Monday, June 27, 2005

Alameda County to hold hearing tomorrow on its voting system plans

Tomorrow Alameda County supervisors will hold a public hearing to discuss their future plans for the county's voting system. The hearing is scheduled to take place at 10:30 a.m. during the supervisors' weekly meeting, held at the County Administration Building in the Supervisors' Chamber, at 1221 Oak Street, Fifth Floor, Room 512 in Oakland. The meeting agenda and live audio broadcast are available online.

Today's Contra Costa Times features an article by Guy Ashley providing background on tomorrow's meeting. Excerpts below:


Four years after Alameda County purchased its touch-screen voting system for $12 million, the manufacturer wants the county to sink nearly $6 million more into upgrades to meet pending state requirements that voters be given paper receipts confirming their votes.

The proposal is sure to meet its share of criticism, given that the manufacturer is Texas-based Diebold Election Systems, whose equipment has had numerous problems since its installation.

The county's chief elections official supports the proposal, saying it would be far cheaper to upgrade than to buy a new system in time for the July 1, 2006 deadline for voter-verified paper trails for all electronic voting systems in California.

"If we went out to bid for a completely new voting system, we think it would cost us $14 million at a minimum," said Elaine Ginnold, the county's acting Registrar of Voters.

Ginnold will formally present the plan to the Alameda County Board of Supervisors at a public hearing Tuesday. Representatives from Diebold are expected to be present to answer questions, and to provide assurances that Alameda County's problems with their equipment are all in the past.

Diebold's plan calls for the county to exchange its AccuVote machines for a newer generation of AccuVote machines that are lighter and more versatile and that come with printers.


The new model of AccuVote machine has yet to be certified by the state, but Ginnold said she believes certification will occur in the coming few weeks. Any contract with Diebold to upgrade would be contingent on the state certifying the machines.

The county's existing Diebold system has complicated Election Day operations with various equipment glitches, including on one occasion assigning votes to the wrong candidate.

Diebold agreed last November to pay the state and Alameda County $2.6 million to settle a lawsuit alleging that it made false claims about the performance of its equipment when it sold it to the county for about $12 million in 2001.

The settlement came after local and state officials found that Diebold had installed uncertified software in Alameda County's touch-screens, that its system was vulnerable to computer hackers and that its central vote-tabulating program gave several thousand absentee votes to the wrong candidate during the October 2003 gubernatorial recall election.

Critics of the proposed Diebold upgrade say the string of past problems sends a resounding message that Alameda County should seek another alternative.

"These machines are very fallible," said Donald Goldmacher, a Berkeley physician who opposes the proposed upgrade as part of a group calling itself the Voting Rights Task Force.

"Their software is secret and proprietary, so we have no way of knowing if these machines are doing something they should not be doing when they're tabulating our votes."

Ginnold said she's aware of resistance in some sectors to Diebold's product, but that she believes the new machines are first-rate.

As for claims that the equipment will allow hackers to breach the integrity of Alameda County elections, she said she's not too concerned.

"If you say to a hacker, 'come into our vote-count room and here's the password to our server' of course there would be reason to be concerned," Ginnold said. "But we don't do that. We keep our vote-count room locked and alarmed and allow very few people to have access to the server."

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