This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2007, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Utah officials shopped around before plunking down $27 million for electronic voting machines two years ago.
They formed a committee, scoured the lots, gave each model a test drive. And, unlike leaders in six states and parts of 12 others, they were wise enough to add an option, a reel-to-reel printer. It allows voters to see their selections in black and white through a window, confirming their choices and increasing their confidence while creating a paper trail for officials to follow in the event of a contested election or a memory chip failure.
Some people predicted the state bought a lemon. However, voter satisfaction surveys and audits indicate our 7,463 Diebold machines run like a top.
But now, if U.S. Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., has his way, our machines will require a retrofit by 2010. And there's no guarantee that the feds will foot the bill.
House Bill 811, the Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act of 2007, would drag states that don't provide voter verification procedures onto the paper trail. And, by requiring that printers use "durable" paper, it would drag Utah down with them.
The call for "durable" paper, Holt explained, is the result of an election in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, where voting machines use the same "thermal" paper, similar to cash register and adding machine tape, as Utah. Ink smudges and torn paper resulting from heat and rough handling rendered the tape unreadable, making a manual recount impossible.
But that hasn't been the experience in Utah. In fact, Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen, a member of the original voting machine selection committee, has kept a sample of the paper in her desk for nearly two years and reports that it's holding up fine.
Another provision in the act - a requirement calling for handcounts of at least 3 percent of the machines after federal elections - would also prove burdensome for Utah, where a smaller but still time-consuming audit already assures accuracy.
County commissioners and clerks in Utah are opposing the bill, and point out that the technology does not yet exist to change the machines to meet the proposed mandate. We echo their concerns. While we would support a measure to provide paper trails nationwide, as well as federally mandated audits to guarantee voter confidence, there's no need to fix our machines. They're not broken.