NASHVILLE (AP) - A bill that would require a paper record for voters' ballots in Tennessee is among several measures moving through the Legislature that aim to improve the integrity of the election process.
The measure sponsored by Sen. Joe Haynes, D-Goodlettsville, unanimously passed the Senate State and Local Government Committee on Tuesday. The companion bill was delayed a week in the same committee in the House.
Besides verifying a voter's vote, the paper trail would also be used in recounts or random samplings for accuracy.
Haynes commended the joint study committee that helped refine the legislation last year.
"The study committee did a good job," he said. "This is long overdue and I think it's a vote of confidence issue."
The bill would require that the paper trail process be in place as soon as possible, but no later than 2010. A similar bill that passed the committee on Tuesday would move the deadline up a year.
State Election Coordinator Brook Thompson told committee members that rushing to change the process - which is expected to cost $25 million - too soon "would create the possibility of a crisis."
"I think we need to do this in a methodical way so that we're not creating something that we're not expecting," he said. "If they want it by 2010, we can certainly do that."
A report released last month by the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations shows only two of Tennessee's 95 counties keeps a paper trail of voters' ballots and recommends all state counties adopt the practice.
The study, which examined voting machines in the state, found that only Hamilton and Pickett counties use voting machines that produce a paper record for independent recounts and audits. Those two counties have optical scan voting systems that use a computer to count paper ballots marked by voters.
All the other counties use direct recording electronic voting machines with touch screens that do not produce a paper record that can be recounted and audited independent of the voting machine's software, the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations said.
Tennessee is one of only 12 states that don't have a paper record of all votes.
The report recommended voter-verified paper audit trails be required in the state "within a reasonable time."
The Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations said optical scan systems or touch screen voting machines with printers could produce the paper trail but the scanning machines are the only ones that meet pending federal guidelines.
Another bill that passed Tuesday would allow any Tennessee voter to cast an absentee ballot. Currently, a reason is needed to vote absentee, such as being outside the county. But the measure sponsored by Sen. Doug Jackson, D-Dickson, would eliminate those reasons.
"Twenty-six states allow their citizens to vote by paper ballot without any excuse if that's their preferred way," Jackson said. "Tennessee needs to do the same thing. It's all about getting more people to the polls."
The companion bill has yet to move in the House.
Read the full texts of SB1363, SB0824 and SB0012 on the Legislature's Web site at: http://www.legislature.state.tn.us
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