Friday, June 17, 2005

News coverage of yesterday's Voting Systems Panel hearing

Today's continuation of yesterday's Voting Systems Panel meeting was less crowded, but there were still many people who showed up again today for the hearing. Many activists spoke throughout the morning, again on the same themes as yesterday, calling for open source voting system software and opposing electronic voting machines.

There was some news coverage in today's papers about yesterday's hearing. Ian Hoffman's story for ANG Newspapers and Bill Ainsworth's article in the San Diego Union-Tribune provide additional coverage of yesterday's events.

Excerpts from Ian Hoffman's story are below:


As California rolls toward a train wreck with federal and state laws, voting activists told state elections officials that Diebold and its voting machines aren't welcome along for the ride.

Witness after witness — Bay Area liberals seasoned with a few Libertarians and Republicans — called on state officials Thursday to block Diebold's voting machines from the nation's largest elections market, casting the firm as synonymous with lost trust and vote "theft" in the 2000 and 2004 elections.

In a jam-packed hearing punctuated by chanting, activists demanded paper ballots be counted by hand, by computers running open-source software if absolutely necessary, but never by secret software closely held by a company known for executive support of Republicans up to the president.

"If you value democracy, you will not certify these hackable machines with secret mechanisms that are considered proprietary," said Berkeley's Phoebe Anne Sorgen. "You will dump Diebold Elections Systems and software."

"If you throw them out of this state, they're dead. Their backs are up against the wall," said Jim March, a Sacramento Republican and activist for

Looking over the angry crowd of more than 200, the chairman of California's Voting Systems and Procedures Panel decided against making a recommendation to Secretary of State Bruce McPherson, a break with a panel tradition of prompt approvals of voting systems.

If McPherson follows the activists' advice, counties will flirt with breaking January 2006 deadlines in state and federal law. The federal Help America Vote Act requires handicapped-accessible voting machines in every polling place nationwide. California law requires any county using touchscreen voting machines to offer a paper printout so voters can verify their electronic ballot choices, and so local elections officials have a paper record for recounts.


Warren Slocum, the registrar of voters in San Mateo County, pressed unsuccessfully for state lawmakers to let his voters cast their ballots entirely by mail, as Oregon voters have for years. But Democrats and Republicans suspected the other party might benefit more and rejected the idea, so he's stuck with voting machines, expected to cost the county $7 million.

"Now we're faced with spending millions of dollars on a technology that in many ways is suspect," he said. "We need more choices. There need to be better products — products that work."


Excerpts from Bill Ainsworth's story are below:


Scores of activists urged a state advisory panel yesterday to reject a bid by Diebold Elections Systems Inc. to win approval for use of voting machines that were decertified last year.

Diebold is the maker of a $31 million touch screen voting system that malfunctioned in San Diego County during the March 2004 primary, causing more than one-third of polling places to open late.

"Diebold has a checkered past in this state, and that alarms many activists," said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation. "That's why this room is packed today."


Last year, then-Secretary of State Kevin Shelley banned San Diego and three other counties from using the Diebold machines for the fall general election. He gave counties using electronic voting technology until November 2006 to develop a system that produces a paper trail.

Since then, the company has worked on improvements and submitted the new system for state and federal tests.

This month, a staff report released by the Secretary of State's office recommended approval of the system, saying that it had performed accurately.

Mikel Haas, San Diego County's registrar of voters, said yesterday that even if the company wins approval from the state, the county doesn't plan to use the touch screen machines until the June 2006 primary.

In the upcoming San Diego mayor's race and the Nov. 8 special election, the county plans to use the optical-scan system it used in November's election, Haas said.

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