Monday, February 4, 2008

Counting votes -- it ain't fast food, folks!

Like many people, I've been anticipating California's Primary election for months, and am excited to have our state finally have a say in deciding who the presidential candidates will be.

As eager as I am to find out the results, I know they will be slow in coming. Some election officials claim this anticipated delay will be caused by Secretary of State Debra Bowen's restrictions on the use of touchscreen voting in California. The reality is that a delay is more likely to be caused by the fact that 1-2 million Californians who requested vote-by-mail ballots will be turning them in at the polls, and these ballots will take longer to verify and count.

It's a myth that electronic voting gives us faster results. The truth is that is that California has experienced numerous e-voting disasters over the years which have resulted in thousands of voters being disenfranchised and extremely long delays in getting election results.

Over the years, I've made a practice of dowloading County Status Reports from the Secretary of State's web site on election night to see if there's any truth to the idea that counties using electronic voting equipment get their results in faster than paper ballot counties. I took a look at those reports today and the only pattern to be found is that the larger the county, the longer the results take. There have been plenty of paper ballot counties that got their results in quickly, and plenty of electronic voting counties that had delays for numerous reasons.

For example, San Bernardino was one of the earliest adopters of electronic voting and has had repeated problems getting its results up on a timely basis. In March 2004, the county had zero percent of its precincts reported by 12:17 a.m. on election night. In the 2004 General election, the county managed to get 47 percent of its precincts reported by 1:29 a.m. In the 2005 statewide special election, zero precincts were reported by 9:46 p.m. and in the 2006 primary, zero precincts were reported by 10:32 p.m.

I wouldn't be picking on San Bernardino County if not for the fact that its spokesperson told the Riverside Press Enterrpise that "compared to what w'eve been working with, this is very much a Stone Age process." It is simply a matter of historical revision for any county - and particularly, San Bernardino - to claim that electronic voting has resulted in speedy, accurate results.

Besides, what's the rush? This isn't fast food we're talking about here. It is our precious ballots. I'd rather see counties get the results right than get them out fast. California is lucky to have a smart and courageous Secretary of State who has worked over the past year to ensure we can vote with confidence.

The changes that Secretary Bowen has implemented extend beyond the voting methods that will be used in polling places on election day. She has also implemented new, rigorous post-election auditing requirements that expand on California's existing one percent manual count law. Under Bowen's orders, counties will be required to recount ten percent of the ballots in contests where the results are within .5 percent. If discrepencies are found during the one percent manual count, additional ballots must be counted.

As a result of Secretary Bowen's leadership, we have more secure ballots and greater election verification in Calfornia than ever before.

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