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Touch-screen machines get a big 'No' vote

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Touch-screen voting machines suck, according to the National Institute of Standards and Technology. While I'm paraphrasing a bit, the federal agency has compiled a draft report that says touch-screen machines without a verifiable paper trail "in practical terms cannot be secure." The report, headed to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, also says that it is not feasible to make touch-screen machines verifiable. Draw your own conclusions to what that means (be sure to use a pen and paper if you want it to last).

Verified vote backers agree with the institute study and in North Carolina are pushing for low-tech solutions like optical scanners, which blend electronic tabulation with a paper ballot that can be reviewed in event of a discrepancy or challenge.

Optical scanners were one of the choices offered to counties as part of a state and federal mandate to make the hodgepodge of voting systems a little more orderly. On Jan. 1 of this year, punch cards and lever machines went out the door and the state went digital in some form in all 100 counties. According to the N.C. Coalition for Verified Voting, 59 counties opted for optical scan and automark machines, 18 use a mix of optical scan and touch-screen machines and 23 are using touch screen only.

The new report and vote troubles in the last election, like the misprogrammed precinct in touch-screen-only Mecklenburg County, will undoubtedly touch off another round of cutthroat competition among voting machine vendors as counties look again to change partners.

My suggestion for county officials contemplating a change of systems is to first read up on the Micro Vote scandal of the late '90s, which resulted in heavy fines, jail time and lawsuits for a couple of industry execs and a Mecklenburg County elections official. It all starts with a little wining and dining.

Kissell concedes

Democrat Larry Kissell conceded defeat last week in the closest congressional race in the country. After a hand recount, just 327 votes separated Kissell from four-term incumbent Republican Robin Hayes. But the 8th Congressional District has not seen the last of Kissell, who followed his concession with a promise to run again and hold Hayes' feet to the fire in the interim.

Meanwhile, there's been much recrimination over who's to blame for the Democrats losing what could have been a very winnable race. The netroots—notably the hardy bloggers at Blue NC, Swing State Project and Daily Kos—had this one right from jump street, but the national party shunned the race until the last minute. Recently in D.C., N.C. Democratic Party chair Jerry Meek reportedly ran into Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Rahm Emmanuel, who summed up the DCCC's role in the race in three words: "We blew it."

Dellinger running for lieutenant Governor

The first official announcement in the 2008 statewide elections comes from Hampton Dellinger, a former deputy attorney general and chief legal counsel for Gov. Mike Easley. Dellinger had shown an interest in the attorney general position until Roy Cooper announced he intends to stay put.

If he winds up presiding over the Senate, he'll start with at least one longtime legislative connection. His first campaign stint was in grade school leafleting for Gerry Cohen—now director of bill drafting at the General Assembly—during Cohen's career on the Chapel Hill Town Council in the mid-1970s. Dellinger and his buddies did a lot of two-wheeling downtown and liked Cohen's plans for bike paths. His campaign site is www.hdforltgov.com.

A fine how-do-you-do

N.C. GOP Vice Chair Linda Daves of Charlotte won the right to chair—for now—the N.C. GOP at a closed-door meeting in Greensboro last week, beating out Sen. Andrew Brock of Mocksville and Marcus Kindley, chair of the Guilford County GOP. Daves replaces former chair Ferrell Blount, who stepped down hours before the polls closed on Election Day.

Her appointment by the party's executive committee is temporary and she'll have to win over delegates at the party's annual convention six months from now to stay in the job. Right out of the box, though, she's taken a rather unusual tack for someone with a tenuous hold on the chair.

"I don't feel any pressure to perform or make people like me," she told the Greensboro News & Record's Mark Binker right after the meeting. "The pressure I feel is to move the party forward."

Uh, yeah, good luck with that.

Kirk Ross travels the state for CapeFearMercury.com and writes about state governance at ExileonJonesStreet.com. He can be reached at editor@capefearmercury.com.

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