size of Anchorage. This county did not do the same testing of the machines that our Elections division does, and there were glitches. However, voters overall were pleased with the machines.

Voter confidence in the election process is key to preserving a strong, healthy republic. If voters do not believe that their vote is correctly counted, they cannot believe they have made a difference in the governance of their country. It is easy to undermine the foundation of this country when the citizens no longer believe America's leaders were not elected in a fair, accurate, and honest manner.



Note: Comments published on Viewpoints are the opinions of the writer
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Sitnews.



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