Allegheny County is considering a third voting machine that is neither recountable nor completely accessible. The League of Women Voters' standard for an acceptable machine to meet the requirements of the Help America Vote Act is that the machine be secure, accurate, recountable and accessible. None of the direct recording electronic machines available today meet that standard. The county's choices, the Diebold, Sequoia and now the ES&S machine, produce no visible record that the voter can check before casting a vote and that can be recounted in the case of a contested election.
The state has rejected the paper record formats available today because they either violate voter privacy or are not tamper-proof. According to the Disabilities Law Project, none of these machines are accessible to people with limited mobility. Machines that solve these problems are being developed, but are not available today.
There are machines that meet the standard. They are fill-in-the-bubble optical scan machines that will remind you of taking high-school tests. They have a ballot-marking device that is accessible to the disabled. The marked paper ballot is a recountable paper record. Not the wave of the future perhaps, but serviceable.
The most outrageous aspect of this dilemma is that the federal government is threatening to enforce the machine purchase deadlines for states and counties. The standards to which they are testing today were adopted in early 2002 and do not take account of HAVA, which was passed later that year. The first set of HAVA-compliant standards was adopted in December 2005 to take effect in December 2007. No testing to those standards has been done. Yet the U.S. Department of Justice is insisting that localities hold elections involving candidates for federal office on HAVA-compliant machines to retain federal purchase funds.
County Council Member Jan Rea has introduced a resolution that would require the county to lease optical scan machines for use in primary and general elections in 2006 and 2007 to provide adequate time for the evaluation, certification and purchase of a new HAVA-compliant voting system for use in the May 2008 primary election and thereafter. The county executive should attempt to do that without waiting for council to pass the resolution, and our federal representatives should tell the Justice Department to cool it for a while so that adequate technology can be developed.
League of Women Voters of Greater Pittsburgh