Wednesday, March 30, 2005

McPherson sworn in as 29th secretary of state

Today former State Senator Bruce McPherson was sworn in as the new California Secretary of State. He was sworn in shortly after the Assembly voted unanimously to approve his appointment to fill the vacancy left by Kevin Shelley's February 4 resignation.

The Assembly Rules Committee met this morning (their hearing was delayed by one day) and after a one-hour hearing voted to approve the nomination. The full Assembly voted on the nomination shortly after the Assembly Rules hearing. For more details, see Jim Wasserman's AP story.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Bruce McPherson confirmation update

On Tuesday, March 29 the Assembly Rules Committee will take up the Bruce McPherson appointment for a second time. The committee met on March 17 and questioned the former state senator, now the governor's nominee for Secretary of State. The committee adjourned without taking a vote on the appointment, and reconvenes tomorrow at 11 a.m. in room 127 of the State Capitol.

The Associated Press is reporting today that the full Assembly is expected to vote on the McPherson appointment this Thursday and if he is confirmed, Bruce McPherson could be sworn in as the next Secretary of State before the end of the week.

That's assuming the Assembly confirms his appointment. Over the weekend partisan activists sent a blizzard of emails around the Internet urging Assembly Democrats to reject the appointment. The concerns of these activists arise from comments made by Democratic Party officials who have been questioning the composition of Bruce McPherson's transition team. Jim Sanders' March 18 Sacramento Bee story provides some additional information about the transition team members.



Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez has told the governor that he will support McPherson's nomination, but "there is uneasiness among the caucus," said Steve Maviglio, Núñez's spokesman.

Maviglio said McPherson's 17-member transition team includes a member of Schwarzenegger's staff, Cynthia Bryant, and several others with suspect agendas, including:

* Steven Merksamer, former chief of staff to ex-Gov. George Deukmejian and a powerful Sacramento attorney whose firm represents Citizens to Save California, which is raising money to place Schwarzenegger initiatives on the ballot.

* Beth Miller Malek, who once served as chief assistant secretary of state and is an owner of Wilson-Miller Communications. Her partner, Marty Wilson, has been active in raising funds for Schwarzenegger.

* Adan Ortega Jr., a former chief deputy secretary of state who is described in a transition team press release as an employee of GCG Rose & Kindel. The firm's clients include Diebold Election Systems, which agreed to pay $2.6 million last year to settle a lawsuit claiming it sold the state faulty touch-screen voting machines.

Maviglio questioned McPherson's impartiality in light of such appointments.

"They varnished the transition team with some quality people, but they also have some very partisan political activists that are connected to the governor's initiatives," he said.

McPherson countered that "I feel very comfortable with the members of the transition team. I think we have a top-notch staff."

Other team members include former state Sen. Deirdre Alpert, D-Coronado; Kevin Starr, former state librarian; Bruce Cain, director of the Institute of Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley; Ernest Hawkins, former Sacramento County elections chief; and David Lesher, former editor of the California Journal and former assistant business editor at The Sacramento Bee.

Merksamer, Ortega and Miller Malek defended their selection.

"I'm on the transition team because I worked there for eight years and know every corner of that office and every issue in the secretary of state's portfolio," Miller Malek said.

Ortega said he is not a member of GCG Rose & Kindel. He pays the company for office space and bookkeeping. Conversely, the firm pays him to subconsult on a matter unrelated to Diebold, he said.

"Everyone wants the secretary of state to be bipartisan," Merksamer said. "So he goes out and gets an extraordinarily well-qualified, diversified group of people - and partisans attack him."

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Election Bill Tracker available from Common Cause

The good folks at Common Cause have just launched a new feature on their site, called the Election Bill Tracker. Through this feature, you can search for and locate election-related bills pending in the 50 state legislatures. The site can be searched by state or by topic. Topics include absentee voting, nonpartisan election officials, voter verified paper trail, recounts, ID requirements, felony voting rights and more.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

McPherson confirmation update, opening statement

Today's Assembly Rules Committee hearing on Bruce McPherson's appointment was less contentious than expected. The committee is continuing its hearing on March 29, after their Spring recess when the Legislature reconvenes. That meeting may be rather short and a committee vote will likely take place that day.

Meanwhile, over in the Senate, McPherson's appointment was unanimously approved today on the Senate floor. The Senate Rules Committee plans to make a transcript of Wednesday's hearing, as well as McPherson's written answers to the committee's questions, available to the public soon.

In the meantime, Bruce McPherson's transition team forwarded me a copy of the opening statement he made at the beginning of both Rules committee hearings.

McPherson confirmation hearings

Yesterday the Senate Rules Committee voted 5-0 in support of confirming Bruce McPherson as the next Secretary of State. The Senate is in session this morning and is likely to take up the appointment on the Senate floor before it adjourns today.

Over in the Assembly, the Rules Committee will soon begin its hearing on the McPherson appointment. It begins when the Assembly floor session ends, in room 126 of the State Capitol. The Assembly makes an audio feed of its hearing available online. You can also check the California Channel's archive for a video of yesterday's Senate Rules hearing.

The Senate hearing was rather collegial, as expected. The Assembly hearing is expected to be more contentious. There are several articles about yesterday's hearing available on the Rough & Tumble web site. The Sacramento Bee story reported this comment from Bruce McPherson regarding the paper trail: "I believe it's absolutely necessary in retaining confidence in our election systems."

Other interesting news comes courtesy of the Los Angeles Daily News, where Troy Anderson reports today that the vote counting software used to count the City of Los Angeles' recent mayoral election was modified before the election and was not recertified before use. The Daily News reports that the Secretary of State's office is looking into it.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Bruce McPherson names transition team

Bruce McPherson, who is Governor Schwarzenegger's nominee for Secretary of State to replace Kevin Shelley, announced his transition team yesterday. On Wednesday, McPherson will appear before the Senate Rules Committee, where he is expected to respond to the committee members' questions about his plans for the Office of Secretary of State. The hearing begins at 1:30 p.m. at the State Capitol in Room 112.

The following is excerpted from a news release issued yesterday by the transition office. Transition team members include:

Senator Dede Alpert -- represented the San Diego region in the California State Legislature from 1991 through 2004.

Cynthia Bryant -- currently serving as the Chief Deputy Legislative Affairs Secretary for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Bruce Cain -- the Robson Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley as well as the Director of the Institute of Governmental Studies.

Bradley Clark -- Registrar of Voters for Alameda County.

Ernest Hawkins -- a private practice election consultant who served for twenty-three years as the Director of Voter Registration for Sacramento County.

Thomas Knox -- a partner at the law firm of Knox, Lemmon & Anapolsky, LLP. where he specializes in administrative, political, corporate, commercial, real estate, and environmental law.

Robert Lapsley -- former Undersecretary of State for Secretary of State Bill Jones.

David Lesher -- the Director of New America's California Program, which has the goal of improving public debate by sponsoring a range of research, writing, and public education events.

Beth Miller Malek -- a partner in Wilson-Miller Communications, Inc., a public affairs consulting firm based in Sacramento.

Steven Merksamer -- a senior government law partner in the firm of Nielsen, Merksamer, Parrinello, Mueller & Naylor, LLP.

Adan Ortega, Jr. -- Senior Communications Management Advisor with the firm of GCG Rose & Kindel.

Chris Reynolds -- has fifteen years of experience working in California State government. He currently serves as legislative director for the California Bay-Delta Authority.

Jack Ripsteen -- a retired attorney specializing in probate, estate planning and real estate law.

Kevin Starr -- California State Librarian Emeritus and author of several books on California, including the six-volume "Americans and the California Dream."

Robert Stern -- President of the Center for Governmental Studies.

William Wood -- Acting California Corporations Commissioner and Chief Executive Officer of the Department of Corporations.

West Virginia Secretary of State backs optical scanners

Betty Ireland, West Virginia's Secretary of State, announced she is backing the implementation of optical scan voting machines. According to a March 14 Associated Press story by Erik Schelzig, Ireland is recommending optical scanner systems because "one, they comply with federal requirements; two, they keep a paper trail; and three, they're affordable."

Thankfully more and more elections officials across the country are realizing that paper-based voting systems not only provide more security, but are also more economical than electronic systems.

Monday, March 14, 2005

The Week Ahead: Legislative hearings on Secretary of State confirmation, voter privacy

On Tuesday, March 15, the Assembly Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on California voter privacy issues. The hearing will be chaired by my local Assemblymember, Dave Jones of Sacramento, and was prompted by an article by San Francisco Chronicle business writer David Lazarus, who reported last week that the political firm organizing signature-gathering efforts for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's initiatives had outsourced the petition signature verification process to an overseas company in India.

I'll be providing testimony to the committee about the California Voter Foundation's findings from our nationwide voter data privacy survey, "Voter Privacy in the Digital Age". The hearing starts at 9 a.m. and will be held in Room 4202 of the State Capitol.

Then on Wednesday, March 16, the California State Senate's Rules Committee kicks off the Bruce McPherson confirmation process. The Assembly Rules Committee has also set a date for its confirmation hearing, scheduled to take place on Thursday, March 17.

Last month, the Governor announced McPherson as his nominee for the office of Secretary of State, left vacant after Kevin Shelley's February 4 resignation. Before McPherson can formally take office, both houses of the Legislature must confirm him by a majority vote. Word around the Capitol is that there are ample votes in the Assembly to ensure McPherson's confirmation. Senate leaders said from the get-go that they would confirm McPherson, and it appears at this point that there will not be a confirmation battle.

Thursday's previously scheduled Voting Systems and Procedures Panel meeting has been postponed. The next scheduled hearing of this panel, which certifies California voting equipment, takes place on April 21. Many county registrars will likely be watching the agenda of that meeting closely to see what voting systems are up for certification. Several vendors are reportedly working to get new systems certified, such as ES&S' Automark and Hart's paper record component. California counties are racing to meet two deadlines -- the HAVA accessibility deadline and the voter verified paper trail deadline, which both kick in starting in 2006.

None of those systems were included in the March 17 meeting agenda. That agenda focused on Sequoia's optical scan system components and grandfathered systems.

An activist with the Democratic Underground web site posted an alert relating to the March 17 meeting which was widely recirculated online. Unfortunately, it included erroneous information that said the paper trail requirement was going to be challenged at this meeting. The Secretary of State's office was flooded with messages from worried and outraged voters. I checked with the author of the message and confirmed that he had erred on this point. In any event, the meeting has been postponed, and anyone who wants to keep track of the meeting agendas can do so via the Secretary of State's web site.

In Other News....there are two stories from last week on voting technology worth noting. One was the news that Sequoia has been purchased by Smartmatic, the company that provided Venezuela's electronic voting equipment, including a voter verified paper record component. The second news item comes out of New York, reporting that VoteHere, an electronic voting system company based in Bellevue, WA, that promotes electronic over paper verification systems, has hired a lobbyist to oppose a voter verified paper record requirement in New York State.

Note (3/15/05) -- Jim Adler from VoteHere contacted me to provide some corrections to this post. He notes that VoteHere is not an "electronic voting system company", as I wrote, but rather a company that offers "election audit software". He also informs me that VoteHere is not against voter-verified "paper records" but rather "paper ballots" as the only acceptable audit mechanism.

Wednesday, March 9, 2005

Montogomery County, MD reports problems with 12 percent of its Diebold touchscreens

Elections officials in Montgomery County, Marlyand's largest county, completed a review of problems encountered with their 2,597 Diebold touchscreen units. The particular model in question, the Accuvote-TS, is used statewide in Maryland and is the same model used in California's Alameda and Plumas counties.

According to Montgomery County's review, 7 percent of the county's machines had frozen screens or failed to boot up on November 2, 2004, while another 5 percent had vote tallies that were "considerably lower than other machines used in the same precincts, causing elections officials to deem them "suspect" according to the report drafted by the county in December for the local election board," reports the AP in a March 8th story



But state officials disputed those figures, saying a review of the county's machines conducted by the state and the equipment's manufacturer showed that only .4 percent had significant problems on Election Day.

"There were no votes lost," said Linda Lamone, Maryland's election administrator.

Maryland used 16,000 touch screen machines statewide on Nov. 3, the second time the entire state used the electronic voting system meant to make casting a ballot easier and more secure.


The county's review of the election concluded that 189 of the units failed. Of those, 58 would not boot up and 106 had the screen freeze.

"In staff opinion, this is the most serious of the problems," the report states of the screen freezes.

An additional 122 units had results that were deemed suspect, meaning each had 25-50 votes recorded when all other units in a polling place had more than 150 votes.

Margie Rohrer, spokeswoman for the county election board, said some of the machines have been sent to Diebold for testing. She referred all other questions to the state board. The report does not mention whether the vote tally was affected by the problems.

Lamone said a state review of Montgomery identified 300 machines with problems, most of which were not electronic, such as broken clasps or bent legs. Fourteen failed to boot up and weren't used and another 12 had problems such as frozen screens, she said.

Lamone said she had not seen the Montgomery report and could not explain the discrepancies between the state and local figures. The state is reviewing other county results, she said.

Voting machine foes seized on the county report as proof the machines have problems.

"We observed exactly these kind of problems," said Linda Schade of Takoma Park, Md.-based TrueVoteMD. "I am not surprised."

Friday, March 4, 2005

Overview of federal paper trail legislation

Elizabeth Schneider at has written an excellent overview of federal legislation recently introduced in Congress to require a voter verified paper record of digital ballots. Her article provides links to the legislation, as well as some context for partisan and substantive differences in how members of Congress are approaching voting technology reform in the new session.

For further analysis of these bills, see Robert Kibrick's legislation summary published yesterday on Verified Voting's web site.

Excerpt from the Electionline analysis:


With the start of the 109th Congress, members from both sides of the aisle are set to tackle election reform, ranging from small initiatives to a complete overhaul of the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA). Most popular are proposals requiring voter-verifiable paper audit trails.  

Both parties emphasize that their approach towards election reform is non-partisan. But the tone of some of the bills introduced - and the sponsors themselves - would indicate otherwise. And while many seek the same overall goal of reform, Republicans and Democrats have vastly different methods to achieve that goal.   

The most popular bills are variations on paper-trail bills initiated in state legislatures this year and last. Since Congress convened in January, Republicans and Democrats introduced a total of six bills that would require electronic voting machines to generate a record of an individuals’ vote that could be verified by the voter.  

Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, introduced a bill (H.R.278) which calls for a paper record of votes and fellow Republican Sen. John Ensign of Nevada did the same in a companion bill (S.330). 

Democratic Rep. Rush Holt of New Jersey (H.R. 550), Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut (S.17), Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York (S.450) and Rep. John Conyers of Michigan (H.R.533), all introduced legislation which focuses all or in part on paper trails.  

Wednesday, March 2, 2005

San Diego names old registrar as new registrar

San Diego County has decided to appoint Mikel Haas to be the registrar of voters, taking over for Sally McPherson, who is retiring. The February 26 edition of the San Diego Union-Tribune featured an article about the county's staff changes.



Former Registrar of Voters Mikel Haas is getting his old job back.

Haas, who worked 51⁄2 years as registrar before taking over the county's Department of Animal Services in July 2001, has been tapped to replace Sally McPherson, who is retiring March 17.

Haas, 47, starts March 22. His annual salary will remain $133,037.


A former newspaper reporter, Haas joined the county as assistant registrar in 1994. He became acting registrar that December, and soon after he was registrar. He served five months as acting director of the Community and Housing Development Department before becoming animal services director in 2001.

Haas left the registrar's office before the start of a series of problems, including the failure of touch-screen voting in the primary last March.

At animal services, Haas inherited a department facing criticism over the treatment of its animals, the condition of its buildings and the leadership of former director Dena Mangiamele.

Haas said the animal services department "is in great hands now."

"A piece of my heart is going to stay with this department and the people who stay here, but it's onward," he said. "For me, it's back to the future."