Monday, November 21, 2005

Report on SoS Hearing on Certification of Diebold's TSx voting system

Today the California Secretary of State's office held a public hearing as part of Diebold's application for certification of its TSx electronic voting system. About 150 people attended the hearing, mostly voting rights activists who traveled from all over the state to participate.

The Secretary of State has disbanded the Voting Systems and Procedures Panel, which caused much confusion in the days and weeks leading up to today's hearing. Many people wondered who from the Secretary of State's office would attend the hearing if not members of the Voting Systems and Procedures Panel? It turned out that today's hearing was chaired by Bruce McDannold, acting chief of the secretary of state's new Office of Voting System Technology Assessment, as well as senior staff from the legal, executive and legislative divisions. Also on today's hearing panel was Steve Freeman, the state's voting systems consultant.

The hearing began at 10 a.m. Prior to its start, activists held a news conference and rally in front of the Secretary of State’s office. Then everyone filed in to the auditorium and Bruce McDannold began the hearing.

Many of the people who spoke at the hearing were there to oppose the certification for one of two reasons: either they opposed Diebold because of its poor track record in California elections as well in other states; or they opposed certification of electronic voting systems generally.

There were also several representatives of disability rights groups who spoke, including two who spoke against certification of the TSx because they believe it is not accessible enough. This may pose a serious barrier to the TSx’s certification, because one of the main reasons counties want to purchase this machine is so they can be in compliance with the Help America Vote Act’s accessibility requirements.

Much of today’s testimony also focused on the procedures the Secretary of State is following for convening public hearings and certifying voting equipment. Many activists were frustrated that they were not aware the VSPP had been disbanded, or that this public hearing had been called. To alleviate these problems in the future, the Secretary of State’s office is now allowing people to sign up on their web site to automatically receive notices of future hearings via email.

Activists were also frustrated that there was no give-and-take between the panel and those providing testimony. Many people who spoke had questions and wanted answers that were not provided by the panel. Hopefully in the future the Secretary of State will establish a way to answer public questions in a public forum. I did ask one person on the panel after the hearing what people should do if they have questions about voting systems, and the response was that they should contact Bruce McDannold, whose email address is

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