"Citizen trust in elections is the bedrock of democracy. Only an accurate count can assure voters that elections result in a true reflection of their will."
- Rep. Harris
"An Act relating to optically scanned and electronically generated ballots; and providing for an effective date"
In the wake of the 2000 federal election, and with the impetus of the federal Help America Vote Act, states across the nation are replacing punch card and paper ballots with computerized vote casting, tabulation and reporting. Alaska has successfully used the AcuVote system of optically scanned ballots since 1998. New direct recording equipment (DRE) machines - also known as touch-screen - are scheduled to be used for the first time in 2004.
Unfortunately, computer experts have warned of numerous problems with both DRE and optical scan machines. Hardware problems, unreliable computer code and lack of security have raised serious questions about whether votes are being accurately recorded, tallied and reported. The experiences of many localities have demonstrated these failings. In Bernalillio County, N.M. a programming error caused a computer to delete 25 percent of the ballots cast by early voters. In Maryland voters for the Republican candidate for governor watched as their vote appeared beside the Democratic candidate's name. In Fairfax County, Va. a machine was found to have subtracted one vote for every 100 cast for a school board candidate. In one Texas matchup, optical scan machines declared two low vote getters to be landslide winners.
In the Texas case, elections officials were able to correct the mistake by hand counting the optically scanned paper ballots. Many DRE machines, however, produce no such paper trail to audit. Recognizing this crucial shortcoming of DRE technology, many observers are calling for voting machines to produce paper receipts that voters can verify before leaving the polling booth and that are subsequently held in lock boxes for audit purposes. The State of California recently moved to require such a voter verified paper audit trail in all elections. House Bill 459/Senate Bill 296 would establish the same protections in Alaska.
Citizen trust in elections is the bedrock of democracy. Only an accurate count can assure voters that elections result in a true reflection of their will. Requiring a voter verified paper trail will assure Alaskans that no matter what technology is adopted in the future, their elections will be transparent and their votes counted accurately.