© 1999 - 2004 League of Women Voters of Greater Birmingham and
League of Women Voters of the United States

The Voter

January 2004

A Publication of the League of Women Voters of Greater Birmingham.
Re-formatted here for web publication with index and links added. Web Editor's navigational notes added in [bracketed italics].


President's Message

I trust everyone had a good and pleasant holiday. I am always excited about the Christmas holiday and just as excited to see it end after New Year’s Day. The League board is planning a number of very exciting meetings and activities for the coming months. Articles elsewhere will deal with the details.

We are having good old fashioned unit meetings this month. We have scheduled two meetings, at two different times and in two different locations for your convenience. You should attend whichever is the best for you. We will review our national program and make recommendations to the national board.

It was with great sadness that we learned of the deaths of two longtime League members, Eula McGill and Shirley Owen. Shirley Owen was a champion of reproductive rights for many years and served as the League’s representative to Alabama Citizens for Choice. She had not been active in other League activities for the last several years. Please see the article on Eula McGill in this issue.

It was also with regret that the board accepted the resignation of second vice-president Ruth Wright from the board. Work responsibilities prevent her from being able to serve on the board. As a longtime League member and former Birmingham president, her counsel and understanding of the League and local and state public policy issues will be sorely missed.

Sarah McDonald - President

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Mourning the Loss of Eula McGill

It is with great sadness that I write to share the news that Eula McGill passed away on December 28th at the age of 92. The obituary, to the point and exceedingly brief, appeared earlier today in the Birmingham News. I must apologize in advance, however, that I can not in my sorrow demonstrate equal reserve.

Occasionally in one’s life one meets a person so marvelous, so infuriating, so utterly indescribable that words, ultimately fickle and imprecise, simply fail to capture the experience– Eula was just such a person.

In the late 80’s, I was initiated into politics by a handful of irascible elder statesmen (and stateswomen) operating proudly under the banner of the Eastern Area Democratic Club of Jefferson County. I have always considered this a rare privilege that I truly neither deserved nor can ever repay, but for which I am eternally grateful. I have been wounded more and more as I have seen these unheralded prophets pass from among us over the years.

Eula McGill, even in this order of straight talking Yellow Dogs, immediately stood out. She was brash and unapologetic, with a bold manner and keen mind finely sharpened during her decades of service as a labor organizer. Her command of issues, while impressive, paled before the salty stories of a life filled with misadventures and daring on behalf of working men and women across the South.

Eula was a union rep when such activities were bluntly discouraged at the point of a gun. I suppose it is difficult for many of us to completely appreciate the kind of commitment, the unique brand of raw courage and sacrificial zeal that paved the way for the rights we realize today. Eula was part of the too often forgotten legions that led this charge.

Having said all this, what I remember most about Eula was that she was a huge democrat of the little "d" variety. She believed in the innate potential of the democratic process. Whether in the workplace or the ballot box, Eula fought hard for every opportunity to place the reins of authority squarely in the hands of the people. And when so many of the rights we hold dear were subverted, she would be the first and loudest voice raised in protest.

So today I mourn the loss of a special friend and ask you to join me in celebrating her remarkable life. Cantankerous, visionary, proud, determined, principled, and gritty to the very end– Eula McGill was a champion of conscience that will truly be missed.

Mike Higginbotham

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Welcome Three New Members to LWVGB

Amy Allon of 3825 Briar Oak Drive in Birmingham, 35243    967-9369
Laurie Elmets of 3449 Oak Canyon Drive in Birmingham, 35243    298-0660
Winifred Jackson of 1609 Maple Avenue S.W. in Birmingham, 35211    925-1748

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League Members are Busy Planning Informative Meetings

Monday, January 26

We have an opportunity to let our voices be heard at a Transit Public Meeting

To be held Monday, January 26
from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
At St. Paul United Methodist Church
1500 Sixth Avenue North
(next to the 16th Street Baptist Church)

This is sponsored by the Birmingham Regional Transit Advocacy Group and is endorsed by our League of Women Voters of Greater Birmingham along with many other organizations interested in public transit.

Jessie Tehranchi is Transportation Chair for our League. Ruth Wright is also a member of the Birmingham Regional Transit Advocacy Group. Call Jessie at 822-5615 or e-mail her at tehranch@bellsouth.net if you have questions.

Judge Emory Anthony will be the moderator and the Jefferson County Legislators are invited and expected to attend. Sponsors of the transportation bills to be introduced in the Legislature in February are also expected to attend. This is a public meeting and the public is invited to attend and tell their legislators what public transit service they need.

What is our Legislature
doing this session?
Saturday, February 28

Mark your calendars for a coffee meeting on Saturday, February 28 to learn the“skinny” on the bills introduced into the Alabama Legislature session during the February session. We plan to have some of the bills’ sponsors on hand to tell us the“inside story” on the pros and cons and likelihood of passage. Should be a very exciting meeting!!!

Nancy Ekberg - nanekberg@aol.com

HealthCare for the Uninsured
March 18
5:30 p.m.

Those without insurance, those who have insufficient insurance and those who have no way to pay for insurance have different problems with the healthcare system than those with common levels of insurance. But even where there are services, sometimes those services for the uninsured may be provided in ways that those who need the services may not be aware of what is available to them. Budget issues from the State and through third party payors of healthcare put limits on what is available. The March 18 LWVGB 5:30 p.m. meeting will be a panel discussing healthcare in Jefferson County, defining the issues that impact the delivery of healthcare and exploring the areas where changes may be helpful.

Panelists include Dr. Sandral Hullett, CEO Cooper Green Hospital and Dr. William Fleenor, Health Officer of Jefferson County. Please put this date on your calendar and look for more information in the next Voter.

Virginia Randolph - vrand@bellsouth.net

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January Program Planning - Unit Meetings Scheduled

For those new members and others who may have forgotten, Program Planning is something Leaguers engage in for one of the three levels each year.

This year we must review our National Program, in preparation for the National Convention in Washington in June. Current items must be readopted, restudied or dropped at each convention. So our January unit meetings will be discussions of the items in the national program. Suggested new studies can also be proposed if a sound rationale for such can be offered.

Remember, you should attend whichever meeting best fits your schedule:

Tuesday, January 27th at Homewood Library at 10 a.m. for coffee or Wednesday, January 28th at Noon at Nancy Ekberg's home for a light lunch.

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Direct Reporting Electronic (DRE)
Voting Machines and Democracy

The following statement from
the American Civil Liberties Union has been forwarded to us from LWVUS in an effort to keep us up to date on the latest news about Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) Voting Systems.

The integrity of the voting process is fundamental to the operation of our democracy. A major component of a valid electoral process is voting technology that honestly and accurately counts every ballot. Because voting technologies have always been susceptible to error, bias, and corruption, we must remain vigilant about new technologies and insist that they maximize the likelihood of recording what each voter intends, regardless of the voter’s race, economic status, or geographical location. To this end, we must require that voting machines be accessible to all voters by reducing barriers to participation erected by language, physical disability, or complexity. Because democracy also requires that the public have confidence in the results of elections, we must ensure that voting technologies may not be rigged in a way that would thwart the true will of the electorate.

Though the now discredited punch-card voting systems failed all these tests, there is much debate about what voting systems should take their place. Touch screen voting systems offer tremendous potential advantages, including ease of use, accessibility to persons with disabilities, ready accommodation of the needs of language minorities, and the voter’s ability to review and correct ballots. However, computer security experts have raised serious concerns about whether those machines are open to undetectable error, tampering, or outright fraud. Moreover, recent experience with the use of touch screen voting machines in California and Florida illustrate that these machines are vulnerable to more prosaic problems such as getting the machines up and running, inadequate training of poll workers and others responsible for overseeing the use of the machines, and instances in which manufacturers have not lived up to their representations concerning the machines, e.g. the support for multiple languages.

The ACLU strongly supports the recommendation of computer experts that digital voting technologies be subjected to the most rigorous testing and certification procedures. This should include rigorous and public testing of the software used in these systems.

The Voter-Verified Paper Ballot
Some computer experts have recommended the inclusion of a contemporaneously created,“voter-verified” paper ballot that would become the ballot of record in the case of a disputed election. The ACLU has serious reservations about the both the effectiveness and practicality of this proposal for the following reasons:

  1. Election officials would resort to a “verified paper trail” only in the case a recount or contest, which a hacker can prevent or deter. In most jurisdictions, recounts are triggered only when an election is close. Thus, anyone savvy enough to hack into a digital system and alter election results would simply select a margin of victory big enough to prevent a recount or discourage a contest. In these jurisdictions, a competent hacker could block the review of any paper ballots. Even in those few jurisdictions, like California, which automatically conduct a recount of a small percentage of the ballots, a sophisticated fraud could thwart detection by corrupting the code for the paper printout. (See paragraph 2 below)
  2. The voter-verified paper trail could be used by a sophisticated fraud to give voters a false sense of security that their vote was correctly tallied. For example, if the computer code is genuinely vulnerable to attack, a competent hacker could not only compromise it to make the machine record a fraudulent vote, but could also compromise the code that runs the printer, causing it to display the voter’s intent while the machine records the fraud.
  3. There is no reason to assume that paper recounts are more accurate than DRE machine tabulations. Paper is notoriously difficult to handle and easy to manipulate. Counting the paper ballots generated by DREs would be subject to all of the historical problems associated with paper ballots, including human error, fraud, and mishandling.
  4. The reliability of printers has never been systematically tested in conditions similar to those that exist in polling places on Election Day.


The ACLU believes that the voter verified paper ballots should be not be employed until there has been a rigorous test of their reliability and practicality in circumstances comparable to their use on Election Day. This review should include a consideration of the possibility for human error and fraud in handling these ballots.

In the interim, if DRE’s are to be employed in the 2004 election cycle:

  1. The computer source code for all security critical functions of the machines should be subjected to thorough independent review. “Open Source Code”, which can be freely tested, is the best solution to the problem of computer software integrity. At a minimum, the full the code should be subjected to a review by an independent body and only open source code should be used for tabulating the results.
  2. Rigorous physical security measures need to be instituted to insure that the machines and any associated paper ballots are not compromised.
  3. Election officials need to be thoroughly trained in their use and the physical infrastructure necessary to insure their use, e.g. sufficient electrical wiring, needs to be assured.
  4. The jurisdiction should have a permanent broad-based security task force or oversight body, representing all interested segments of the community, to evaluate the potential for fraud or error in voting systems and to address the new security challenges that will inevitably arise in the future. That task force should have complete access to the DRE code and conduct its own independent testing.
  5. Election officials should select technology that gives them maximum flexibility in taking advantage of emerging technological innovations, including the incorporation of printer that will provide a voter-verified paper ballot for use with touch screen systems, if such technological innovations are shown to be feasible and to enhance the integrity of the voting process.

If an election jurisdiction chooses to employ optical scan or a method other than DREs for its general balloting, it should:

  1. Be required to have a sufficient number of DREs available to accommodate the needs of persons with disabilities and,
  2. Employ systems that can accommodate the needs of language minorities.

Finally, the ACLU believes that the debate over the voter verified paper ballot has obscured other important issues that bear greater scrutiny. We believe there needs to be:

  1. An evaluation of the new generation of touch screen machines only now being developed and, in some cases, used in nations such as Brazil and Australia, and those being developed in the US by non-partisan and non-profit institutions. The review should especially focus on those systems, e.g., the Australian system, which is based on open source code
  2. Thorough and independent studies of the error rates including “lost ballots” that fail to record, as well as over and under votes, of the two newer voting technologies most likely to be employed in 2004 election-- touch screen and optical scan ballots.
  3. An analysis of existing testing and certification procedures for all digitally-based voting technologies, including both touch screen and optical scan voting technologies, to determine whether current procedures assure the integrity and security of all hardware, software, and any associated paper ballots.

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Legislative Interviews Underway

At the request of the State Board, local Birmingham League members have been meeting with members of the Jefferson and Shelby County delegations. The purpose is to get their views on the upcoming session and on various League issues. An additional benefit is the development of person to person relationships between the League and the Legislators.

Those of us who have conducted these interviews have found them to be extremely interesting and, in some cases, eye-opening. All seem to agree that these meetings, which have not been done in many years here in Alabama, are good advocacy tools for the future.

Those legislators who have agreed to meet and talk (at press time) include: Cam Ward, Mary Sue McClurkin, Mike Hill, Oliver Robinson, Merika Coleman, Linda Coleman, Priscilla Dunn, John Hawkins, John Rodgers, Jack Biddle, and Steve French.

Several non-board members who were part of the League effort include Lucy Jones, Jo Dobbins and Jean Johnson.

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Directions to the January 28th Unit Meeting at Nancy Ekberg's Home

Address: 2530 River Trace Circle    Telephone Number: 967-2897

Take Cahaba River Road south off of Highway 280 at Southeastern Bible College. (This is just before the 280 and Highway 459 junction.) Go four blocks and turn right into River Trace Circle, a one-block section of garden homes. The security gate will open, but if not, press the # sign and then 1111. Nancy’s home is the third home on the right.

Please call Nancy at 967-2897 if you plan on attending this meeting.

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LWVGB Board of Directors 2003-2004

3357 Cherokee Road
Birmingham, Al. 35223
Phone: (205) 968-9186

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About the Voter:

The LWVGB Voter is a publication of the League of Women Voter of Greater Birmingham.

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January 27th
Unit Meeting
National Program Planning
Homewood Library
Coffee Served
10:00 a.m.
January 28th
Unit Meeting
National Program Planning
2530 River Trace Circle
Lunch Served
February 3rd
LWVGB Board Meeting
3357 Cherokee Road
6:00 p.m.
February 28th
Legislative Coffee
Homewood Library
10:00 a.m.
March 2nd
LWVGB Board Meeting
3357 Cherokee Road
6:00 p.m.
March 18th
General Meeting
Local Health Care
Location TBA
5:30 p.m.

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