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Dawn Of A New Age In Voting

August 14, 2006
Editorial By Courant

Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz announced on Aug. 4 that her office had entered into contracts to replace Connecticut's lever-style voting machine with two technologies that are well-established, user-friendly, affordable and pretty secure. It's a happy ending to a story that's had some harrowing twists and turns.

One technology, the AccuVote-OS system, is sold by LHS Associates of Massachusetts. It uses a paper ballot with ovals beside the names of candidates and referendum questions. Voters make their selections by filling in a corresponding oval (like marking a lottery ticket), then putting the ballot through an optical scanner where the votes are tabulated. The ballot serves as a voter-verified paper record.

The other technology, designed for voters with disabilities, is sold by IVS LLC of Louisville, Ky. It uses a touch-tone telephone and a fax machine. The voter signs in, then is escorted to the voting booth by a poll worker who uses the phone to call into the system. The worker enters a identification number and other information to bring up the ballot, then hands the phone to the voter and leaves. A voice guides the voter through each line on the ballot, reciting the name of every candidate or referendum question. The voter hits a number to make a selection (or change a vote), which the voice confirms. At the end, a paper ballot is faxed to the polling booth for verification.

Both technologies meet the requirements of the Help America Vote Act, a federal law that went into effect in 2002 in response to the butterfly ballots, hanging chads and other voting problems in Florida in the 2000 election. Both use relatively simple, well-known technologies. (Optical scanning has been used for more than a decade in South Windsor, where election officials say it's tried and true; it's also used in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts.)

They're relatively secure, providing a paper trail to verify votes. Compared with ATM-style technology, they're also cheaper. Ms. Bysiewicz says installing optical-scan machines in the state's 769 polling places by November 2007 will cost $15.7 million (including training) - about half the federal grant to Connecticut under the Help America Vote Act.

Ms. Bysiewicz's plan has another good feature. Under the contract with IVS, the company will install one handicapped-accessible voting machine in each polling place by November. Voting technology for the handicapped is rapidly evolving, though, which is why Ms. Bysiewicz has limited the contract to one year. She has also enlisted the University of Connecticut's computer science and engineering department to test and recommend new technologies.

Ms. Bysiewicz's plan promises to make voting in Connecticut easy, reliable and relatively secure. Even some of her strongest critics, a group of computer scientists and professors called TrueVote CT, seem impressed. But getting to this stage wasn't so easy. First, the federal government was sluggish in implementing the Help America Vote Act.

Late last year, Ms. Bysiewicz's office selected Danaher Controls, the maker of an ATM-style voting machine, as the winning bidder. TrueVote CT opposed that technology, saying it was too expensive, user-unfriendly and corruptible. It also accused her agency of rigging the bid.

Days before the contract was to be signed on Jan. 1, however, Ms. Bysiewicz accused Danaher of failing to meet the bid requirements and misleading her agency. Attorney General Richard Blumenthal is still mulling a lawsuit.

Then there was the full-faced ballot fiasco. For decades, according to Ms. Bysiewicz, her office has interpreted state law to mean that voting machines must display ballots in their entirety (rather than in sections). That requirement was a cornerstone of the state's bid specifications. Yet in an opinion issued weeks after the rejection of Danaher, Mr. Blumenthal said there is no such requirement.

With Ms. Bysiewicz's latest announcement, however, this saga appears to have finally reached a conclusion worthy of voters' confidence.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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