Monday, February 6, 2006

Voting systems move closer to certification

Voting systems that meet federal accessibility and state paper audit trail security requirements have passed an important hurdle in the state's certification process. According to this Oakland Tribune article by Ian Hoffman, systems manufactured by Hart, ES&S, Sequoia and Populex have cleared federal testing and are now moving through the state certification process, much to the relief of county registrars who are anxiously awaiting approval of these systems in order to comply with the new state and federal requirements.

Last week the Secretary of State announced that a public certification hearing will take place on March 1 in Sacramento, and the four manufacturers are listed on the agenda. Absent from the agenda is Diebold, whose voting system is still pending certification while federal and state testers further scrutinize the code contained in the system. Since the Secretary of State has already held a public hearing on the Diebold system, no further hearings are required before the Secretary of State makes a final decision.

Though the certification process is moving forward, many counties are still hoping that they will be able to bypass the challenge of purchasing and deploying new equipment for the June election by moving to mail-in balloting. Today's San Jose Mercury News includes an editorial in support of this option. Excerpts are featured below.


A mail-in only ballot would give the Secretary of State's office time to thoroughly vet the electronic voting systems without feeling the political pressure of an impending deadline. It also would give the counties time to negotiate deals and train poll workers for the November election.

For 40 percent of state voters, an all mail-in ballot would mean no change in their habits; they already vote by absentee ballot. And yet a mail-in election bill faces tough odds and would require a two-thirds majority of the Legislature for passage. For the wrong reasons, legislators generally have opposed mail-in elections. Elections consultants hate them, and Republicans and Democrats both suspect they would advantage the other party. (It would be a moot argument this time, since the June election is a primary.) There are undocumented claims of widespread vote-tampering.

It is quite possible that the systems will be authorized in the nick of time. As of last week, all major systems except for Diebold's, which is used by 18 counties, have received feds' OK and are undergoing state testing and public review. Santa Clara County, which has bought and used Sequoia Voting Systems' touch-screen machines, is betting on certification.

Why chance it? Counties should have some flexibility.

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