Calif. Senators Want to Get Rid of Touch-Screen Voting

Citing problems during last week's primaries, two leading senators Thursday asked the secretary of state to bar use of touch-screen voting systems in the November general election.

"California has a lemon law which protects consumers if they buy an automobile that doesn't work. So far, electronic voting in California is a lemon. It needs to be fixed," said Sen. Ross Johnson (search), a Republican.

The number of problems during the March 2 statewide election, when 14 counties used touch-screen voting systems, was "alarming," Democratic Sen. Don Perata (search) added.

He cited San Diego County, where touch screens failed to start properly, causing delays up to two hours in some polling places, and Orange County, where more than 7,000 voters were given incorrect electronic ballots. Across the state, 573 polling places acknowledged glitches.

Warning that California could become the "Florida of 2004," the senators urged Secretary of State Kevin Shelley (search) to bar use of touch-screen systems in November and ask counties to use paper ballots instead "until we are truly satisfied that they are producing accurate results," Johnson said.

Widespread voter confusion and equipment woes snarled the 2000 presidential election in Florida.

Doug Stone, a spokesman for Shelley, said the secretary shares some of the lawmakers' concerns but wants an in-depth review "of what worked well and what didn't work well in all 58 counties. Based on that information he'll be in a better position to determine what steps, if any, need to be taken."

Electronic voting machines have been controversial almost since their invention. Some experts say they leave elections vulnerable to hackers, and that because most electronic voting terminals do not produce paper records, there's no way to ensure accurate recounts.

But Mischelle Townsend, the registrar of voters in Riverside County, which has used the machines for four years, disagreed.

"E-voting equipment has been used successfully in this nation and around the world for over 15 years," Townsend said. "I truly believe that this is the best system available."

A learning curve accompanies any new voting system, added Alfie Charles, vice president of Sequoia Voting Systems (search). He said his company's touch-screen system worked well in the six California counties that used it.

"I don't think this is a time to move away from the technology. It's time to refine the process to prevent problems in future," Charles said.

Nationwide, at least 50 million people will vote on touch-screens in November, compared with 55 million using paper, punch cards or lever machines, according to the Washington, D.C.-based political consulting firm Election Data Services (search).