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The Region

2 Counties, State Reach a Deal on E-Vote Machines

San Bernardino and Riverside counties, like O.C., will offer paper ballots as an option. Supervisors will quit a suit against the ban.

July 14, 2004|Hugo Martin and Seema Mehta | Times Staff Writers

Riverside and San Bernardino county officials reached an agreement Tuesday with the California secretary of state to use electronic voting machines for the November presidential election.

After the March primaries, Secretary of State Kevin Shelley temporarily blocked the use of the electronic machines in 10 counties, including Riverside and San Bernardino, until the counties complied with several new security measures. Shelley also issued an outright ban on an electronic system used in four other counties.

The security measures came in response to problems with the machines during the March election.

San Bernardino and Riverside join Orange and several other counties that have received a green light from Shelley to use the electronic systems in November.

No agreement has been reached to allow officials in Plumas, Alameda, Kern and San Joaquin counties to use the current electronic systems in November.

Under the agreement, the voting machines in Riverside and San Bernardino will be used as long as election officials provide extra paper ballots at the polls for those voters who choose not to use the electronic machines. Shelley's office has agreed to pay for the extra ballots.

Riverside County election officials must have enough ballots for 25% of the projected voters. County officials couldn't provide a voter turnout forecast for November, but records show that 455,077 voters went to the polls in Riverside County in the 2000 presidential election.

San Bernardino County officials have yet to reach an agreement on the number of paper ballots they must provide.

Shelley lifted a ban on Orange County's voting system in June, after the county agreed to provide paper ballots to voters who don't want to use electronic voting machines and to preserve images of all ballots that could be printed in a recount.

After Shelley blocked the use of the electronic systems, San Bernardino, Riverside, Kern and Plumas counties sued, arguing that the counties had already met previous security measures required by the secretary of state's office and that Shelley's order violated federal law because it blocked disabled voters' ability to vote independently.

But last week, a federal judge rejected efforts to lift Shelley's ban. U.S. District Judge Florence-Marie Cooper ruled that Shelley acted reasonably when he blocked the 14 counties from using electronic systems because of concerns about the machines' reliability.

Riverside County supervisors announced Tuesday that they had reached a settlement with the secretary of state and did not plan to pursue the suit.

"We need to move on and get the election in November all squared away," said board Chairman Roy Wilson after a 5-0 vote during closed session.

"We felt it was more important to settle than to spend more time going through the court process. The end goal is to have a safe, secure election."

Outside the board meeting, members of a local chapter of Democracy for America, a political action committee formed by former Democratic presidential contender Howard Dean, protested and urged the board to comply with Shelley's order.

Wilson said voters who are wary of electronic voting can also request absentee ballots.

San Bernardino County will also abandon the lawsuit.

Supervisor Dennis Hansberger praised the agreement, saying it will allow voters to "continue using a system in which they have shown a high level of confidence."

But the agreements with Riverside and San Bernardino counties may not end the lawsuit.

It's unclear whether the two other counties, 16 disabled voters and three groups representing the disabled who also joined the lawsuit will pursue it. An attorney with a firm representing the group said no decision had been made about whether to appeal the federal judge's decision.

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