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Iowa Adopts Statewide Paper Ballot System for November 2008 PDF  | Print |  Email
By Iowans for Voting Integrity   
April 01, 2008
Iowans for Voting Integrity applauded lawmakers, county election officials, Governor Culver, and Secretary of State Michael Mauro for working to adopt a statewide optical scan/paper ballot voting system in time for the November election. Governor Culver signed the legislation, Senate File 2347, today in a ceremony at the Capitol.

 “This is a big victory for Iowa's voters,”  said Iowans for Voting Integrity co-chair Sean Flaherty. “Every county will use the system that provides the most reliable record of voter intent.”

The transition will take place in the coming months. “When lawmakers and election officials work together, it is possible to make changes to voting systems both quickly and responsibly. I hope that other states are paying attention,” Flaherty said.

Senate File 2347 eliminates direct-recording electronic touch screen machines, and moves Iowa toward a universal system of voter-marked paper ballots read by optical scanners.  In 2006, almost 20% of Iowa's voters voted on touch screens. The touch screens have been the subject of intense scrutiny by computer scientists, and reviews by the Secretaries of State of California and Ohio have found severe security problems and found that “paper trail” printouts were not  enough to deter fraud or prevent error. 
Iowa Citizen Groups Applaud Paper Ballot Legislation PDF  | Print |  Email
By Common Cause and Iowans for Voting Integrity   
March 21, 2008
Iowans for Voting Integrity and Common Cause applauded the state House of Representatives' passage of Senate File 2347 Thursday night by a 92-6 vote. The bill requires all counties to use optical scan voting systems in the November election. Last week, the measure passed the Iowa Senate 47-1.

“Along with Iowans statewide, we are relieved to know that one more step has been taken to ensure all Iowans that their vote will be counted fairly and accurately,” said Kyle Lobner, Common Cause Iowa Organizer.

The bill requires all counties to purchase optical scan voting systems in time for the November election, and provides funding for the transition. With optical scan systems, voters mark individual paper ballots by hand or by using an accessible device for voters with disabilities. The paper ballots are then read by an optical scanner and can be recounted by hand. Seventy-eight Iowa counties will be trading in touch screen electronic voting machines as part of the switch.
Iowa: Culver Willing to Back Plan to Buy New Voting Machines PDF  | Print |  Email
By Jennifer Jacobs, Des Moines Register   
February 09, 2008
Gov. Chet Culver is backing down on his plan for updating Iowa's election technology after weeks of disagreement over how to ensure a paper trail for every voting machine. Culver said Friday he is now willing to use state money to help counties switch to one uniform system with paper ballots.

Iowa's top election official, Michael Mauro, has been pushing a $9.7 million plan that would give every voter an actual paper ballot that could be recounted later, and would give every county the same equipment.

Two weeks ago, Culver called that plan "irresponsible" because it would cost the state too much money. He wanted to stick with a cheaper plan that lawmakers approved last year: spend $2 million to equip touch-screen voting machines, which have electronic ballots, with a special printer that shows voters their choices on a continuous roll of paper.

Watchdog groups, who distrust the electronic ballots and the printers, criticized Culver's plan as "chasing good money after bad."

On Friday, Culver said he is willing to use the $2 million meant for the printers as a down payment on new equipment for counties that need to replace their touch-screen machines. The secretary of state's office has another $1.7 million earmarked, he said.

Culver said the state could use the contract he negotiated when he was secretary of state to make a group purchase at a discounted rate. The voting machine vendor could then be paid the balance "over time," he said.

Read the Entire Article at The Des Moines Register

Iowa: Culver, Mauro Disagree on How To Update Voting Systems PDF  | Print |  Email
By Jennifer Jacobs, Des Moines Register Staff Writer   
February 03, 2008
In one corner of the ring: Chet Culver. In the other corner: Michael Mauro.

There's some professional sparring going on between the former top election official in Iowa and the current one. It runs deeper than just their differences over how exactly to update Iowa's voting. Both men downplay the tension, but it intensified last week.

Culver made some stinging comments about Mauro and the "mistakes" of Iowa's county election officials. And a federal report critical of Culver came to light.

The U.S. Elections Assistance Commission, in a new report, found that when Culver was secretary of state, his office misspent $92,895 in federal money meant for purchasing handicapped-accessible voting equipment and for voter education efforts. The commission previously had agreed with a 2007 state audit that found over $61,000 in alleged misspending, but now is raising that amount.

Culver flatly disputes the findings. An appeal was launched of the original order to repay $61,238. Dealings with the federal commission continue. When Mauro took over as secretary of state, he inherited the whole situation.

Mauro declined last week to weigh in on whether any of Culver's spending was improper. "I'm not going to get on one side or the other on that," Mauro said, "because it doesn't serve any useful purpose for me."

Meanwhile, each man is trying to drum up support for his own proposal for ensuring a paper trail for every voting machine in Iowa.

Mauro wants to spend $9.7 million to give every voter an actual paper ballot that could be recounted later. Culver wants to spend only $2 million to equip touch-screen voting machines, which have electronic ballots, with a special printer that shows voters their choices on a continuous roll of paper.

In Mauro's cheering section are watchdog groups, and some key lawmakers and county election officials of both political stripes.

Sean Flaherty of Iowans for Voting Integrity, a Fairfield-based citizens group, gave Culver's plan a thumbs down. "Paper printouts are better than no paper trail, but spending money on paper-trail printers is chasing good money after bad," said Flaherty, of North Liberty. "No one respects these printers, and it is likely that Congress will ban them in the near future."

Read the Entire Article at The Des Moines Register
Mauro: Update All of Iowa's Voting Machines PDF  | Print |  Email
By Jennifer Jacobs, Des Moines Register Staff Writer   
January 23, 2008
More than 70 counties must update their voting machines to meet a new state law that requires a paper trail for every machine. The state's top election official believes that this presents an excellent -- but expensive -- opportunity.

All the counties could have the exact same same voting machine technology if lawmakers require it, and help pay for it, Secretary of State Michael Mauro told lawmakers today. The best system, in Mauro's view, is one that gives every voter an actual paper ballot that could be recounted later.

He'd like every precinct to have one optical scan machine into which voters feed their paper ballots, and one ballot-marking machine that stamps the paper ballots for people who are blind or who can't use their hands.

But to outfit each of Iowa's precincts with these two machines would cost $9.7 million. And that's where the sticky part comes in: The governor's proposed spending plan contains no money for such a plan. There is just enough money for a cheaper plan that would also ensure a paper trail.

For the cheaper plan, lawmakers last year set aside $2 million to help counties rig their electronic touch-screen voting machines with a roll of paper called a "verified paper audit trail" or VPAT. Through a glass screen, voters can see the votes the machine records for them, but they can't touch the roll of paper. Election watchdog groups have a problem with this system because of a distrust of electronic voting machines, which they believe are more vulnerable to tampering.

Read the Entire Article at The Des Moines Register
Just How Do Those Wacky Iowa Caucuses Work? PDF  | Print |  Email
By Sean Flaherty, Iowans for Voting Integrity   
November 28, 2007
Americans spend months inundated with horse-race coverage of the Iowa caucuses. The caucus process itself seems to leave journalists, politically minded citizens and frankly, most Iowa voters, wondering how the heck these meetings actually end up translating into delegates who vote for Presidential candidates at a summer convention. And during a time of citizen unease about the integrity of election results, some are beginning to wonder about the security of caucus results, if the results we see broadcast on caucus night really reflect the will of the caucus-goers.

So how do these wacky Iowa caucuses work, and what measures exist to protect the integrity of the results?

A modern caucus, in 13 states still the basis of choosing delegates to Presidential nominating convention, is a descendant of the Congressional nominating caucus, and the early state nominating caucuses, in which members of state legislatures met to choose party candidates for state office, and members of Congress chose party Presidential nominees.  The Congressional system died after the 1824 election, and was replaced by national nominating conventions. At the same time, state caucuses gradually gave way to state nominating conventions, and the precinct-level caucus became important.  

Caucuses are generally a viva-voce affair, meaning that voters openly declare their choice, but Iowa Republicans now vote for President on a secret ballot.

Many know that Iowa caucus-goers meet among their party members in locations that range from a school cafeteria to a living room, and then make their choice for President. Beyond those basics, the caucus process seems arcane, even for political junkies. It has even been suggested that voting machines of some kind are used in the caucuses, which has made Iowans who have attended caucuses scratch their heads.
Iowa's Residual Votes Offer a Lesson: Choose Paper for Voting PDF  | Print |  Email
By Iowans for Voting Integrity   
November 06, 2007
Paper Ballots Better at Registering Votes than Electronic Voting Machines
Voters in today's elections have a good reason to choose paper ballots over touch screen voting machines if they have the option.

A review of all statewide races in Iowa's 2006 General Election shows that voter-marked paper ballots read by optical scanners had the lowest rate of residual votes, and that use of touch screen electronic voting machines correlated with a higher residual vote rate.

Experts use the residual vote rate to judge the effectiveness of a voting system. Residual votes are the difference the total number of ballots cast and the number of valid votes for a given race.  Many residual votes are intentional, particularly undervotes in races for lower, “down-ballot” offices, about which many voters may not be as informed or have a true preference. But if residuals correlate with a type of voting equipment, that equipment may not be as user-friendly or as reliable as other technologies.
Iowa: 2006 Gubernatorial Election Shows Paper Ballots the Most Reliable Voting Method PDF  | Print |  Email
By Iowans for Voting Integrity   
September 13, 2007

Review of the 2006 Iowa Governor's race showed touchscreen voting machines had a significantly higher undervote rate than precinct-based optical scan systems
In the 2006 Governor's race, Iowa counties that used precinct-based optical scan as the primary voting system had a cumulative undervote for Governor of 0.9%, and counties that used touch screen electronic voting machines as the primary voting system had a cumulative undervote of 2.4%.

This difference is called the “undervote.” The undervote in the election for the highest office on the ballot is used by researchers to evaluate the efficiency of voting equipment. Most voters will cast a vote for the top race, so if the undervote rate for that race tends to be higher with the use of a type of voting equipment, that equipment may not be as usable or effective as others.

“Paper ballots did much better than touch screens” in their undervote rates, said Sean Flaherty, co-chair of Iowans for Voting Integrity. Touch screen voting machines record and tabulate votes in electronic memory, and optical scan voting systems tabulate paper ballots marked by the voters.

Iowa: Ames Straw Poll Holdup Shows Why Paper Ballots Are Best PDF  | Print |  Email
By Iowans for Voting Integrity   
August 13, 2007
Reported problems with one of the paper ballot scanners used in the Ames Republican Presidential straw poll reveal that touchscreen voting machines, on the defensive nationally and on their way out in Story County itself, are no match for voter-marked paper ballots.

“They had a problem with the voting equipment, and they had individual, durable paper ballots to ready to count by hand,” said Sean Flaherty, co-chair of Iowans for Voting Integrity. The Ames straw poll used only paper ballots counted by optical scan equipment. “Problems with election equipment always happen. Paper ballot systems offer the best backup.”

Iowa counties use either touchscreen direct-recording electronic machines, or DREs, or paper ballots that are marked by the voter and optically scanned. Story County, which provided the equipment for the poll, has both systems, but is phasing out the touchscreens and replacing them with a ballot-marking device that helps a voter with sight or other disabilities mark the same type of paper ballot used by other voters. The county provided only the ballot scanners for the straw poll.
California Voting Machine Review Has Implications for Iowa PDF  | Print |  Email
By Iowans for Voting Integrity   
August 08, 2007
State Orders Strong Security Measures for Voting System Used in 71 Iowa Counties
A review by the Secretary of State of California has determined that the computer voting systems used in 71 Iowa counties are comparable to “an oceanliner built without watertight doors.”  

The voting systems from Diebold Election Systems are widely used throughout the U.S. The review found fundamental weaknesses that could allow malicious software to go undetected, pass pre-election testing, and corrupt election results throughout a county. A complete re-engineering may be required. Tighter controls on the chain of custody of voting equipment are unlikely enough to secure these systems, the report said.  

“Some are saying that the risks noted in the report aren't realistic,” said Sean Flaherty, co-chair of Iowans for Voting Integrity.  “This is not true: there are so many weaknesses that the team that reviewed the computer code couldn't think of practical chain of custody procedures strong enough to run secure elections on these systems.”
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