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State Lifts Ban on O.C. E-Voting

Secretary of state says he's confident that poll workers -- who will get more training -- and a now-tested system can do the job in November.

June 11, 2004|Stuart Pfeifer | Times Staff Writer

Secretary of State Kevin Shelley lifted his ban on Orange County's controversial computerized voting system Thursday, saying he was confident the machines would function properly in the November presidential election.

Orange County's $26-million Hart InterCivic system was at the center of an election scandal in March when it was used for the first time and mistakes by poll workers led thousands of voters to cast ballots in races in which they were ineligible to vote, and prevented them from voting in races they should have.

Six weeks ago, citing security and reliability concerns, Shelley banned electronic voting systems for the November election but said 10 of the 14 counties that used them in March could regain his approval if they met a long list of conditions.

The remaining four counties -- San Diego, Solano, San Joaquin and Kern -- were banned from using their machines because the model had not received federal approval.

Orange County was the first large county to win the secretary's approval to use electronic balloting in November; Shelley approved Merced County's system Monday.

"They came to Sacramento and answered tough questions. I'm very pleased with their assurances," Shelley said. "One of the conditions of the recertification was that the poll workers be trained in the use of these technologies and that they submit a poll worker training plan. That gives me a level of confidence."

Orange County officials took a different approach from other counties affected by the secretary's April 30 ruling. Riverside, San Bernardino, Kern and Plumas counties have filed a federal lawsuit, scheduled to be heard July 2, that seeks to reverse the ban.

Among the requirements, Orange County agreed to provide paper ballots to voters who don't want to vote electronically and to preserve images of all ballots that could be printed in the event of a recount.

Orange County's machines will not produce paper receipts for voters to verify before leaving the polling place. Shelley said he would require all systems to produce such receipts by 2006 to be used in recounts and as backup if the systems malfunction.

Orange County met the secretary's requirements last month, but the secretary delayed approving its system until Hart agreed to hand over its "source code," the complex software that controls the voting and tabulating machines, so the secretary of state could test it.

Computer scientists who tested the source code of one of Hart's rivals, Diebold Election Systems, produced reports that suggested that system could be vulnerable to manipulation. It was such reports, as well as problems in Orange and other counties in March, that led Shelley to temporarily ban the systems.

The problem in Orange County was traced to poll workers who gave voters incorrect codes to enter into the voting machines, causing ballots from other regions in the county to appear on their screens. As a result, about 2,000 voters cast ballots in the wrong races. Only one race, for a seat on the Democratic Party Central Committee, could have been affected by the mistake.

The county plans to increase the time that poll workers spend with the machines during training sessions and to provide videos and DVDs for the poll workers to review at home. Officials will also try to avoid using different ballots at the same polling place, making it less likely that voters could end up with the wrong ballots.

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