Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Interview on KFOG's Morning Show Thursday, Jan. 31

Tomorrow I'll be a guest on KFOG's Morning Show during the 8:00 - 9:00 a.m. hour. We'll be talking about California's February 5th Primary and taking calls and questions from San Francisco Bay Area listeners. The call-in number is 1 800 300 KFOG. The show airs on 104.5 FM in San Francisco, 97.7 FM in San Jose, and online.

California's Vote-by-Mail voters in the news

Yesterday National Public Radio's "Day to Day" program aired a story by Tamara Keith focused on California's Vote-by-Mail voters and featuring some comments from me as well as some of my friends who recently attended a Sacramento election house party. An audio archive of the story is available from NPR.

Updated "Top 5" donors on California ballot propositions

CVF has updated the Top 5 donors on the California ballot propositions, which is one of the many features of our California Online Voter Guide. We've also recently added news articles about the propositions. Here's the news release we issued yesterday providing an overall update on proposition campaign fundraising as of January 19.

Monday, January 28, 2008

KQED radio story on election house parties

This morning KQED FM featured this story by Tamara Keith reporting on an election house party some friends of mine held in Sacramento. The piece really captures the spirit of the party and hopefully will help encourage other people to host house parties of their own.

For those wondering how to pull one of these events together, take a look at this "How to Host an Election House Party" guide, produced by the California Voter Foundation and the Commonwealth Club of California.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Voting equipment problems in Sacramento lead to change of plans

Yesterday Sacramento County Registrar of Voters Jill Lavine called to give me a "heads up" about some problems the county was having with its voting equipment. The ES&S M100 optical scan machines the county uses to count ballots at polling places did not pass the pre-election "logic and accuracy" tests.

The tests are required by state law and routinely conducted to verify that voting equipment is functioning properly. In this case, according to Lavine, many of the county's M100 machines, which have been tested and used for several previous elections without incident, had a variety of problems. With some machines, the ballot could not be loaded at all, or only accepted if loaded in backwards. In some cases, Democratic votes were not being recorded by a scanner. With other machines, it would be Republican votes that were not recorded. And with some machines, there were no problems at all. With the election within two weeks, Lavine decided to forego using the scanners altogether, and count the ballots centrally at the county election office.

Given the situation, this is a good decision. In-precinct optical scanners are not a "mission critical" component of Sacramento county's voting system. The central count scanner and the Automark accessible voting units did pass the logic and accuracy tests and are ready to be used on February 5.

This article by Ed Fletcher in today's Sacramento Bee provides some additional information. Excerpts are below.


Problems with Sacramento County voting machines will stall Feb. 5's election results for hours. Results may not come until well after your morning coffee - the next day, county elections officials said Wednesday.

"It might be slow, but it will be accurate," offered Brad Buyse, a spokesman for the local election office.

He said the county discovered problems with the equipment used to count ballots in neighborhood polling places a couple weeks ago.

Because the machines didn't fail previous "logic and accuracy tests," Buyse said there is no reason to believe previous results are tainted.

State law requires that county voting equipment be tested prior to each election.

"We've never had any problem with them when we used them before – that is why it's kind of baffling," Buyse said.

Local and state officials said no other county has reported the problem. "We have not heard of any similar problems this far," said Nicole Winger, a spokeswoman for the secretary of state.


In addition to the standard pre-election testing, after the vote 1 percent of ballots are counted by hand to ensure the manual results match the computer count.

"That is another safeguard that we have set," Buyse said. "With the safeguards in place we are confident this has never happened before in Sacramento County."

Winger said the county has taken the appropriate action.

"It is better to be right than fast," Winger said. "That is the right thing to do when the goal is to ensure the accuracy of the vote."

Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, said the county is "handling it well."

"The process is working the way it's supposed to," said Alexander, whose Sacramento nonprofit follows election technology issues. "All of those ballots can be counted at the county election office."

She said the only potential harm is that voters won't be protected from overvoting.

Buyse said the staff is baffled because they've used Elections Systems & Software machines without incident for the last seven elections.

The ballot printer Consolidated Printing, of Berkeley, also has been used in the past, Buyse said.

Buyse said they're hoping to add a sixth and seventh central tabulating machine to the mix, if they can be obtained and pass accuracy tests.

In the meantime, the county continues to investigate the errors.

"We truly don't know what the problem is - whether it's the ballot printing, the (equipment) vendor, or both," Buyse said. "It's just flabbergasted us."

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Judge issues decision in County of San Diego vs. Bowen case

Today Judge Patricia A.Y. Cowett issued her final decision in the case County of San Diego vs. Bowen, which basically restated the tentative one she issued last week. In her ruling, Judge Cowett wrote:

"Petitioners have argued that the SOS does not have the authority to issue conditions confirming the accuracy of the elections. Petitioners contend the 10% manual tally requirement is beyond the scope of any power expressly authorized by the Legislature. However, the SOS has been delegated the express duty, by the Legislature, to insure voting machines operate effectively as set forth in various Election Codes..."

At the end of her ruling, Judge Cowett noted that her conclusion is consistent with the American Association of People with Disabilities v. Shelley case (which was joined with the Benavidez v. Shelley case noted in the last post to this blog). Her ruling includes an excerpt from that prior decision:

"Plaintiffs' argument that the Secretary's Directives are in violation of the Administrative Procedures Act ("APA") is not well taken. The Directives were issued, as previously observed, under the authority of the Elections Code, which authorizes the Secretary, at 19222, to withdraw approval of previously certified voting systems. As explained above, in connection with Plaintiffs' sixth claim, the Secretary was not adopting a new policy, the execution of which would require the adoption and approval of regulations in compliance with the Administrative Procedures Act. He was simply carrying out his responsibilities under laws and regulations already in force."

This ruling is a significant victory for Secretary of State Debra Bowen. We'll have to see if the counties that sued her will appeal the decision, but hopefully they will instead decide to comply with the new post-election auditing requirements.

Friday, January 18, 2008

January 22 is California's voter registration deadline

The voter registration deadline is fast approaching and Californians will not want to miss out on this historic opportunity to participate in the Presidential primary. Californians who have moved, want to change political parties or are first-time voters must complete a voter registration form by Tuesday, January 22 in order to participate in the Presidential Primary election on February 5.

According to figures compiled by the Secretary of State, about 15.5 million Californians are currently registered to vote, comprising two-thirds of those eligible to vote in the state. An estimated 7.5 million Californians are eligible to vote but not registered.

The rules for participating in the Presidential primary contest vary by party. California voters who wish to cast ballots in the Republican, Libertarian, Green or Peace & Freedom parties' primaries must be registered to vote with those parties. The Democratic and American Independent parties will permit independent, "Decline to State" voters to participate in their primary elections. Voters may check their registration status by contacting their county election office. The CVF web site offers this roster of the 58 county offices providing web site links and contact information.

Voter registration forms are available in libraries, post offices, and Department of Motor Vehicle offices and must be completed, signed and postmarked no later than Jan. 22 to participate in the February 5 election. Forms can also be returned in person to county election offices.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Tentative decision in San Diego case favors Secretary of State

San Diego Superior Court Judge Patricia A.Y. Cowett issued a tentative ruling yesterday in the County of San Diego vs. Debra Bowen case in support of the Secretary of State.

The County of San Diego, led by registrar of voters Deborah Seiler and joined by three other counties (Kern, Riverside and San Bernardino) sued the Secretary of State for imposing new post-election manual tally requirements to verify the accuracy of vote counts as conditions for recertifying numerous voting systems in California. These requirements include a ten percent manual tally of precincts' ballots in close contests (where the semi-official results are within .5 percent), an escalation of manual tallying when discrepancies are found during the one percent manual tally process, and a tabulation of overvotes and undervotes as part of the post-election manual tally process.

San Diego and the other counties argued in their lawsuit that Secretary of State overstepped her authority in imposing these requirements; that the requirements were regulations; and that the requirements were capricious and arbitrary.

In her tentative ruling, Judge Cowett said that Secretary of State Bowen did "not directly exceed her authority. The SOS has the authority to implement specifications and regulations pursuant to Elections Code sections 19201, 19205 and 19222" and that "the court finds the requirements do not exceed the SoS's authority". She also tentatively ruled that the Secretary of State's actions were not arbitrary or capricious since they were based on a comprehensive voting system review and on conclusions of the Post Election Audit Standards Working Group. Finally, Judge Cowett tentatively ruled that the requirements do not constitute regulations because they do not apply universally to all voting systems. Indeed, there are three counties -- Lake, Madera and Sonoma - - that are using legacy DFM Mark-a-Vote systems that were not reviewed or recertified with conditions, and thus are not subject to the additional post-election manual tally requirements.

The tentative ruling is good news for election verification. Today the two sides responded to this ruling in San Diego and we will wait until Friday or Tuesday to see what the judge's final ruling will be.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

SoS Debra Bowen's post-election audit rules challenged by counties

Last year, Secretary of State Debra Bowen implemented stricter post-election auditing requirements following her office's "top to bottom" review of several California voting systems, which were found to have numerous security risks.

Just before the holidays, San Diego County announced it was suing the Secretary of State, claiming she exceeded her authority in implementing these requirements. Three other counties -- Kern, Riverside and San Bernardino -- have joined in the suit, which will be heard tomorrow.

For those of us involved in Kevin Shelley's efforts to implement a voter-verified paper audit trail requirement, this whole episode is like a deja vu. Several counties balked at Shelley's paper trail requirement, which inevitably was codified into law after it unanimously passed the legislature. A few counties sued, and argued in the courts in 2004 that Shelley had overstepped his authority; Shelley won and the courts reaffirmed his broad authority as Secretary of State to determine the terms under which voting systems can be used in California. (See Judge Florence Marie Cooper's 2004 decision.) This December 19, 2007 San Diego Union-Tribune article provides additional details about the current lawsuit.

Monday, January 14, 2008

New electronic voting documentary now playing in theaters

This week a new documentary film, Uncounted makes its West Coast debut in Sacramento, with a 5:30 and 800 p.m. showing at the Crest Theater. On Thursday the film will be shown at the Grand Lake Theater in Oakland. Check out the film's web site for a trailer, additional screenings, or to order it on DVD.

CVF helps voters follow the money on California propositions

Last Friday the California Voter Foundation distributed this CVF-NEWS summarizing the money raised to support and oppose the seven propositions on the February 5 California ballot. The top five donors for and against each of the measures are provided in CVF's California Online Voter Guide. What's interesting about this ballot is that we're seeing intra-interest group competition going on -- in the case of Prop. 92, it's community college teachers vs. K-12 teachers; with Props. 94-97, Indian tribes are battling each other over the terms some tribes have obtained in their compacts with the governor.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Colorado Secretary of State wants paper ballots for 2008

Yesterday's Government Technology magazine featured this story reporting on Colorado Secretary of State Mike Coffman's support for an all-paper ballot election in his state this year. Colorado joins California, New Mexico and Florida among the states that are severely limiting use of electronic voting machines in this presidential election year. Excerpts from yesterday's story are below.


Colorado Secretary of State Mike Coffman last week announced his recommendation to the Legislature for a polling place election using paper ballots for the 2008 presidential election.

"I have more confidence in having votes cast on paper ballots at the polls rather than relying exclusively on electronic voting machines or in voting by mail. If Douglas County had paper ballots available for voters at their vote centers in the 2006 mid-term election they would not have the distinction of having the last vote cast in the country sometime after 1:00 am on the following day." said Coffman.

According to Coffman, the Legislature needs to remember that federal law still requires that at least one handicapped accessible electronic voting machine be made available in every voting location. If Colorado holds an all mail ballot general election, then at least one of these machines still will be required at every place in the county that voters are allowed to drop off ballots. "No matter how the Legislature ultimately decides to conduct the election, we will still need some electronic voting machines," Coffman stated.