Printouts to verify e-voting this fall
By Treena Shapiro
Advertiser Government Writer
By Treena Shapiro
Hawai'i voters using electronic voting machines this year will be able to double-check their choices before they cast their ballots, a big change from the last election.
Electronic voting machines introduced in 2004 were intended to allow disabled people to vote independently and privately, but became controversial because there was no way for the voter to verify that the votes keyed into the machine were identical to the electronic report generated by the machine on election night.
During the last election, about 27,470 voters — 6.3 percent — opted for the electronic voting machines, which were available for everyone, not just disabled voters.
This year the voting machines are the same, but the state just signed a $2.9 million contract with Hart InterCivic to provide paper printouts with a summary of votes cast by the voter on the company's eSlate electronic voting machines.
Not only will this give voters a chance to review their choices, it will also give the state a paper trail to be used for audit purposes, said Rex Quidilla, the state's voting services coordinator.
Kitty Lagareta, a volunteer election observer for the Hawai'i Republican Party, said she was glad the Office of Elections was taking steps to provide a paper trail, but has concerns about the timing.
"We have an election every two years. Why do we wait (until) weeks or months before the primary to sign a contract?" she asked.
Hawai'i's primary voting will take place on Sept. 23.
The timing limits the opportunity for concerned citizens to take a look at the equipment or the contract, or for election workers to familiarize themselves with the machines and become adequately trained, she said.
"I'm glad they got a paper trail, but as far as I'm concerned, it's a day late and a dollar short," Lagareta said, pointing out that the state has already gone without for one election.
Now she feels like the state is rushing into something without allowing the public time to see the contract or consider where there might be problems in other areas.
"It's not as transparent or timely as it could be. I just find that very troubling," she said.
Part of the reason for the delay is that the contract with Hart InterCivic was challenged by Election Systems & Software, the company that provides the paper ballot system most voters use, forcing the state to reopen bidding on electronic systems.
The contract went back to Hart InterCivic, which will provide the same technology as in 2004, with additional equipment to comply with a new state law requiring a paper trail.
"The selection committee chose the machine that again provides independent and private voting for the greatest variety of disabilities, as well as complies with federal and state laws," Quidilla said.
The machines allow the blind to vote without assistance and have alternative input buttons that give access to those with various fine motor disabilities.
"One of the key points was from the beginning of the process to the end, the voter is allowed to vote independently and in private," Quidilla said.
Aside from the new printers, polling places will look much the same this year as they did in 2004. Each of the 353 precincts will have one electronic voting booth, and the other booths will be the same ES&S paper ballot system the state has been using since 2000.
"Most voters will see little or no difference," Quidilla said.
That could change in 2008.
The ES&S contract for the paper ballot system expires this year and the Hart InterCivic electronic machine contract will expire next year. That will give the state the option of converting to a complete electronic system or continuing with the hybrid system.
Lagareta said she will be paying close attention to how well the elections go this year.
"I just find it unbelievable that they wait until the last minute every year" to sign contracts for the voting machines, she said, pointing out that in 1998 a lack of familiarity with new ballot machines led to malfunctions that forced a recount.
"Part of it was just no time for education," she said.
She believes that many voters were disenfranchised last election because precinct workers did not have enough training on the electronic machines, which have a long lag time between screens and may appear to have turned off in the middle of the ballot.
"People were walking away without completing the process," she said.
Reach Treena Shapiro at email@example.com.