Iowa moving toward paper ballots in all counties

I have good news and bad news. The good news is that

The Senate voted 47-1 on Senate File 2347, which calls for the state to pay for new machines so that every county has machines with paper ballots that could be recounted after an election.

The plan calls for the state to buy one machine for each precinct that needs an equipment update.

This bill, which would cost the state about $8.6 million, is adapted from Secretary of State Mike Mauro’s sensible plan to make sure that every Iowan casts a vote on a paper ballot.

The bad news is that county officials are objecting to the bill’s provision that

County taxpayers would pick up the tab for shipping, software, testing of the machines, and all licensing fees. And some counties would need to buy special tables for certain machines.

Dubuque County, for example, would have to spend almost $100,000 of its own money up front, plus an extra $10,000 or so per year for storage, license fees and additional staff that would be needed to deliver the equipment in time for elections, said Tom O’Neill, Dubuque County’s deputy commissioner of elections.

Dubuque County bought 43 touch-screen machines two years ago to meet federal requirements for helping voters with disabilities. It wasn’t easy or cheap to train more than 300 pollworkers, many of whom are in their 60s and 70s, O’Neill said.

I have limited sympathy for these county officials. They never should have spent money on machines that lacked paper ballots. Touchscreen machines are at the very least an accident waiting to happen–who knows when a close race will need to be recounted? And in the worst-case scenario, touchscreen machines could be tampered with, possibly leading to the wrong candidate being declared the winner of an election.

Meanwhile, the Register noted that

Lawmakers today adopted an amendment that stemmed from Gov. Chet Culver’s demand for more oversight of Secretary of State Michael Mauro’s purchase of the equipment.

The amendment would require Mauro’s office to work in consultation with the Department of Administrative Services on the purchase. The department director, Mollie Anderson, reports directly to Culver. Mauro, as an elected official, doesn’t.

I trust Mike Mauro to handle this matter, but at the same time, I have no problem with this amendment, if that’s what was necessary to get Governor Culver on board with Mauro’s plan for replacing voting machines.

With any luck, the presidential race is not going to be as close this year as in 2000 and 2004, but we are likely to have some state legislative races decided by very small margins. I feel more confident knowing that in the event of a close race, there will be paper ballots to recount.

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