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The Story of North Carolina's Fight for Voter Verified Elections PDF  | Print |  Email
By Tara Blomquist, NC Coalition for Verified Voting   
January 16, 2006
North Carolina Coalition for Verified Voting Celebrates Two Year Anniversary

Although the new millennium never produced the cataclysmic Y2K banking and business failures that where predicted by some, Americans where taken by surprise by the year 2000 election with reports of Florida¹s hanging chads, butterfly ballots and recounts that were halted by political operatives only to be handed off to the US Supreme Court, which shut down the counting for good in an unprecedented move. It was a bad year for democracy.

With only 51.3% of eligible voters casting ballots in 2000, confidence in the US voting systems was about to reach an all time low. Many of us were left with a disillusionment that became worse as  news of voting failures across the country where gradually reported.

In October 2002, The Help America Vote Act (HAVA) was passed, but without clearly standardized requirements by the federal government,  it unintentionally fueled a rush by states and localities to purchase equipment with serious security flaws from vendors that had never been looked at with any oversight and who represented 80% of voting machines made in this country.

In May 2003, US Rep. Rush Holt introduced an amendment to HAVA - Requiring All Voting Machines Produce A Voter-Verified Paper Trail, but that legislation has been repeatedly blocked by a Republican majority in the House that won't even let it get a hearing.  

It had become clear to many, including Joyce McCloy of North Carolina, that states would need to take the fight for this issue into their own hands. When she heard about the vendor Diebold's poorly written source code that had surfaced on the internet and read about North Carolina's own Hall of Shame, she knew it was time.

McCloy's past experience in the banking industry had equipped her with the knowledge that numbers are absolute and paper is the only trail that will bear witness of the truth of those numbers. No American bank or respectable business would ever accept anything less, and American voters should not accept a system without an auditable trail either.

On January 16, 2004, McCloy started the website NCVoter.net. Within the first year, Andrew Silver's internet group and Shawn Haugh, the Executive Director of the NC Libertarian Party, along with 85 computer experts, voting activists, legislators and citizens joined the nonpartisan group.

With the bright, hard working, educated people who were drawn to this issue,  Joyce always believed that a leader would step forward to take the reins, but that did not happen and she herself was forced into the limelight.

In May of 2004,  with McCloy's persistence, NC Legislature¹s short session took up the voting issue, but did not come to a conclusion with results. Then after the 2004 Presidential election fiasco was reported ("A Florida-style nightmare has unfolded in North Carolina in the days since Election Day, with thousands of votes missing and the outcome of two statewide races still up in the air." -- AP Newswire, Nov. 13),  a study committee was formed, sponsored by
Senator Eleanor Kinnaird, consisting of a bipartisan coalition of elected, appointed and citizen experts who met for many months to hammer out what would become on February 24, 2005, bill, SB223, the Public Confidence in Elections law.

Over the next six months the bill was bounced around the legislature, rewritten, amended and almost drowned out by a well funded, determined lobby of vendors and shadowy opponents. For six months, the NC Verified Voting group, now grown to 181 members, emailed, called and lobbied the state senate and house day and night. Ultimately, the bill was passed into law on August 13, 2005, the last official day of the legislature with a unanimous vote, and signed into law by the Governor on August 26, 2005. North Carolina became one of 26 states regulating by law the paper ballot requirement. 13 other states have similar legislation proposed at this time.

Thankfully the essence of the bill that was left intact, provided for a verifiable paper ballot, meaning that it could be inspected by the voter before being submitted for counting and saved for the possibility of a recount if it became necessary.

Also it provided a transparency in the process that would allow the state's experts to review and certify the source code of electronic elements of new voting equipment before counties could make their purchase.

To meet with HAVA requirements, new voting systems would also need full handicapped accessibility. Through a federal grant each county would be eligible for  $12,000.00 plus $1.00 per registered voter up to $100,000.00 if they complied by the first federal election.

The choice that came before North Carolina's counties then was to purchase new Paper Ballot/Optical Scan systems that would be covered by the federal funding or choose the more expensive Direct Record Electronic (DRE) systems which would cost two to three times more
and pay the extra from their own county budgets funded directly by taxpayers

The other issue confronting commissioners who are charged with making this choice is  the mounting evidence of the unreliability of the DRE machines. Computer scientists were not only declaring the danger of sloppily cobbled together equipment that was trying to meet the new paper receipt requirements but also explaining that the machines did not comply with handicapped requirements either.

Indeed, one the vendors, Diebold, could not satisfy North Carolina¹s transparency rules for revealing computer code, and had to drop out of the bidding. Another vendor, Sequoia, withdrew because had not yet obtained the required federal qualifications. One vendor, ES&S,
remains in compliance.

It appears that the Public Confidence in Election law is already working. Thanks to SB 223, our state's reputation for voting integrity has begun to be repaired. The law has already weeded out several weak vendors, who disrupted our elections in 2004.

Is our work done? Not just yet.

There have been and continue to be several attempts to work around the law: the State BOE has certified machines without a fully independent analysis of the computer code, and there are attempts to get the law changed, mainly spearheaded by the NCACC, and others who don't like certain provisions of the law. Diebold even offered "to work with the State Board of Elections...in getting the current Session Law revised, so that all vendors will be able to comply".   

Unable to convince lawmakers to arrange a special session to change the law, the latest tact by the NCACC is to urge counties to delay in purchasing equipment until at least the "short session" which occurs in May.

Undaunted, citizens concerned with election integrity battle on, fighting each opponent as the appear. The result is a well manned citizens defense that even paid lobbyists and hardened politicos fear. The continuous battle to protect this law has shown us that it is not enough to pass a good law, you have to fight to make sure that it is enforced. We know all too well, eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.
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