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State faulted by auditor for spending on voting systems

August 08, 2013|By Patrick McGreevy
  • Voters mark their ballots amid tumbling laundry at a polling place set up at a laundromat in Long Beach last November.
Voters mark their ballots amid tumbling laundry at a polling place set up… (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles…)

SACRAMENTO -- The California secretary of state’s office and counties have wasted millions of dollars in federal funds on failed or ineffective voting systems, the state auditor found in a report released Thursday.

Auditor Elaine Howle said counties have spent $22 million in federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) funds “replacing voting systems with new systems that counties and voters cannot fully use.”

The auditor noted that $4.4 million was spent on a new statewide computerized voter registration database, known as VoteCal.

“However, the office’s first attempt to develop VoteCal failed, costing millions of dollars, and limited bidder competition on the second attempt raises concerns for future success,” Howle wrote in a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown.

Howle recommended that the secretary of state develop better standards to make sure county voting systems are effective and a better plan for spending millions of dollars awarded by the federal government during the last decade.

As of June 30, 2012, the state had more than $131 million in HAVA funds sitting in a bank account collecting interest, the auditor said.

"These unused federal funds could dramatically improve election administration and voter turnout," said Kathay Feng, executive director of California Common Cause. "Unfortunately this money sits and waits, each day a missed opportunity to further perfect our democracy."

Secretary of State Debra Bowen agrees with many of the recommendations, but pointed out another reason that the county systems can no longer be fully used.

“The report fails to note that this situation exists nationwide after many states banned the widespread use of direct recording electronic voting systems that many computer scientists proved to be vulnerable to tampering and inaccurate vote tallying,” said the written response released by Bowen.

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patrick.mcgreevy@latimes.com

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