CA will (apparently) honor requests for paper ballots (Shallow Thoughts)

Akkana's Musings on Open Source, Science, and Nature.

Fri, 08 Oct 2004

CA will (apparently) honor requests for paper ballots

I've been waiting for months for the papers, or Wired, or someone, to give us the definitive word on California's proposed paper ballot option.

Back when Secretary of State Kevin Shelley moved to decertify some of the Diebold voting machines, he included a provision that voters who wish a paper trail may request a paper ballot in counties which use touchscreen voting machines.

But since then, many things have changed, many of the decertified machines have been recertified, and none of the news articles ever mentions the paper ballot option. I've been keeping an eye on the CA Elections and Voter Info site for some time, looking for help or information, but time is getting short to request an absentee ballot, so I mounted a search.

The Elections and Voter Info site has a FAQ -- they only link to the FAQ about voter registration, but that same page has answers about other topics as well, including voting systems. But no mention whatsoever about paper ballots.

The elections page also links to another site run by the Sec. of State,, which has lots of interesting information on things like Diebold decertification and recertification, but still no info on the paper ballot rule (or lack thereof).

Going back to the elections page, I called toll-free phone number for voter info, and spent a few minutes navigating a phone tree, which didn't include any options which seemed relevant; determinedly pressing the numbers for "other requests" eventually ended up in something that wanted to request info from me (for what? I wasn't clear) rather than let me ask questions of a human.

I hung up, and tried the Sample Ballot I received in the mail a few days ago. It has instructions for voting both on touchscreen and on paper, but no assurance that the paper ballot is actually an option for anyone receiving the sample ballot. The only phone number I could find anywhere in the sample ballot was one for requesting ballots in other languages.

Going back to the Secretary of State's web site, I found the phone number for the Sec. of State's office in Sacramento, and called long-distance. Navigating another phone tree (oddly, "Elections Division" is not in the first list of options; you have to choose "Other" which takes you to a menu which includes elections) and ended up speaking with a friendly and helpful woman there.

She assured me that yes, all voters in California would have the option of requesting a paper ballot at the polling place, and she offered to find it on the web site for me.

Several minutes of searching ensued. She initially thought it would be on the Voter's Bill of Rights linked off This turns out to be a PDF of a big-type poster, which, alas, says nothing about paper ballots.

She put me on hold briefly while she went searching, came back, and tried to remember the click-through route she'd taken so I could find it too. We followed several false leads, but finally got there: start at the Elections & Voter Information page, scroll way down to Voting Systems (under "General Information"), then click on Decertification and Conditional Certification for certain DREs to get the 9-page PDF of Shelley's original decertification of the Diebold machines, which, on page 4 item 4.b.1, specifies that every polling place must either (a) have a voting machine offering a "fully tested, federally qualified and state certified accessible, voter verified paper, audit trail" or (b) (1) Permit every voter to have the option at his or her polling place of casting a ballot on a paper ballot which may be satisfied by providing an adequate number of paper ballots to each polling place based on each County's assessment of the number of persons who may request them. The cost of additional paper ballots specified in this paragraph shall be borne by the vendor of the voting sytem that sought its certification or approval for use in California, or the vendor's successor in interest".

(Incidentally, this PDF is simply a scan of the successive pages of the document; there's no searchable text here, so google wouldn't help unless it had OCR capability.)

The woman at the Sec. of State's election division assured me that this was still in effect and had not been outdated by the more recent recertifications, and that it applied to every voting district (presumably there's no currently certified voting machine which meets clause 4.a?)

The status of this document (see page 3) is that it amends Division 19, Chapter 1 (commencing with Section 19001) of the Elections Code and Government Code section 12172.5. So that's the place to go to make sure this is still current. More on that later.

At the end of our conversation, I mentioned that this info was a bit difficult to get to, and maybe a clear FAQ entry, somewhere in the html of the site, might be in order. She agreed. Perhaps someone will update the web site before the election.

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[ 11:43 Oct 08, 2004    More politics/election04 | permalink to this entry ]