Voting’s new era 

On Wednesday, Dec. 10, Missoula’s Election Advisory Committee, a 20-member panel including legislators, election officials, members of advocacy groups and the media, held its first meeting in Room 201 of the Missoula County Courthouse over donuts and coffee.

“You’re here because I need help,” said Missoula County Clerk and Recorder/Treasurer Vickie Zeier. Indeed, Zeier and her staff face a sizeable task; they are charged with implementing massive changes to the way Missoula votes and records votes under the federal mandate of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA).

“These changes are big and happen quickly,” said Montana HAVA coordinator Amy Sullivan. “We’ve had to scramble to meet many of the requirements.”

Some of those changes include precinct redistricting, new election equipment and voting machines, I.D. requirements, provisional voting and the implementation of a statewide voter registration database.

Under the new rules, voters who don’t have I.D. or are not on the rolls have until 5 p.m. the day after the election to prove their eligibility. Also, in what Zeier called a more controversial change, third parties will no longer be allowed to collect and return the ballots of those to whom they provide ballots.

Zeier told League of Women Voters representative Marty Onishuk that Missoula’s new Model 650 vote counter and its accessory Unity software are made by Election Systems and Software (ES&S). A recent independent Compuware study commissioned by Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell found ES&S systems had one “high” risk security flaw, three “medium” potential security risks and 13 “low” risks, and recommended that prior to implementation the Secretary of State take specific steps to ensure the machines’ security, including requiring strong encryption, six-character passwords and other ES&S software modifications. The full Compuware report can be found online at sos/hava/files/compuware.pdf.

“Personally, I’m concerned about the integrity of the voting machines,” Onishuk said after the meeting. “But we have to follow the law, so we don’t have a choice.”

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