Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Manual Count update

Yesterday I visited the third and final county in my post-election manual count observations. The first county I visited was Yolo, which uses a paper-based, optical scan voting system made by Hart. The second was San Joaquin, using Diebold's TSx electronic voting machines. The third was Napa, where Sequoia electronic voting machines were used on Election Day.

Manual counts are still underway this week in many counties, especially larger ones. Counties have until December 5 to certify their results from the Nov. 7 election. Every county I have contacted and visited has been helpful and welcoming of the scrutiny. Today's Los Angeles Times "Political Muscle" blog features this entry, Democracy Gets Audited in California by Robert Salladay highlighting some of the observations I and others have so far of the process. People who want to visit a county's manual count can use this CVF tip sheet to get started.

Monday, November 13, 2006

CA Secretary of State-elect Debra Bowen profiled in LA Times

The Los Angeles Times published this article by Jenifer Warren over the weekend, profiling California Secretary of State-elect Debra Bowen and highlighting the issues and challenges she will face when she takes office. Excerpts are featured below.


After all the votes were counted, Bowen, 51, emerged the winner in a tight race for California secretary of state. She is the only woman elected this year to a constitutional office, and one of only six women in California history to capture a statewide post.

Bowen succeeds Bruce McPherson, a Republican who was appointed to the job by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2005 after Democrat Kevin Shelley resigned. McPherson lost his bid to stay in office after a contentious race marked largely by the candidates' differences over the trustworthiness of electronic voting machines.

An attorney who served three terms in the Assembly and two tours in the Senate, Bowen is no-nonsense, analytical and viewed as a savvy problem-solver with a strong work ethic.

Although little-known statewide, she earned serious stripes in Sacramento for her calm, decisive leadership of the Senate's energy committee during the state's energy crisis of 2001.

More recently, she has used her position as chairwoman of the Senate Elections Committee to champion election reform. Her view: Voters have lost confidence in the security and sanctity of elections, an erosion that began with the 2000 presidential recount in Florida and continues amid fears that electronic voting machines are not foolproof.

Bowen's long-serving aide, Evan Goldberg, describes her as ideally suited for secretary of state at a time when technology is dramatically changing the ballot-box experience. An engineer's daughter and self-described computer nerd, Bowen blends a passion for open government with an ability to engage in techno-talk with the best of them.

Experts say she will need that ability and more to navigate the tricky times ahead.

"The challenge we face is trying to rebuild voter confidence," said Kim Alexander of the nonprofit California Voter Foundation. "Sen. Bowen is a sharp, intellectual public servant … but it won't be easy restoring accountability in a way that satisfies voters and the registrars."

During the campaign, Bowen expressed doubts about the reliability of voting machines already in use in many counties around the state. She said she would conduct a thorough review of such machines to ensure they meet security standards, and warned that those falling short won't be used — even if it means the loss of millions counties have invested in the equipment.

"It's unfortunate," she said of the potential losses while campaigning in October, but "democracy is too important. The integrity of elections is too important."

Such statements have made many local elections officials more than a little uneasy. In an e-mail sent shortly after Bowen's election, the president of the statewide association of registrars, Steve Weir of Contra Costa County, said, "I make no bones about it, I'm worried."

Los Angeles County Registrar Conny McCormack said such qualms are natural with the departure of McPherson, who was well-liked and described as a stabilizing force after the tumult and discord registrars said they experienced under Shelley.

McCormack said she is hopeful about the future, but noted that if Bowen finds reason to reject voting machines in use in many counties, it would be devastating.

"We certainly don't want to go backwards and see this equipment decertified," McCormack said. She added that it would be ironic if Bowen, herself a victor in Tuesday's election, decided that the machines were faulty.

"Winners don't normally make those accusations," she quipped.

Acknowledging the anxiety within one of her prime constituencies, Bowen said the review of voting machines would be "orderly and meticulous," with input from all parties.

And in an interview, she said she was more concerned about more run-of-the-mill problems clouding Tuesday's balloting, including reports that at some polling places in Orange and San Joaquin counties voters were forced to stand in line for two to three hours.

"That's disturbing, and I don't like hearing that some voters were given paper ballots in a language that wasn't their own because there wasn't a sufficient backup plan," Bowen said. "We have to work on that. And if counties need resources to get it done, I'll go to bat for them."

Tuesday, November 7, 2006

Help Verify the Vote: Observe California's Manual Count

Election Day has come to a close and the ballot counting has begun. Like many of you, I will be up this evening watching the returns on TV and online. I also will, over the upcoming weeks, be visiting several county election offices to observe their one percent manual counts.

Under state law, counties must recount, in public and by hand, the ballots from one percent of their precincts and compare the hand-counted results to the software-counted results. This is what some consider to be the most important procedure in the election. It provides the public with a window into the vote counting process.

You can help verify the vote in California by observing the manual count. CVF has put together "Observing Manual Counts - A Checklist and Questionnaire" to help observers. If you'd like additional information, please email me, kimalex- at Additional information about California's manual count law is available.

Monday, November 6, 2006

Election Day Resources

While I am hopeful that everything will go smoothly on Tuesday's Election Day, past experience tells me there are likely to be problems. Hopefully the problems will be sporadic and not widespread.

There are some toll-free hotlines for voters who have problems to report: 866-MYVOTE-1 and 866-OUR-VOTE. Voters who want to report problems online can visit, or fill out Common Cause's Voter Survey 2006. For an overview of the problems being reported to the 1-866-OUR-VOTE hotline, visit Verified Voting's Election Incident Reporting System.

Polling place locations can be found on many county election web sites. To find links to county web sites and other contact information, visit CVF's roster of County Election Offices.