No to electronic voting

Dr. Robert Bowman is professor emeritus and half-time member of the keyboard faculty in the Music Department, CSU, Chico. He is also a concert artist and citizen.

The cornerstone of our democracy is based on our right to vote: One person, one vote. This principle is fundamental and transcends partisanship. Modern technology offers many potential contributions to the way we vote but also poses serious threats to the integrity of our voting system.

Currently, the Voting Systems Panel from the Secretary of State’s Office is holding hearings and collecting data to certify voting machines for use in California. Many experts have given informative statements why Diebold’s electronic voting machines should be banned from the state.

Although Diebold has upgraded its system to provide a paper receipt for votes cast in the 2006 election, there are still many serious concerns: Inadequate safeguards exist to prevent error or hacking from the outside; software and hardware protected by patent law can’t be inspected; the proposed paper trail will use thermal paper and is capable of being erased if temporarily subjected to heat; there’s a history of malfunctions in recent elections; and the machines are unable to handle instant-runoff voting.

One of Diebold’s programmers/consultants has been previously convicted of 23 counts of computer fraud; Diebold broke state law by installing uncertified software on all Diebold systems in California. In Ohio, precincts in which exit polls favored Kerry but ended up being tallied for Bush all used Diebold electronic machines. Statisticians calculated that the probability of random error in these exit polls was a million to one against. Absentee and provisional ballots would not be part of the machine final tally (and/or recount), making it difficult to detect fraud or error.

I have further concerns. Panel Chairman Bill Wood’s criticism of former Secretary of State Kevin Shelley was blatantly partisan and out of place. Furthermore, it has been alleged that another member of the panel had been a stockholder in Diebold. Will the panel’s decision be unbiased?

Precincts now using electronic-voting machines without a paper trail will use them in the November election. Voters who believe the last presidential election was stolen are concerned that this may happen again in November. This erodes voter confidence and may result in a much lower voter turnout.

There are alternatives to Diebold, including open-source voting.

An even safer option is to go back to hand-counted votes and to increase the security at polling places by non- or multi-partisan personnel. This will take more time, but it is verifiable and less vulnerable to human error or deliberate fraud.

Citizens may submit their opinions to the Elections Division, Secretary of State’s Office through June 30 (e-mail: