October 28, 2004 | By Donna Wentworth

CA Secretary of State Acts to Protect Paper Ballot Option

Yesterday EFF launched Paper or Plastic 2004, a campaign to inform California voters of their right to vote on a paper ballot in the upcoming election. Ten California counties will use electronic voting machines on November 2, but these systems don't provide a voter-verified paper audit trail and therefore cannot be used in a meaningful recount. That's why Secretary of State Kevin Shelley ordered each of these counties to give voters a choice: on Election Day, voters can choose to forego an electronic ballot and instead vote on paper. Unfortunately, we've learned that election officials in at least three counties have been instructing poll workers to keep this "paper or plastic" choice secret.

Now, after a conference call with the officials in all ten counties using electronic voting machines, Secretary of State Shelley has issued a memo to "clear up some of the confusion." This memo confirms that counties cannot favor voting machines over paper (or vice versa), and must educate voters with respect to their choices on Election Day. It also confirms that counties must have sufficient paper on hand, must honor "any voter's option to vote on paper," and must not compromise voter privacy regardless of the method chosen.

This is great news, but it's sad that the memo was even necessary. And we remain concerned that some counties may continue to try to undermine voter choice, perhaps by forcing people who've chosen paper to wait longer to vote, or by requiring them to fill out the paperwork necessary for "provisional" ballots -- which are designed for voters who may be in the wrong polling location, not those who want to vote on paper.

On a positive note, one county is taking an early lead in standing up for voters' rights under California law: Tehama, north of Sacramento. Tehama will post signs letting people know they have a choice, make sure those voting on paper will not have to wait to vote, and let them put their ballots directly in the ballot box rather than in a provisional ballot envelope. Bravo, Tehama!

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