Mauro: Update all of Iowa's Voting Machines

January 22, 2008

by Jennifer Jacobs, The Des Moines Register
January 23rd, 2008  

More than 70 counties must update their voting machines to meet a new state law that requires a paper trail for every machine. The state’s top election official believes this presents an excellent – but expensive — opportunity.

All the counties could have the exact same voting machine technology if lawmakers require it, and help pay for it, Secretary of State Michael Mauro told lawmakers today.

The best system, in Mauro’s view, is one that gives every voter an actual paper ballot that could be recounted.

He’d like every precinct to have one optical scan machine into which voters feed their paper ballots, and one ballot-marking machine that stamps the paper ballots to assist people who are blind or who can’t use their hands.

But to outfit each of Iowa’s precincts would cost $9.7 million.

And here’s the sticky part: the governor’s proposed spending plan contains no money for that.

However, there is money for a cheaper plan that would also ensure a paper trail.

Lawmakers last year set aside $2 million to help counties equip their electronic touch-screen voting machines with a roll of paper called a “verified paper audit trail” or VPAT.

Through a glass screen, Iowans can view the votes the machine records for them, but they can’t touch their own ballot. Election watchdog groups have a problem with this system because of a distrust of electronic voting machines, which they believe are more vulnerable to tampering.

Mauro pointed out today that any such system could be obsolete in two years because of pending federal legislation that could change requirements for voting machines.

He wants to pay for his $9.7 million plan by financing $6 million through a loan from the vendor of the new equipment.