Official brushes up poll policies

State Secretary of State Sam Reed on Wednesday ordered intensified training of poll workers and increased monitoring of touch screen voting machines in Snohomish County this fall.

“We want to take steps right now. It’s fundamental to our democracy that people have trust and confidence in our election process,” Reed said in issuing rules that will be subject to a public hearing prior to adoption for the fall elections.

But the announcement didn’t appease critics who are pressing county, state and national leaders to stop using electronic voting machines unless each spits out a paper receipt proving that each ballot is recorded and counted as it is cast.

Without this trail, “There is no way of knowing the machine is doing what it says it is doing,” said Julie Goldberg of Democracy for Washington, an offshoot of the Howard Dean and Democracy for America campaigns.

In Seattle on Wednesday, Reed, flanked by Snohomish County Auditor Bob Terwilliger, praised Terwilliger for his work since the county went to paperless voting in 2002.

“Where we can put in security and auditability we will,” Terwilliger said of the proposed rules.

Reed’s policy calls for testing of voting equipment before, during and after the primary and general elections and for additional training. It reiterates the Jan. 1, 2006, deadline for keeping a verified paper audit trail as set out in federal law.

It only affects Snohomish and Yakima counties, as they are the only ones using paperless voting machines.

Stepped-up monitoring will not cost Snohomish County because it was anticipated, Terwilliger said. But retrofitting machines with audit equipment could run $500,000 for the county’s 1,000 machines. The problem is vendors must still manufacture the gear in time to meet the 2006 deadline.

The effort aims to calm percolating distrust of electronic voting systems by those who are skeptical of technology and those who insist they are vulnerable to high-tech sleight of hand that would alter votes.

Goldberg said more monitoring “doesn’t cut it. I’d rather go back to pen and paper like they did 200 years ago and spend two weeks counting by hand to be sure it is accurate,” she said.

Martin Daniels of Everett said the only way to ensure accuracy is if the county or the state controls the source code of the software. Daniels, who said he will serve as a volunteer observer of this year’s elections, said risks always exist with technology, and it is up to the public to decide how much risk it wants to accept.

On Tuesday, Goldberg and Daniels will attend a rally in Everett to raise issues about electronic voting. Similar actions are planned in 19 other states.

Goldberg said petitions signed by an estimated 20,000 Washington residents will be given to Terwilliger in hopes that he abandons the touch screens and reverts to the county’s optical scan system used for tabulating absentee ballots.

Terwilliger said that won’t happen.

“They have a point they want to make,” he said. “What we’re saying today speaks to most of what they’re raising.”

Reporter Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623 or jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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