As the first state to require paper trails for e-voting, California now becomes the largest state in the nation to use those paper trails as the ultimate arbiters of political races, a move expected to sway other states.
"I'm very, very happy," said Sen. Debra Bowen, the Redondo Beach Democrat who authored the bill and chairs the Senate Elections and Apportionment Committee.
For 40 years, California law has required hand counts of ballots in 1 percent of precincts for confirmation of computerized vote tallies. But with fully electronic voting on touchscreens, elections officials either have ignored the law or simply recounted the digital ballots. Now they must turn to an independent paper record that voters on electronic, touchscreen machines approve when casting their final ballot.
The state's chief elections officer and the California Association of Clerks and Elections Officials, had urged a veto. Secretary of State Bruce McPherson said the paper trails printed for now on cash registerlike paper rolls about the length of a football field don't look enough like a ballot, nor do they offer verification of electronic ballots for visually handicapped voters.
Local elections officials objected to the measure as "time consuming and onerous" and pointed out that the malevolent programmers could rig the printouts just as they could the electronic vote tally.
For paper-trail advocates, that potential for fraud was more reason to press for the bill's passage.
In his signing message, the governor suggested voter confidence outweighed the objections of opponents. He called on lawmakers and elections officials to devise better ways of verifying accurate elections.
''In the meantime, I am signing this measure because I believe that using the voter verified paper audit trails to audit the accuracy of overall election results will provide confidence in the accuracy and integrity of votes cast on these machines to California voters," Schwarzenegger wrote.
Counting paper trails after every election in California is likely to be tedious. In the November 2004 presidential election, Nevada became the first state to use paper trails in auditing the function of its voting machines. For every 300-foot roll of paper trails, teams of four people took four hours to double-check the votes by hand.
"We know a manual audit is doable but difficult," said Dan Seligson, editor of Electionline.org, a Washington, D.C.-based clearinghouse for election-reform information.
In a report last week, his organization found that 14 states California makes it 15 have decided to use paper trails for small-scale audits of voting-machine accuracy, as well as full recounts in challenged elections.
In those states, the final word on an election is contained in a roll of thermal paper, thanks to a controversial design adopted by the largest e-voting manufacturers. Bowen said paper trails don't need to be so ungainly.
"There's nothing that say the paper trail has to be this funky, thermal, toilet-paper thing," she said. "One of the choices that the vendors have is to make a paper trail that will be easier for the elections officials to use."
Thousands of Californians had phoned and written the governor's office in support of the measure, a movement fueled largely by e-mail networks and blogs, she said.
"Grassroots had such a big role to play," Bowen said. "I just really love to see that happen. That's how democracy's supposed to work."