We are once again looking forward to celebrating the Fourth of July and our freedoms, one of which is the right to vote.

No matter where you stand on the upcoming Presidential election in November, the right to get out and vote — whether we choose to do so or not — is yours.

We still have the memory of the last Presidential vote in Florida — and those innumerable hanging, dimpled and pregnant chads on the ballots, not to mention the allegations — we really want our upcoming voting process to be accurate and flawless.

On Monday, June 21st, California election officials released a set of standards to follow when using touch-screen, “e-voting” machines.

A little more than six weeks ago, California secretary of state Kevin Shelley decertified all touch-screen voting in the state, and banned one type of Diebold Election Systems, Inc. machine, the TSX.

The opportunity for negligent or malicious behavior in the use of the touch-screen voting machines opens up a chasm that goes well beyond the innocent hanging chad.

Recommendations by the California Voting Systems and Procedures Panel that were adopted by Shelley provide that no new direct recording electronic devices can be used in the November Presidential election unless they include an accessible voter verified paper audit trail.

Existing direct recording devices can’t be used in the California November Presidential election unless the machines include “a fully-tested, federally-qualified and state-certified paper audit trail [meeting] additional conditions, including the option of paper ballots at all polling places,” according to Shelley’s guidelines.

Security and trust are the issue, and according to Electronic Frontier Foundation Web site, “most of the machines use ‘black box software’ that hasn’t been publicly reviewed for security, and there is no paper ballot for the voter to verify possible fraud.”

It seems that a software “glitch” in e-voting machines makes it difficult to audit the results of an election and the machines don’t require or permit a voter to record his/her vote onto a tangible ballot.

Attorney general Bill Lockyer launched criminal and civil investigations of Diebold Election Systems, Inc. in early May for alleged violations of various election laws based on the uncertified software.

Earlier this year, three separate California counties reported numerous problems with the Diebold voting machines, with the number of signatures on the voter log being different from the number of ballots. Other failures on election days were reportedly caused by hardware and software problems.

The state failed to maintain a list of tested and certified software for a period of approximately four years, said election officials, and uncertified software from Diebold Election Systems, Inc. and other companies, such as Elections Systems and Software, may not have either state or federal approval.

California state senators Ross Johnson and Don Perata co-authored a bill (SB 1723), that requires all direct recording electronic devices to be equipped with an accessible voter verified paper audit trail no later than January 1st, that can be used by all voters, including the visually impaired, to verify that their voting preferences are accurately recorded.

Congress is considering amending the Help America Vote Act of 2002, with the Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act of 2003 (HR 2239), that would require openly-reviewed software and voter-verifiable paper trail audits for all new e-voting machines.

So, as you watch the Fourth of July fireworks, celebrate and barbecue with your friends and loved ones, there is more to ponder than whom to vote for in the November Presidential election.

The method by which you vote, and its accuracy, could introduce virtually undetectable errors, making Florida’s simple little chads in 2002 look like a walk in the park.