20 Calif. Counties Scrap Electronic Vote Machines California has the most votes at stake on Super Tuesday, but counting those returns could take a lot longer than usual. Electronic voting machines in more than 20 counties there have been scrapped because of security concerns. Now those counties are using old-fashioned paper ballots instead.
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20 Calif. Counties Scrap Electronic Vote Machines

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20 Calif. Counties Scrap Electronic Vote Machines

20 Calif. Counties Scrap Electronic Vote Machines

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Michele Norris.

California is the biggest prize on Super Tuesday, but some election officials there say nearly a quarter of tomorrow's vote may not be counted until late Wednesday. Most of California's electronic voting machines have been taken out of service, and that's forcing many of the state's biggest counties to go back to paper ballots.

NPR's Mandalit Del Barco has the story.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO: Riverside County Registrar Barbara Dunmore leads me into a warehouse stacked high with expensive but now defunct machines.

BARBARA DUNMORE: These are our electronic voting units. We have - we own 3,700.

DEL BARCO: Wow. They're just rows upon rows just sitting there.

It's not that the machines don't work. Dunmore says they've been used successfully in 40 elections. In fact, Riverside was the first county in the nation to go with all electronic voting during the 2000 presidential election.

DUNMORE: We were very, very, very, very nervous knowing that no one had done it before. On other hand, it was very exciting knowing that we were on the cutting edge of technology, deploying this equipment that we knew we were going to be able to count votes quicker. It was very exciting.

DEL BARCO: Back then, Riverside staff knew high-tech machines were a sharp contrast to Florida's disastrous hanging chad debacle. Florida and other states began moving to more reliable voting systems and Riverside's electronic model was copied around the country.

Dunmore demonstrates the touch screen machines.

DUNMORE: It's letting me review my votes here on the screen. Those look good to me. I'll touch here to print a paper record of my ballot.


DEL BARCO: But there have always been skeptics concern that e-voting could be subject to glitches. California Secretary of State Debra Bowen was so worried, she asked experts to conduct a security and a reliability study of the touch- screen machines statewide.

UC Berkeley computer scientist David Wagner led the effort.

DAVID WAGNER: We found the voting systems - all three of them that we looked at - were susceptible to computer viruses.

An attacker could craft a specially tailored computer virus that could spread throughout a county, and once it infected all the voting machines in the county, could miscount or misrecord the votes. It could potentially throw a close election.

DEL BARCO: Wagner says any high-tech attacks would have required sophisticated hackers.

WAGNER: The bottom line is it was possible, and that was troubling.

DEL BARCO: As a result, electronic voting machines were decertified across California. That's left more than 20 counties scrambling to prepare for Tuesday's primary. Most are like Riverside County which is back to having election workers input paper ballots into old-style optical scanners.


DEL BARCO: Paul Shook is one of the elections workers at county headquarters who now has to hand-feed stacks of paper ballots. They sometimes have to be double-checked and rewritten if a voter makes a mistake or writes in some unofficial candidate.

PAUL SHOOK: Oh, yes, Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck - a lot of times you get Superman also.

DEL BARCO: On election night, county workers here will have to wait for truckloads of paper ballots to be delivered from remote desert and mountain areas.

Registrar Dunmore says it's going to mean election results won't be tallied for hours and hours - perhaps days.

DUNMORE: Electronic voting went a long way to make sure that all the votes are recorded accurately and are counted accurately. And to go back to paper that is so labor intensive, it's going to be a long night for our election day.

DEL BARCO: Some of Riverside's electronic voting machines will still be available for blind or disabled voters. And Dunmore is hoping that all of the devices will be recertified one day.

DUNMORE: Using all of this paper to me is like charging forward into the past.

DEL BARCO: Mandalit Del Barco, NPR News.

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