Legislature(2003 - 2004)

02/19/2004 03:40 PM STA

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
        SB 296-PAPER TRAIL FOR ELECTRONIC VOTING MACHINE                                                                    
CHAIR GARY STEVENS announced SB 296 to be up for consideration                                                                  
and asked Senator Ellis to introduce the bill.                                                                                  
SENATOR JOHNNY ELLIS, Senate District L representative and                                                                      
sponsor of SB 296, stated:                                                                                                      
     In the wake of the  2000 federal election, and with the                                                                    
     impetus of  the federal  Help America Vote  Act (HAVA),                                                                    
     states across  the nation are replacing  punch card and                                                                    
     paper   ballots   with   computerized   vote   casting,                                                                    
     tabulation and reporting.  Alaska has successfully used                                                                    
     the Acu-Vote system of  optically scanned ballots since                                                                    
     1998. New  direct recording equipment (DRE)  machines -                                                                    
     also known as touch -screen  - are scheduled to be used                                                                    
     for the first time in 2004.                                                                                                
     In fact, the  Division of Elections here  in Alaska has                                                                    
     purchased  100 of  these  touch-screen voting  machines                                                                    
     and will  deploy them  across the  state for  the first                                                                    
     time in the primary election this fall.                                                                                    
     I would ask,  Mr. Chairman, to just imagine  that it is                                                                    
     Election Day 2004. You enter  your polling place and go                                                                    
     to cast  your vote on  a brand new  touch-screen voting                                                                    
     machine. The  screen says your  vote has  been counted.                                                                    
     As you  exit the  voting booth,  however, you  begin to                                                                    
     wonder. How do I know  if the machine actually recorded                                                                    
     my vote? The fact is, you don't.                                                                                           
     The problem  is simple;  a touch-screen  voting machine                                                                    
     records your  vote in the  memory of the  machine where                                                                    
     you can't  see it. How do  you know that your  vote for                                                                    
     candidate A wasn't recorded as  a vote for candidate B?                                                                    
     You don't.                                                                                                                 
     In this  first election it  will be blind  and disabled                                                                    
     Alaskans who will have that  question. In the future it                                                                    
     could be  all Alaskans  who choose to  go to  the polls                                                                    
     who would have  to ask those questions. But  there is a                                                                    
     way to prevent that.                                                                                                       
     I note  Mr. Chairman  that computer experts  across the                                                                    
     country  have  warned  of numerous  problems  with  the                                                                    
     direct  recording equipment  machines.  In fact,  there                                                                    
     are a  number of horror  stories in your  bill packets.                                                                    
     As counties  and state  governments use  these machines                                                                    
     in their  elections, there  have been  very significant                                                                    
     The  answer to  this is  really simple  - an  auditable                                                                    
     paper trail for  these machines. The good  news is that                                                                    
     we can  use federal funds.  We don't have to  use state                                                                    
     funds.  Federal funds  are  available  to modify  these                                                                    
     machines and the technology is  there and improving all                                                                    
     the  time to  make  sure there  is  an auditable  paper                                                                    
     Citizen  trust is  the bedrock  of  democracy. Only  an                                                                    
     accurate count can assure  voters that elections result                                                                    
     in  the  true reflection  of  their  will. Requiring  a                                                                    
     voter verified  paper trail  will assure  Alaskans that                                                                    
     no  matter what  technology is  adopted in  the future,                                                                    
     their  elections will  be transparent  and their  votes                                                                    
     counted accurately.                                                                                                        
SENATOR JOHN  COWDERY asked if each  voter could go back  and see                                                               
how they voted.                                                                                                                 
SENATOR  ELLIS   replied  the  Acu-Vote  system   has  been  used                                                               
successfully for several years. The  voter marks their ballot and                                                               
places it  in the machine. The  voter is able to  verify how they                                                               
marked their ballot.  If there is a question or  challenge to the                                                               
election, there  is a  paper trail  for a  recount. With  the DRE                                                               
machines  and  without  a statutorily  required  auditable  paper                                                               
trail, a recount or challenge is  dependent on the memory that is                                                               
on a computer  chip. Because hacking is  not uncommon, challenges                                                               
and  recounts  are  difficult. Auditable  paper  trails  are  the                                                               
solution and the wave of the future, he said.                                                                                   
"We have one  of the best election staffs and  sets of volunteers                                                               
of any state. We rank at the  very top in all of these objective,                                                               
non-partisan analyses..."  However, there  have been a  number of                                                               
close and hard fought elections in  the state as well as a number                                                               
of  challenges   and  recounts.  A  verifiable   paper  trail  is                                                               
important for the future.                                                                                                       
CHAIR GARY STEVENS remarked it  is extremely important to be able                                                               
to trust  election results.  He noted he  has read  about systems                                                               
that give voters  a paper receipt. He questioned  the validity of                                                               
the  secret  ballot if  people  are  able  to leave  the  polling                                                               
station with a paper showing how they voted.                                                                                    
DANA  OWENS,   staff  to  Senator  Ellis,   explained  that  most                                                               
companies  that are  working on  this technology  are working  on                                                               
systems where the voter wouldn't  actually hold the verification.                                                               
They  would view  the  ballot  through a  window  and verify  the                                                               
accuracy before  the ballot is  deposited into a  different place                                                               
than where the electronic vote is recorded.                                                                                     
CHAIR GARY STEVENS  said, "A paper trail means there  really is a                                                               
piece of paper..."                                                                                                              
SENATOR  ELLIS  said  the  100  machines  that  the  Division  of                                                               
Elections has  already purchased were  the result of  a unanimous                                                               
bi-partisan vote to help the blind and disabled vote in private.                                                                
The federal Help  America Vote Act is a result  of the debacle in                                                               
Florida  in  the  last  presidential  election  and  the  federal                                                               
government has  made money available  for states to  update their                                                               
systems. Although he  has gotten the impression  that the federal                                                               
government won't  require an auditable  paper trail  it's logical                                                               
to move  in that  direction. SB 296  requirements would  begin in                                                               
2006 to  give the Division  of Elections  the time to  secure the                                                               
needed technology and work out the system.                                                                                      
SENATOR BERT  STEDMAN asked  how many  disabled voters  reside in                                                               
SENATOR ELLIS said he didn't have that information.                                                                             
SENATOR STEDMAN asked when the federal requirements begin.                                                                      
MR. OWEN replied January 1, 2006.                                                                                               
SENATOR ELLIS  said Alaska is ahead  of the curve, but  those 100                                                               
new machines won't have an auditable paper trail.                                                                               
CHAIR GARY  STEVENS recalled testimony  from last session  when a                                                               
blind man said he  had to go into the voting  booth with his wife                                                               
and he  humorously stated that he  was never sure that  she voted                                                               
the right  way. He asked Senator  Stedman how secure he  would be                                                               
in that situation.                                                                                                              
SENATOR STEDMAN  chuckled and  admitted there  are times  when he                                                               
wouldn't be very secure.                                                                                                        
SENATOR  ELLIS commented  that a  lot of  married couples  cancel                                                               
each other.                                                                                                                     
LAURA  GLAISER, director,  Division  of  Elections, said  Senator                                                               
Ellis covered  much of her  testimony so she would  rather answer                                                               
questions and make sure everyone understood the process.                                                                        
She  explained that  the current  election system  is not  on the                                                               
Internet  and is  quite  secure. The  memory  is transmitted  via                                                               
modem,  but to  hack  the line  the hacker  would  have to  "know                                                               
exactly  which phone  that the  precinct would  use, which  phone                                                               
number was  used, which phone  number they were dialing  into and                                                               
hit that 3 to 5 seconds when that information is transmitted."                                                                  
For many years Alaska has  had an exemplary bipartisan review and                                                               
that would  continue. A bipartisan  board tests the  memory cards                                                               
and  zeroes them  out then  runs a  test ballot  to make  sure it                                                               
always runs  the same  and to  ensure that  a Trojan  Horse isn't                                                               
placed in the machine.                                                                                                          
The  division  does  not  oppose   SB  296,  she  said,  but  the                                                               
modifications have  yet to  receive certification.  They selected                                                               
the new  touch-screen system because  it has been  certified. She                                                               
said  the 2006  implementation date  is a  gracious accommodation                                                               
and  would coincide  with the  federal implementation  date. This                                                               
bill would allow  the division to implement  the 100 touch-screen                                                               
At some point she said  she would like clarification because they                                                               
didn't plan to limit the use  of the 100 touch-screen machines to                                                               
only those voters  who are blind, disabled  or visually impaired.                                                               
If a legislative policy maker wanted  to limit that use, she said                                                               
they would understand.                                                                                                          
CHAIR GARY STEVENS asked if the machine was a Braille machine.                                                                  
MS.  GLAISER  replied  the Acu-Vote  touch-screen  system  has  a                                                               
touchpad that blind  people are accustomed to using.  There is an                                                               
audio unit  that walks  the voter through  the ballot  and allows                                                               
selection with the touchpad.                                                                                                    
CHAIR GARY  STEVENS asked about  whether the voter  receives some                                                               
sort of confirmation that they voted in a certain way.                                                                          
MS.  GLAISER  said  the  new machines  meet  federal  law,  which                                                               
requires an audit  trail. Although there is a  paper tape inside,                                                               
the  voter  can't see  it  and  that is  the  issue  that SB  296                                                               
SENATOR  STEDMAN commented  that he  appreciates the  movement to                                                               
make it easier for the  visually impaired to fully participate in                                                               
the democratic system.                                                                                                          
CAREN  ROBINSON,  representative  of the  Alaska  Woman's  Lobby,                                                               
     This  bill  is critical  to  ensure  the faith  in  our                                                                    
     elections. Around  the nation, the faith  is being lost                                                                    
     due  to  the  controversy  surrounding  computer  based                                                                    
     Unless we maintain our ability  to recount the ballots,                                                                    
     by  hand, when  resolves are  questioned, we  can never                                                                    
     know  whether  our  elections  are  honest  or  rigged,                                                                    
     whether equipment was accurate or failed.                                                                                  
     The Alaska Women's Lobby believes  that nothing is more                                                                    
     important to  the advancement of  women in  society but                                                                    
     their vote be accurately counted.                                                                                          
She encouraged support for the legislation.                                                                                     
SENATOR COWDERY  asked for an  explanation of the  revised fiscal                                                               
MS. GLAISER  explained that the  original fiscal note  showed 446                                                               
precincts and after the revision  in the Interior, there are only                                                               
441 precincts.                                                                                                                  
JENNIFER RUDINGER, executive director  of the ACLU, testified via                                                               
teleconference to say  that this is a very  complicated issue and                                                               
she looks forward to learning more about the new technology.                                                                    
"The integrity  of the voting  process is ... fundamental  to the                                                               
operation of our  democracy," she said. A major  component of the                                                               
process is  voting technology  that is  honest and  accurate. She                                                               
urged members  to remain ever  vigilant about new  technology and                                                               
strive to  deliver a  system that  maximizes the  likelihood that                                                               
the voters'  intent is recorded.  The system should be  as simple                                                               
as possible  yet the technology  must be sophisticated  enough to                                                               
ensure confidence that it cannot be  rigged to thwart the will of                                                               
the electorate.                                                                                                                 
Touch-screen voting systems  certainly offer potential advantages                                                               
including  ease  of  use,  accessibility  to  the  disabled,  and                                                               
adaptability to  different languages.  That being  said, computer                                                               
experts are uncertain about the  overall security and reliability                                                               
of  this  system.  The  ACLU  Board  of  Directors  is  currently                                                               
debating  this issue  and will  have specific  recommendations in                                                               
approximately three weeks.                                                                                                      
"In terms of  SB 296, voter verified paper ballots  are a step in                                                               
the   direction  of   where   we  need   to   go  toward   public                                                               
accountability....  but it's  not the  end of  the inquiry,"  she                                                               
concluded. The  board would  have specific  recommendations after                                                               
March 15 and  looks forward to working with  Senator Ellis, other                                                               
legislators, and the Division of Elections on this issue.                                                                       
CHAIR GARY STEVENS thanked Ms.  Rudinger and cautioned her not to                                                               
dawdle as  the legislative clock  was ticking and that  it's more                                                               
productive  to be  a part  of  the legislative  process before  a                                                               
decision is made.                                                                                                               
MS. RUDINGER agreed and said they  are working to learn about the                                                               
new  technology. She  appreciated the  opportunity to  go on  the                                                               
record to say  they like the direction SB 296  is moving and they                                                               
will formulate their recommendations shortly.                                                                                   
NINA MOLLETT  testified that  she has  been following  this issue                                                               
since November  2000. Although she  believes that Alaska  has had                                                               
the best voting system in the  country, she is concerned now that                                                               
the 100 touch-screen voting machines  have been purchased because                                                               
she  doesn't  trust  the  company that  makes  the  machines  and                                                               
develops the  software. She suggested  there are  other solutions                                                               
being developed for HAVA.                                                                                                       
DON ANDERSON  testified via teleconference  and reported he  is a                                                               
former member of  the State Election Review Board and  has been a                                                               
computer  programmer for  39 years.  He expressed  strong support                                                               
for SB  296 and urged  members to pass  the bill before  the next                                                               
He recommended:                                                                                                                 
    · Providing a statistical audit selection of certain                                                                        
      machines. Those machines would have their paper ballots                                                                   
      removed and counted by a bipartisan committee and compared                                                                
      with the electronic results.                                                                                              
    · Limit touch-screen machine use to the disabled - even                                                                     
      though they have a paper trail - to minimize their impact                                                                 
      until substantially more is known about how auditable they                                                                
 On a personal note and as a staunch Republican, he said he                                                                     
 would like to see some Republican legislators sign on as                                                                       
 SENATOR ELLIS cheerfully said, "That's the best witnesses I've                                                                 
 ever heard. I don't know the guy; I'm so glad he showed up."                                                                   
 SENATOR GRETCHEN GUESS made a motion to move SB 296 from                                                                       
 committee with individual recommendations and attached revised                                                                 
 fiscal note. There being no objection, it was so ordered.                                                                      
 There being no further business to come before the committee,                                                                  
 Chair Gary Stevens adjourned the meeting at 5:00 pm.                                                                           

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