Monday, November 19, 2007

CA Secretary of State Debra Bowen sues ES&S; seeks $15 million in damages

Today California Secretary of State Debra Bowen issued this news release announcing that she is suing voting equipment manufacturer ES&S for selling voting equipment to five counties that was not certified.

State law requires voting equipment to be certified before it can be used in California. According to this Statement of Findings, also issued today by the Secretary of State, ES&S delivered 972 AutoMARK A200 accessible voting devices to five California counties: Colusa, Merced, San Francisco, Marin and Solano. County elections officials believed they bought and received certified AutoMARK A100 machines, and have already used the A200 machines in elections, apparently not knowing the model they had was uncertified.

It is incredible to me that, more than three years after Diebold was sued for $5 million for providing uncertified equipment to California counties, another vendor would pull a similar stunt. Debra Bowen is making vendors abide by the law, preventing them from cutting corners, and is not permitting them to dictate their own terms for selling voting equipment in California. Once again, she's shown herself to be fearless and nothing short of heroic.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Waiting for election results in the Inland Empire

Local elections were held in many counties throughout California yesterday. In several counties, election officials transitioned from electronic voting systems in polling places to paper ballot voting. This was due to the fact that California Secretary of State Debra Bowen has severely restricted the use of electronic voting machines in California, allowing counties using Diebold and Sequoia touchscreens to only place one machine in each polling place for accessibility purposes.

Although the restrictions don't take effect until the 2008 election season, many counties made the transition early to give themselves and their pollworkers a chance to get comfortable with the new voting methods before the presidential election. Michelle D'Armond of the Riverside Press Enterprise reported today in this article about the slow vote count in one county, San Bernardino, which just switched back to paper. Excerpts are featured below.


Californians may not know the winner of next year's presidential primary until days after the election, if this week is any indication.

In San Bernardino County, which switched to paper ballots this election, polling-place results weren't available until about 12:30 a.m. Wednesday, leaving candidates and voters wondering who won a number of local races.

So what does that mean for February's election, when most California voters will use paper ballots to pick presidential nominees and turnout is expected to be much higher and ballots will be longer?

"I would suspect that in some races the results could be unknown for some time," San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters Kari Verjil said of the presidential and legislative primary elections. "I'm glad that I went forward with paper ballots for this election, because it's opened my eyes to some of the problems, to what I'm going to see in February and June."

San Bernardino County used paper ballots this election in response to an order from the secretary of state, ordering them not to use their touch-screen voting machines in February because of security concerns. Riverside County used touch-screen voting Tuesday. It and many other counties also must switch to paper ballots in February.

After the polls closed Tuesday, both counties posted absentee ballot counts. Riverside County then posted updates from precinct voting about every hour. San Bernardino County didn't post any precinct results until after midnight Wednesday.

Redlands City Council candidate Jerry Bean said he saw the results of absentee ballots -- which were posted about 8:30 p.m. Tuesday -- but gave up on waiting for the polling-place results and went to bed.

Bean and his supporters "had no idea what was happening" in the race, but he was glad San Bernardino County decided to try out the system in a small, local election instead of next year's contests.

"Could you imagine if this happened next November?" said Bean, who was the top vote getter in his race.


Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, a nonpartisan and nonprofit organization, predicted that counties will get faster at using the optical scanners, but acknowledged that results likely still will be late. Voters enjoy the convenience of being able to register fairly close to elections, request absentee ballots late and drop off their absentee ballots at polls on Election Day, but all those things increase burdens on registrars, she said.

"That's been the trend," she said. "It's taking longer no matter what the voting system."

Friday, November 2, 2007

Who's giving? Who knows? States keep voters in the dark - USA Today editorial

Today's USA Today features this editorial highlighting the findings of the Grading State Disclosure 2007 study recently released by the California Voter Foundation and the Campaign Disclosure Project. The editorial, which is featured below, also listed the top five states (Washington, California, Oregon, Florida and Hawaii) and bottom five states (Mississippi, Montana, South Dakota, Alabama and Wyoming) in the campaign disclosure rankings, and noted the lack of electronic filing by U.S. senators and senate candidates.


Voters in Mississippi will go to the polls next week to elect a governor, other state officers and a new Legislature. But if they want to find out in advance who is bankrolling a given candidate, good luck.

Mississippi is one of 27 states that don't require campaign fundraising and spending reports to be made electronically, resulting in a flood of cumbersome paper filings that delay meaningful public access to this critical information.

Two states - sprawling Wyoming and Montana - don't even make campaign-finance information available online at all, meaning concerned citizens have to travel up to hundreds of miles to the state capital to look up information or order copies at 15 cents or more per page.

In the age of the Internet, there's no excuse for a lack of timely, searchable disclosure.

But in too many states, entrenched politicians have repeatedly sandbagged efforts to let the public know more about where they're getting their money and what they're spending it on. Alabama, Kansas and New Mexico are among those where recent reform efforts have been stymied.

When the Campaign Disclosure Project, a nationwide evaluation sparked by a coalition of good-government groups, recently examined requirements in each state, it found:

* 29 states don't require that campaign contributors disclose their occupation and employer, key information in looking for potential conflicts of interest and sweetheart arrangements between politicians and their financial backers.

* 17 states have no provisions for impartial audits of whether campaign-finance reports are accurate or works of fiction.

* 14 states don't require timely reporting of last-minute contributions, allowing big-bucks donations that wouldn't look good under public scrutiny to remain hidden until after an election.

* 14 states still don't have searchable databases for citizens to easily examine where office-seekers are getting their contributions from.

Lack of transparency isn't unique to the states. At the federal level, candidates for the U.S. Senate still aren't required to file their campaign-finance reports electronically. These paper reports have to be converted to electronic form at taxpayer expense, delaying timely analysis of contributions and expenditures. An attempt to change that was stalled last month when Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., insisted on an unrelated amendment.

The good news is that some states are toughening their campaign-finance reporting requirements and making the information more accessible to the public.

Oregon jumped from 24th to third place in the Campaign Disclosure Project's ratings with changes adopted in the wake of a scandal involving a prominent legislator. Eighteen states earned grades in the A or B range, up from only two in 2003, when the project began. (Of the states besides Mississippi holding gubernatorial or legislative elections on Tuesday, Virginia and New Jersey ranked in the top tier; Louisiana and Kentucky were among the laggards.)

Money is not only the mother's milk of politics, it too easily can be a vehicle for corruption or the appearance of corruption. The best antidote is public exposure of campaign-finance information in a prompt and accessible way.