Paper roots

In the remaining weeks before Election Day, a grass-roots effort is under way to get voters to cast absentee ballots rather than go to the polls to vote because of concerns about the reliability of e-voting machines.

Once seen as a panacea to avoid the election debacle that plagued the 2000 presidential race, electronic voting machines have created something of a firestorm in recent months. Many systems lack paper audit trails and thereby raise questions about whether the authenticity of votes cast can be ensured.

California Voter Foundation officials, who have campaigned against e-voting systems in that state, are urging voters to cast paper absentee ballots now if they live in counties where electronic, touch-screen voting systems are used. Ten California counties use touch-screen voting systems.

"Our advice is to cast your votes on paper," said Kim Alexander, the foundation's president. "Voters who do not want to entrust their ballots to risky technology that cannot be audited have a choice — they can reject the paperless touch-screen system and instead vote absentee using a paper ballot."

Could hanging chads replace "hang 10" in the Golden State?

Cell tower eyesores

Five cell phone towers are the latest additions to Yellowstone National Park, and environmental advocates are none too happy about it.

National Park Service officials approved the construction of a 100-foot stark, silvery pole with three antennas, according to the nonprofit group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The tower is not shielded by trees and is visible from much of what has been legally designated the Old Faithful Historic District.

"Its custodians have been unfaithful to Old Faithful," said PEER board member Frank Buono, a former park service manager. "The Old Faithful view shed is one of the most recognized assets in our National Park System, but it is being managed with all the care of a strip mall."

Park officials are reconsidering the decision. A park spokesman said tower height and appearance are under review, and a moratorium has been placed on permits for new towers until a management plan is developed. But there's one good reason to keep them: Even though they are eyesores, the towers provide a safety service when people need to make emergency calls, officials say.

Faking it

Federal officials will offer via the Internet low-quality images of the new $50 bill for artists, students and others who find that their computers, scanners or printers won't allow them to view or copy pictures of the new design.

The low-quality images, suitable for school projects and other uses, will be available free at, a Web site run by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Site administrators use technology that blocks attempts to print, view or scan the redesigned $20 and $50 bills.

"There is no limit on the ways that people may use images of currency," said Eugenie Foster, cash project leader in the Federal Reserve Board's Division of Reserve Bank Operations and Payment Systems. "What we don't want is people whipping currency out of their pockets and making copies."

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