After months of uncertainty, supporters of reliable elections earned a huge victory on Friday when Governor Schwarzenegger signed SB 370, a bill designed to plug critical holes in the state's rules governing audits and paper trail requirements. While California led the nation by passing one of the first laws mandating the use of paper-based voting technology, the state had until Friday failed to require voting officials to actually do anything with the paper. The new law mandates that:
* The voter-verified paper ballot generated by electronic voting machines is the official ballot of record for key purposes. In the event of a discrepancy between the electronic and paper records or to comply with California's requirement to audit 1% of ballots cast in state-wide elections, the paper ballot rules.
* In the event of a recount, the party seeking the recount can choose either the electronic or paper ballots.
Despite the common sense approach of the bill, California's Secretary of State opposed SB 370, primarily based on cost concerns raised by local election officials. These complaints aren't new. While some California election officials have worked hard to ramp up voting system security and auditability, others have consistently dragged their feet, leading to ongoing lawsuits against officials who have fought efforts for meaningful recounts and even official orders to hide from voters that they had the right to cast paper ballots.
All the more reason for the state to make auditability requirements clear to everyone. Paper trail requirements are crucial given current technological options, but they are never sufficient in isolation and will not adequately protect voters by themselves. They must be supplemented by rigorous procedures that ensure that paper trails aren't rendered meaningless. Bill author Debra Bowen and Gov. Schwarzenegger deserve a lot of credit for moving the state towards helping ensure transparent elections. Hopefully, California will again inspire other states to take similar steps.
Special thanks to the hundreds of EFF supporters who contacted Governor Schwarzenegger and pressured him to sign SB 370! This is just the latest evidence that you can and do make a difference!