Still reeling from a state decision Friday to block electronic voting, election officials in some counties said Monday they might go to court rather than meet a long list of requirements to use the machines in November.
Secretary of State Kevin Shelley, reacting to a series of mishaps with electronic voting in the March election, banned the use of Diebold voting machines in San Diego, Kern, Solano and San Joaquin counties. He also set new guidelines that election officials in 10 other counties -- including Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside -- would have to meet in order to use their various other electronic voting systems on election day.
California had been one of the first states to react to problems with Florida's punch-card voting system in the 2000 presidential election by moving entirely to electronic balloting in 14 of 58 counties. Shelley's order brought that movement to a standstill and prompted some counties to ponder legal options.
Officials in some of the affected counties said they wondered whether Shelley overstepped his authority in decertifying their voting systems. The secretary of state can approve or ban manufacturers' voting systems statewide but not on a county-by-county basis, they said.
"I'm not sure he can decertify me," said Napa County Registrar of Voters John Tuteur. "Somebody's got to make a decision ... and that will probably be someone wearing a black robe."
Tuteur said counties had several options, including defying Shelley and pressing forward with e-voting, filing a lawsuit or negotiating approval with the secretary of state's office.
"The final option is just to do what we're asked. That one doesn't rank very high on my list," Tuteur said.
Doug Stone, a spokesman for the secretary of state, said Shelley acted within his authority when he conditionally barred the 10 counties from using their machines in November. He said his office was preparing a detailed list of rules and deadlines for the counties to meet in order to win approval before the election. Some of those rules are new, and some have been imposed in past elections, such as a ban on machines linked to the Internet.
Among the new guidelines is a requirement that all counties using electronic voting systems offer voters the choice of voting on a paper ballot. That option appeared to be the most troubling to local election officials, many of whom sold ballot boxes and voting booths they thought they would no longer need.
They also said adding a second voting system would complicate poll worker training. Inadequate training led to many of the problems in the March election. In Orange County, poll workers confused by the new system gave voters incorrect access codes to key into their voting machines, causing thousands of voters to get ballots from neighboring districts and to vote in races in which they were ineligible.
"The secretary's proposals increase our cost and our risk with no evidence of improving the integrity of the election. In fact, all my experience and professional judgment tells me the proposals endanger our election," San Bernardino County Registrar Scott Konopasek said in an e-mail to The Times.
Konopasek said he also had questions about Shelley's authority to tell counties what to do. But all the same, he is recommending that the county, which used a touch-screen system for the first time in March, revert to paper ballots in November because of the secretary's decision.
"I still think that all paper represents our best option. It is cheaper, less complex and will permit us to immune ourselves from all the uncertainty and legal wrangling that will endure for months," he said.
Shelley last week estimated it would cost $1 million statewide for registrars to make paper ballots available as an option to electronic voting machines. Registrars and voting technology companies said the cost would run much higher. Orange County Registrar of Voters Steve Rodermund said the cost of producing and counting paper ballots could reach $1.5 million in his county alone.
Mischelle Townsend, registrar of voters in Riverside County, said it could cost $700,000 to install voting booths for those who want to vote on paper ballots.
"We are in a total state of disbelief," said Townsend, who has been using touch-screen voting for four years. "I'm passionate about our voting system because it has been so well received by voters and poll workers. [Shelley] has chosen not to listen to the people who are conducting the elections and instead to people putting forth what-if scenarios that have never occurred."
Shelley said he would order vendors of electronic voting machines to pay for any costs that accompany his new requirements, including the paper ballots. An official with Sequoia Voting Systems, which provides e-voting equipment to six California counties, said the decision was improper.