Legislature(2003 - 2004)
02/19/2004 03:40 PM STA
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= 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 problems. 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 trail. 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 Alaska. 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 machines. 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 addresses. 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, said: 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 voting. 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 note. 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 election. 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 are. On a personal note and as a staunch Republican, he said he would like to see some Republican legislators sign on as sponsors. 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.