Alternative voting systems

Alternative voting systems

Kevin McKeown, a friend, Mayor pro tem of Santa Monica and Green Party compatriot, testifed yesterday in Sacramento at the Secretary of State’s HAVA (Help Americans Vote Act) hearings in Sacramento. He says “I focused on voting technology and opportunities for Instant runoff voting (IRV) and other alternative voting systems”.

A transcript of his comments follows:

“Good afternoon, Chair, Committeemembers.  I¹m pleased to see there are so many of you. That was an early issue for our Los Angeles Voter Empowerment Circle. We wanted a Commission that fully represented the rich diversity of California, and it looks like Secretary of State Shelley appointed one.

My name is Kevin McKeown. I am Mayor pro tem of the City of Santa Monica, and a member of the coordinating committee of the Green Party of California.

With the short time lines for this hearing, it wasn¹t possible to gain official authorization for any specific position, so I offer those identifications for that purpose only, identification.

The City of Santa Monica has been a progressive leader in exploring ways to empower voters and increase voter turnout.  In 1999 we held a two day, weekend election, Saturday and Sunday instead of just Tuesday.

This past winter, we conducted an all-postal election. In both cases, turnout was significantly improved over comparable single issue special elections.

Looking to further improve voter involvement, Santa Monica has also participated in experiments with touchscreens, or Direct Recording Electronic voting, DREs.  According to our City Clerk, Maria Stewart, quote, ³The feedback from the November ¹02 election was positive.  I recall comments about it being ³fun² to use as well as easy.²

It¹s intriguing to think of making voting fun, but to comply with HAVA, California must more importantly make voting easy, and make voting ACCURATELY easy.  Touchscreens, for instance, can eliminate voided ballots that now happen when citizens accidentally OVERvote in a race. Other options available don¹t prevent overvoting with such simple certainty.

I mentioned that besides being Santa Monica¹s Mayor pro tem, I am an elected Green Party official.

Just as does the City of Santa Monica, the Green Party has committed considerable effort to empowering underrepresented voters, with particular attention to minorities, those requiring languages other than English, and persons with disabilities. We share the belief of many of the other organizations represented here today that those populations are better served by DREs, by touchscreens, than by optical scan or other voting methods.

Further, it is no secret that the Green Party is greatly discomfited by the label of ‘spoiler’ in some recent elections, a label the Green Party feels is entirely unwarranted.  Voters must be free to vote for candidates and issues in which they believe, if our democracy is to maintain its purpose. That is not ‘spoiling.’  The ‘spoiler’, if there is one, is an outdated electoral system unable to fairly and appropriately accommodate third parties, and the healthy surge of new ideas and electoral energy third parties represent.

Proven voting systems used in other countries, and in other parts of this country, remove the ‘spoiler’ effect.  Instant Runoff Voting, IRV, is about to be used by the voters¹ choice in San Francisco.   Choice voting and proportional representation likewise represent the future of democracy in a multicultural, multi-partisan California.  ALL these voting methods are more effectively handled with touchscreens, or DREs.  Settling for optical scan systems in California would mean losing these exciting options, perhaps for many years.

Conversations about touchscreens often lead to the issue of voter verification.  Voters absolutely insist on an auditable system they can trust, and that¹s a demand I¹ve heard from virtually everyone with whom I¹ve discussed the issue.  This does not necessarily mean a contemporaneously produced paper trail, which is one solution often mentioned, and there are many brilliant minds in California just waiting to work on other solutions.

In closing, I would strongly urge you to recommend DREs, touchscreens, as the technology of choice for California voters.  I¹m pleased the Secretary of State has wisely appointed a special task force to examine voter verification options.  I¹d suggest deferring a decision on paper trails for now, and making a commitment to Direct Recording Electronic voting, or touchscreens, for many compelling reasons.”