CA SoS calls for research on independence and secrecy of vote for disabled citizens

In an op-ed piece in this morning’s San Jose Mercury News, California’s Secretary of State Bruce McPherson faulted current California legislation (SB 370):

My biggest objection in using the paper trail to check voting machine performance is that it denies many in the disabled community the ability to have the same level of confidence in the process that all other voters enjoy.

Secretary McPherson then went on to state:

Using paper receipts as secondary ballots at this point is too risky. They are designed for the voter’s review and are not printed on ballot-quality paper and might not retain their quality during the often-lengthy recount and legal challenge periods.

Additionally, to ensure voter confidence in California’s elections, manual recounts and paper audit trails should not be the only ways of verifying the accuracy of vote tallies.

Therefore, I have directed my staff to conduct parallel monitoring programs on Election Day in which we randomly select “live” voting machines, take them out of production, cast predetermined voting scripts on them, and check them against the totals produced by the machines.

Indeed, the issue of how California conducts the 1% manual recount needs examination and research, a subject that Jonathan N. Katz, Sarah A. Hill, and I recently studied in a working paper, “Machines Versus Humans: The Counting and Recounting of Pre-Scored Punchcard Ballots.” Not to sound like a broken record, but how recounts are conducted (both those that are mandatory and those that are initiated upon demand), needs much more study. The research here is very thin, consisting in only a few working papers that we know of, for example, Ansolabehere and Reeves’ study of New Hamphsire recounts (1946-2002), and the Herron and Wand paper on the 2004 New Hampshire Recount. This a woefully understudied area, and we hope that perhaps some new research might be spawned by research efforts like that of the Election Assistance Commission, under RFP 05-07, “Best Practices on Vote Count and Recount Procedures.”

Secretary McPherson also noted:

Before we hastily start treating the paper trail as a secondary ballot, we need to explore other, more inclusive avenues to reach the goal of voting verification. I am working with other states’ election officials on a national research and development effort to develop voting technology that assures independence and secrecy of the vote for disabled citizens.

This is a very good development, but other than this off-hand comment, we haven’t heard anything about this national research and development effort. If readers have any information about which states are participating and what the effort involves, we would appreciate the information!