Measure ensures integrity of voting process
April 15, 2004
AUGUSTA-Working to ensure accurate voting as a basic and guaranteed right, the Maine Legislature Tuesday passed a bill requiring electronic voting machines to provide a paper receipt of a voter’s ballot that can be verified by the voter. The bill has been sent to Governor Baldacci for his approval, which is expected.
Currently, no voting precincts in Maine use electronic voting machines. This bill would require municipalities that upgrade to electronic systems in the future to buy systems that produce a “voter-verifiable paper trail.”
“Maine voters trust that their votes will count,” said Rep. Hannah Pingree, D-North Haven, the bill’s sponsor. “This bill ensures that a new era of electronic voting equipment, their votes will continue to count.”
Major concerns about voter enfranchisement surfaced nationwide in the aftermath of the 2000 presidential election, prompting many communities and states to upgrade voting technology. The U.S. Congress passed the Help America Vote Act to help fund upgrades and better statewide voter registration systems. Touch-screen computer voting systems have been the most prevalent new choice of equipment by communities.
“With computerized voting machines, information is stored electronically, leaving it susceptible to the same problems as your home PC,” Pingree said. “Systems could be hacked, votes could be altered by basic coding mistakes, and data can be lost altogether. Recounts would be relying on these flawed computer tallies.”
LD 1759, “An Act to Ensure the Fair Counting of Votes,” bans the purchase of electronic voting machines unless they produce a paper trail that can be approved by the voter and used for recount purposes. It also anticipates other problems with electronic voting machines, and bans Internet voting and networked voting machines. Banning these types of voting aims to prevent vote tampering. The bill makes special provisions for the Secretary of State to purchase the right equipment for the disabled and voters with special needs, but provides necessary safeguards so other voters can be assured their votes will be counted.
Widespread problems have been found in more than 10 states in the past two years with municipalities that have upgraded to electronic voting systems without the paper trail function. In these communities, election officials have had a difficult time assuring the public that votes have been counted accurately. Some have even had to conduct re-votes or new elections, at greater cost to taxpayers.
“This bill takes a proactive step to avoid the debacles of other states that have upgraded to this technology,” Pingree said. “I was very pleased to work with a group of dedicated Maine citizens from throughout the state on this issue.”
Under Pingree’s bill, communities will still have the autonomy to choose their equipment and voting method, as long as voter-verifiable ballots are available to voters. The bill aims to help communities guard against costly technological problems that undermine the accurate counting of votes. Pingree’s bill was prompted by the anticipated funds Maine will receive from the federal Help America Vote Act, which will disburse $3.9 billion in funds to states to upgrade voting systems.
Congress is currently considering similar legislation, though it is unclear if the issue will move forward before the 2004 elections. California has recently announced a provision in its election laws similar to Pingree’s bill, which will require new electronic voting machines to print out paper ballots.
Rep. Hannah Pingree, 691-5071
Casey Johnson, Legislative Aide, 287-1430
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