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Professor Dan Tokaji
Election reform, the Voting Rights Act, the Help America Vote Act, and related topics -- with special attention to the voting rights of people of color, non-English proficient citizens, and people with disabilities

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Equal Vote
Friday, May 13
How Blue Can You Get?
It's been a busy week. As Doug Chapin of electionline.org puts it, following election reform activities these days is like drinking from a fire hose. In fact, following developments on the voting technology front alone has been difficult enough. I've spent most of the week in my former home state of California, where the fight over electronic voting began. But there have been plenty of things happening elsewhere, particularly in my current home state of Ohio, which remains in the throes of the voting machine blues.

On Tuesday, Ohio's Board of Voting Machine Examiners certified the first electronic voting machine to satisfy the state's "voter verified paper audit trail" (VVPAT) requirement. The Toledo Blade has this report. It may also be the last, given that today is the deadline imposed by Ohio Secretary of State Blackwell for certification of machines meeting the VVPAT requirement.

The board certified a modified version of Diebold's AccuVote TSx, with an attached printer capable of generating a contemporaneous paper record of the electronic ballot that can be used in the event of a recount. As I've previously explained, this follows Blackwell's double-reversal of course -- first allowing counties to choose either electronic or optical-scan voting machines, then mandating optical-scan, then going back and allowing counties to choose either.

Counties have until May 24 to choose a new system. The certification of Diebold's machine is good news for those Ohio counties which plan to move to that system -- assuming, that is, that it works the way it's supposed to.

Other counties still have the blues. As the Akron Beacon-Journal reports here, five counties have joined voting machine vendor ES&S's lawsuit challenging Blackwell's directive. These counties are apparently seeking relaxation of Blackwell's deadline, so that more choices will be available to those counties that wish to seek the electronic voting route. As things now stand, their only choice will be Diebold's AccuVote TSx. The Secretary of State's witness testified that the deadlines were necessary to meet funding and deployment deadlines, as the Cleveland Plain-Dealer reports here. Closing arguments in ES&S's case are set for Tuesday.

What should the court do? I've previously opined that ES&S's economic interests are not a good reason for pushing back the deadlines imposed by Blackwell. The counties' participation in the lawsuit, however, puts the case in a different light, at least from my perspective. There's something to be said for giving counties a choice. That's particularly true for counties such as Allen, which already has an ES&S machine in place. If a short extension of the deadlines would allow ES&S's paper-trail system to be certified, it might be worth granting.

On the other hand, there's a strong countervailing consideration at issue here. Ohio has an obligation to replace its punch cards and to get disability-accessible voting equipment in place by next year's primary election in May 2006. It will be a challenge to meet this deadline, even under the current schedule. Rushing the transition to new voting technology can cause problems. The more Ohio delays, the greater the risk of problems in implementing this technology.

In other voting machine news ...

- The New York legislature can't agree on what type of machine to buy and has punted, leaving it to counties to decide. The N.Y. Times has this report.

- Two U.C. Berkeley economists, David Card and Enrico Moretti, have posted this paper regarding the impact of electronic voting on participation ($5 fee to download). The paper finds a small positive correlation between levels of support for George W. Bush and electronic voting, but concludes that systemic irregularities by Republican election officials are an "implausible" explanation for this correlation. I'll have more thoughts on this shortly, after I've had a chance to digest this very interesting paper.

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