Clark Announces Voting Machine Contract | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Clark Announces Voting Machine Contract

June 29, 2005/press release/verbatim from Secretary of State Eric Clark:

Secretary of State Eric Clark today introduced new touch-screen voting machines that most Mississippians will use to cast ballots beginning in 2006. "These voting machines will greatly improve the accuracy and integrity of every election in Mississippi," Clark said. "They are easy to use and are secure. Of all the machines we studied, they were the most 'user-friendly' and came at the lowest price. This purchase is another major step in making historic improvements to the elections process in our state."

Diebold Election Systems, which is providing statewide voting machines in Georgia, Maryland, Alaska, and Utah, was selected by a committee led by Clark and involving local election officials and representatives of the Mississippi Department of Information Technology Services (ITS). The ITS Board unanimously approved the purchase Tuesday, calling it one of the most thorough and careful in recent years. The cost of 5,164 new machines for the state is $15 million and includes training, maintenance, voter education, and technical support for the next five years. The purchase is funded by 95 percent federal money appropriated under the "Help America Vote Act," or HAVA, and 5 percent state matching funds.

Under federal law, all central scanner machines, lever machines, and punch-card machines must be replaced by 2006. More than 75 counties will be required by federal law to change to new, more accurate machines by January 1, 2006. In addition, at least one device that is fully accessible to the disabled must be in every polling place.

The new touch-screen machines, also known as DREs (Direct Recording Electronic device), will be used in most Mississippi counties beginning with the 2006 primary elections in June. The change to more accurate, accessible voting machines is mandated under HAVA, which was passed in response to numerous election problems in Florida and other states in the 2000 presidential election. The number of machines to be purchased comes to about one per 190 voters, based on turnout in the past two presidential and gubernatorial elections.

Diebold already has had a very strong presence in Mississippi for years, Clark noted. The company makes more than 90 percent of all bank ATM machines in Mississippi, with 40 employees and $2.5 million annual economic impact.

"This company has accurately and securely kept up with Mississippians' money for years. They will do just as well keeping up with our votes," Clark said.

In 2004, counties used the following types of voting machines in Mississippi:

? Scanner machines with ballots counted at Courthouse: 51 counties;
? Punch Card Machines: 10;
? Lever Machines: 8;
? Old scanner machines with ballots counted at precinct: 5;
? New scanner machines with ballots counted at precinct: 4;
? Touch-screen machines (DRE): 2;
? Old Shouptronic machines: 2.

Touch-screen machines make it impossible for a voter to vote for more than one candidate for a single office, and also give voters a second chance to make sure they have indicated their choice for every office. These features greatly reduce the potential for voter error. Analysis of the 2004 presidential vote indicates that more than 54,000 Mississippians may have had their votes not counted due to inaccurate and out-of-date voting machines. The highest error rates were seen on punch card, lever, and central scanner machines.

In addition to greater accuracy, the new machines are fully accessible to all voters, regardless of disability. A Mississippian who is blind, hearing or visually impaired, or physically challenged can cast his or her ballot in private on the new machines.

Mississippi has received $29.5 million in federal and state matching funds to implement changes required by HAVA. Congress is currently working on the third and final year of funding, which combined with state matching funds will bring an additional $6 million to improve the elections process.

"I'm pleased that Senators Cochran and Lott, as well as Congressmen Wicker, Thompson, Pickering, and Taylor have been unanimous in their support for funding these important reforms," Clark said. "I am urging full funding in this final year so we can make additional improvements to the process and these new voting machines."

Clark indicated that if Congress fully funds HAVA in the next federal budget, he would push for a "voter-verified paper trail" for all new machines used in the state. This device would allow voters to see a paper printout of their selections in each race before casting their ballots. The printed ballots serve as backup for the electronically tallied votes. The present-day cost of those additional devices would be approximately $1.5 to $2 million. The new Diebold machines are fully compatible with voter-verified printers.

"We may see a 'voter-verified' paper trail required by the federal Election Assistance Commission," Clark said. "The machines we are buying today are secure and tamper-proof. Adding that feature can only further bolster the confidence of Mississippi voters."

Clark also emphasized that full funding is necessary to meet federal requirements so that unfunded mandates are not passed down to county governments.

Clark's office will conduct extensive voter education effort before the machines are used in a state election. Secretary of State staff will be in every one of the state's 82 counties in the coming months to work with local officials and give voters the opportunity to thoroughly familiarize themselves with the new machines.

"Voter education and training for county officials and pollworkers are essential to improving our elections," Clark said.

The use of touch-screen machines has dramatically increased the accuracy of vote counting in other states and reduced the number of "residual votes," those ballots thrown out and not counted. A CalTech/MIT study of the 2004 presidential election found that: "The greatest residual votes gains were not made in the states where new voting machines were upgraded in a piecemeal fashion. Rather, voting machine upgrades were the most effective when the entire state was involved. The best example was Georgia, which switched over entirely to one type of voting machine (Diebold) and engaged in an unprecedented voter education effort. It is likely that the combined effects of these two actions, not either one alone, that led to Georgia's stunning improvements (CalTech/MIT Voting Technology Project, "Residual Vote in the 2004 Election")."

Georgia, which put new Diebold touch-screen machines in every polling place in 2004, reported the second-greatest improvement in election accuracy in the country. The state reduced its uncounted ballots, or residual votes, from 3.5 percent to 0.39 percent. Georgia Secretary of State Cathy Cox credits the new machines with saving the votes of 103,000 citizens which likely would have been thrown out if older voting machines had been used.

"[Our success] is due to the overall preparedness of election officials, poll workers and voters, as well as Diebold going above and beyond the call of duty to help the state implement this enormous endeavor," Secretary Cox said.

"By making a single, statewide purchase, we get the best price per machine: what I call the 'Wal-Mart effect' of buying in bulk," Clark said. "A more unified system will also improve accuracy, reduce voter confusion, and simplify training for election workers. In addition, linking these machines to our new statewide voter registration system will allow our office to post unofficial statewide election returns on our website on election night."

Diebold's touch-screen machines (AccuVote-TSX) have been tested and certified by independent testing authorities approved by the National Association of State Election Directors and meet all current standards for accuracy and security set by the Federal Election Commission and the federal Election Assistance Commission.

Mississippi is moving forward with more election reforms outlined under HAVA, Clark said. The first statewide registry of voters will be in place by January to enable local election officials to maintain clean and accurate voter rolls. The Secretary of State's Office is working with county officials to ensure that all polling places will be handicapped accessible by 2006. And Clark has implemented changes to make it easier for military personnel and their families overseas to be able to vote.


Previous Comments


oh dear, oh dear. not good news. My eyes saw the word Diebold and my brain translated it as Diabolical. Just like that. And how will those machines translate our votes... Our scanner machines here in Vicksburg work just fine, thank you Mr. Clark. But I do appreciate the "Wal-Mart effect." And there darn well better be a paper trail. Meanwhile, this looks like a good place to start, roll up our getting almost threadbare sleeves -


ìWe may see a ëvoter-verifiedí paper trail required by the federal Election Assistance Commission,î Clark said. ìThe machines we are buying today are secure and tamper-proof. Adding that feature can only further bolster the confidence of Mississippi voters.î Given Diebold's record in supporting the Help America Vote Republican Act, the machines should have that feature (the voter-verifiable paper trail) from day one. -- Tim

Tim Kynerd

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