SACRAMENTO – Ten counties that use thousands of touch-screen voting machines (search) will be able to use them this fall but only if they provide alternative paper ballots in each precinct, a state advisory committee recommended Wednesday.
The committee considered banning touch-screen voting in those 10 counties, but voted 7-0 for a compromise that allows county registrars of voters to use paperless electronic voting machines with numerous conditions.
The vote also bans other counties in California from introducing new electronic voting equipment in November, unless it contains a verified paper trail of votes cast on the machine.
Secretary of State Kevin Shelley (search) has the final say on the panel's recommendation, and is expected to decide by Friday.
The committee's action follows its recommendation last week to ban the use of 15,000 Diebold Elections Systems (search) voting machines in San Diego, Solano, San Joaquin and Kern counties. The panel cited security concerns, malfunctions in the March election and Diebold's last-minute changes to its machines just before the election.
Shelley will also rule on that recommendation by Friday.
The 14 counties that use touch-screen machines represent 6.5 million voters, 43 percent of the state's total.
The panel acted after more than two days of testimony that largely challenged the security and accuracy of paperless voting. Groups of voting activists and computer programmers argued that machines that don't simultaneously provide a paper trail are unreliable. Others cited malfunctions during the March 2 election that turned away voters in San Diego County and caused more in Orange County to receive the wrong ballots.
But advocates for the disabled defended touch-screen voting for allowing them to vote privately, and many of the state's registrars of voters argued against a ban. Registrars say the machines are popular with voters and produced accurate vote counts.
Panel members said they were greatly swayed by their arguments and worried aloud about the effects on counties that have invested training time in new systems.
Registrars of the 14 counties had argued that a ban forcing them back to paper ballots would cost up to $30 million, forcing them to buy new optical scanners, voting booths, marking pens card readers.
Ten counties that would have been affected by a possible ban included Alameda, Merced, Napa, Orange, Plumas, Riverside, San Bernardino, Santa Clara, Shasta and Tehama.
Los Angeles County also uses touch-screen machines for voters before election day.
If Shelley decides against a blanket statewide ban, the Legislature is also considering a pair of bills that would ban touch screen voting this November.
A Senate elections committee is to consider the issue May 5.