Monday, January 9, 2006

Riverside looks to replace its voting machines while Alameda ponders all-mail balloting

With a state deadline for providing voter-verified paper audit trails of electronic ballots looming, two counties that were early adopters of electronic voting are pondering their choices. Alameda County was seeking to replace its Diebold Accuvote TS machines with a combination of paper and electronic systems, possibly from a new vendor. But last week the county announced it will instead pursue a plan to move to all-mail balloting, as reported in this article by Ian Hoffman of the Oakland Tribune. Moving to all-mail balloting would utilize paper, rather than electronic voting systems and the elimination of polling places would bring with it an elimination of the polling place accessibility requirement mandated under the federal Help America Vote Act.

Riverside County had originally planned to retrofit its Sequoia Edge touchscreen machines with printers, but is now reportedly abandoning that plan, according to this article by Dave Downey of the North County Times. Excerpts from his story are featured below.


Barbara Dunmore, county registrar of voters, said the county will fulfill the law's requirement for the Jan. 17 Riverside city election by borrowing some of San Bernardino County's touch screens. Those are of a later model, which has been certified.

Dunmore said Riverside County likely will borrow San Bernardino machines again for an April election in the wealthy Palm Springs-area city of Rancho Mirage.

However, the borrowing strategy won't work for the June primary, a statewide election that will require thousands of machines in Riverside County at the same time San Bernardino County uses thousands to count its own ballots.

Anticipating that upcoming major election, Riverside had been preparing to retrofit its 4,250 touch screens with paper-trail devices. Now, Dunmore is recommending abandoning that strategy.

With certification still a couple months away for Sequoia Voting Systems' VeriVote devices ---- the ones designed for the type of touch screen Riverside County has ---- and many weeks of lead time required for retrofitting the touch screens, Dunmore said the strategy no longer holds promise.

"There is no way we could get them ready in time for the June election," she said.

As an alternative, the county explored using all paper ballots in June or buying a set of newer-model electronic machines that come with a paper trail. Dunmore is recommending the latter.

She said the county negotiated a tentative deal with Sequoia for the purchase of 3,700 new Edge II touch screens for a net cost to county taxpayers of $4.8 million. That's less than the $6.5 million county supervisors set aside for a retrofit in this year's budget.

The paper-trail devices, located on the left side of the touch screens, would offer voters an opportunity to view paper printouts of their votes behind clear plastic screens before casting their electronic ballots with the press of a finger. Voters could not take printouts home with them, however. Rather, the paper records would be stored and consulted in a recount.

Dunmore said the price on the new machines is $14.2 million, but she said the cost to the county would be $4.8 million because it is eligible for $7.5 million in federal grants and Sequoia is offering to credit the county $1.9 million for trading in its existing touch screens.


Dunmore said the new machines would have a useful life of 20 years.

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