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Banned E-Voting Systems Likely to Be Ready Nov. 2

Secretary of state says he's confident 10 counties will meet his conditions by election.

May 20, 2004|Stuart Pfeifer | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley said Wednesday that he was confident that the electronic voting machines he temporarily banned would be ready for use Nov. 2, preserving the state's momentum in shifting from paper balloting.

Shelley's upbeat forecast comes as three counties have sued his office to overturn the ban and a fourth has pledged to use its touch-screen voting machines with or without his approval.

Responding to problems in the March election, Shelley last month prohibited four counties from using their voting machines in November and said 10 other counties couldn't use their systems until they met strict requirements.

His decision angered counties that together had spent more than $100 million on electronic voting devices to replace old systems, including punch-card ballots banned by the federal government after the problematic Florida elections of 2000.

Shelley said several counties -- Orange, Santa Clara and San Bernardino among them -- had already pledged to meet his requirements for their e-voting systems in November and that he expected the rest to follow suit. He said he also had had productive talks with Riverside County officials who this month filed a federal suit to block his order.

"I'm very confident that all the counties ... will come in [approved for use]," Shelley said of the 10 counties whose machines were temporarily banned.

San Bernardino County officials hope to win Shelley's approval but intend to use their machines even without state authorization, said David Wert, a county spokesman.

"We don't have a meeting of the mind on some of those [areas], but we're still working on them," Wert said. "The county would sure like to have the secretary of state's endorsement."

John Tuteur, the registrar of voters in Napa County, which has been contemplating joining Riverside County in the lawsuit against Shelley, said he was encouraged by the secretary of state's optimism.

"We all need to work this out, then we all can use our electronic machines in November," Tuteur said. "His confidence makes me more confident, because he's the only stumbling block."

Shelley's statements came after a Senate Elections and Reapportionment Committee hearing on problems that led thousands of Orange County voters to be issued the wrong electronic ballots in the March election.

Orange County's registrar of voters, Steve Rodermund, told the committee that he and his staff made mistakes preparing for the county's use of electronic voting machines in the March election and planned to improve training and take other steps to prevent problems from recurring.

Rodermund said one of the most significant mistakes was insufficiently training poll workers on how to produce access codes that voters entered in machines to get ballots to appear on their voting screens.

"We took our best shot at training. We were 90%-plus. We'll do better in November," he said.

After the primary election, some poll workers complained that they had not had enough hands-on training on the access code machines. Several alert voters were the first to identify the problem, complaining that the wrong state and local races appeared on their voting machines.

A Los Angeles Times analysis found that at least 7,000 voters were issued ballots from the wrong election precincts. Rodermund said about 2,000 voters ended up casting ballots for races, such as the state Senate and Assembly, in which they were ineligible.

Rodermund said hands-on training would occur in smaller groups to improve workers' familiarity with the machines.

Shelley said he was satisfied with the steps Orange County had taken to meet his requirements and was confident the county would be able to use its $26-million Hart InterCivic voting system in November.

State Sens. Don Perata (D-Alameda) and Ross Johnson (R-Irvine), election committee members who are sponsoring legislation to prohibit the use of electronic voting systems in the November election, quizzed Rodermund about the voting system the county bought in 2003.

Johnson said he was satisfied with the steps Orange County was taking to improve training and praised the county for not taking a defensive posture.

A Hart InterCivic representative pledged Wednesday to give the secretary of state a copy of its software source code, which the state could use to test its accuracy and to look for security vulnerabilities. Providing the software code was one of the requirements Shelley set for counties to use their e-voting systems in November.

The secretary of state has appeared increasingly willing to negotiate with the counties and election systems vendors in order for them to be able to use their systems in November. Last week, Shelley dropped a requirement that counties print and store paper copies of all ballots cast electronically, suggesting instead that they be imaged and stored electronically.

He also backed down Wednesday from his insistence that voting system makers pay for printing the paper ballots he wants at every polling place in November. Shelley said his office would pick up the cost if the manufacturers wouldn't pay.

That did little to relieve Tuteur's concerns in Napa County.

"He is not yet the governor, Legislature and Department of Finance," Tuteur said. "Until he has those positions, he can't pay anyone anything. There's no way in this atmosphere I'm going to take at face value anyone's promise that we'll be reimbursed."

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