Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Please donate to the California Voter Foundation!

The California Voter Foundation is seeking your support as we wrap up another incredibly successful year. Please read our appeal and donate generously either via credit card or by check. All contributions to CVF are tax-deductible and greatly appreciated! Please show your support for the work CVF does by making a generous contribution today.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Still counting the votes in California.....

Votes are still being counted in many California counties, which have 28 days to certify the election. According to the latest numbers available on the Secretary of State's web site, approximately 12.5 million ballots have been cast and counted as of this afternoon. The Unprocessed Ballot Status report has not been updated since November 13, when it showed 1.8 million provisional and vote-by-mail ballots remaining to be counted. It is likely we will end up with about 14 million voters having participated in the November 4 Presidential election, which would represent an approximately 80 percent turnout of registered voters and exceed the both the number and percentage participating in the 2004 Presidential election (when approximately 12.6 million Californians, representing 76% of registered voters voted.)

As of November 13, nine counties had completed their ballot counts. All nine of these counties (Alpine, Colusa, Del Norte, Glenn, Lassen, Modoc, Mono, Plumas and Sierra) are relatively small; among them, Lassen has the greatest number of precincts, with 44 in all, compared to the largest county, Los Angeles, with 4,883 precincts. While the election is over for many people, in several large California counties employees are working hard to get the remaining votes counted and results finalized by the December 2 certification deadline.

On November 6, I visited the Sacramento County Registrar of Voters' office to get a first-hand look at the operation. There were dozens of people at work all throughout the office on various tasks - duplicating ballots that could not be read by scanners, scanning signatures on vote-by-mail ballots, comparing vote-by-mail and provisional ballot signatures to registration signatures on computer screens (with campaign staffers standing over their shoulders watching them do it), sorting through vote-by-mail ballot envelopes to make sure every ballot is removed, and inputting participation data from pollbooks into the county's computerized voter participation database, among other tasks. It is a herculean administrative undertaking, and it will be an incredible feat for the larger counties in the state to get the job done by the deadline.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Manual tallies of ten percent of the ballots required in CD 4 & SD 19

Folks who paid attention to California Secretary of State Debra Bowen's 2007 "Top-to-Bottom Review" of California voting systems and subsequent decertification of those systems may recall that one condition placed on continued use of mostly all voting systems in California, whether electronic or paper-based optical scan, was the requirement that additional hand-counting of ballots be conducted in extremely close contests. These requirements are summarized in the Secretary of State's Post-Election Manual Tally (PEMT) requirements.

These requirements were initially implemented as conditions for certification of most California voting systems. The registrar of voters of San Diego County sued the Secretary of State for imposing them, claiming that Bowen overstepped her authority and had issued "defacto" regulations. Bowen and her legal team argued they weren't regulations because they did not apply to all counties (Lake, Sonoma and Madera counties used older voting equipment that did not go through the 2007/08 recertification process). Bowen won in the lower court but that decision was overturned by an appellate court in August 2008. That decision led Bowen to seek emergency regulations to be approved by the state Office of Administrative Law, which would enact the Post-Election Manual Tally requirements as regulations. OAL granted the Secretary of State her request on October 20, putting the regulations into effect for 180 days.

Now that the PEMT requirements are in effect, they will in fact apply to some November 2008 contests. Under state law, all counties must select at random and count by hand, in public, one percent of their precincts' ballots and compare those hand-counted results to the computer-tallied results. Under Bowen's new PEMT requirements, in any contest where the semi-official results are within .5 percent, the counties where the contest took place must randomly select ten percent of the precincts' ballots that included that contest and recount the votes in that contest by hand to further verify the accuracy of the computer-tallied results.

So far, it appears that Congressional District 4, the contest between Democratic candidate Charlie Brown and Republican Tom McClintock, will be subject to this escalated, ten percent manual tally. One legislative contest, for Senate Distrct 19, between Democrat Hannah-Beth Jackson and Republican Tony Strickland, also appears subject to the ten percent manual tally.

Congressional District 4 is a sprawling, Northern California district that includes the counties of Modoc, Lassen, Sierra, El Dorado, Plumas, Nevada, Placer, and parts of Butte and Sacramento counties. Senate District 19 is in Southern California and includes Ventura, Santa Barbara, and a small part of Los Angeles counties.

There may also be other local contests around the state where the ten percent manual tally is required. While candidates are always entitled to recounts, requesting one can be politically unpopular and paying for one can be an expensive proposition. The new Post-Election Manual Tally requirements enacted by the Secretary of State provide an important, new level of vote-counting security that should give all California voters and candidates, whether they were on the winning side or the losing side of a battle, peace of mind that the computerized vote count is accurate.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Associated Press' Amy Taxin authored this article this afternoon on the status of the vote count in California.

A record number of voters and last-minute flood of absentee ballots left millions of votes to be counted Wednesday and several California races too close to call.

Election officials worked through the night and morning to finish counting roughly 10.4 million ballots cast by voters at the polls or in early mail-in voting.

But California officials will spend the next month poring over several million absentee and provisional ballots — which could hold the key to a tight race over a state proposition to revamp redistricting procedures and for a Northern California congressional seat.

Election experts say between 2.6 million and 3 million remain to be tallied among absentee ballots that arrived too late to count, were dropped at polling places or provisional ballots handed out to voters whose status could not immediately be verified.

"If we did succeed in even just keeping pace with 2004 turnout levels, we added half a million voters to the process this election — and the counties felt that," said Kim Alexander, president of the nonprofit California Voter Foundation.

California voters faced long lines, scattered problems

Associated Press reporter Amy Taxin wrote this articlesumming up the experience for California voters yesterday. Excerpts are below.

LOS ANGELES—California voters showed up hours early at the polls and waited in lines into the night, but they only encountered isolated problems in a historic election expected to set turnout records.

Overall, voting ran smoothly at polling sites throughout the state despite the logistical challenge of running an election for 17.3 million registered voters, many of whom were eager to elect an African-American president and vote on whether to ban gay marriage.

Vote tallies lasted into Wednesday for many counties because of heavy turnout and the shift to paper ballots after the secretary of state limited the use of touchscreen machines last year over security concerns.

In Los Angeles County, home to a quarter of the state's registered voters, an estimated 82.4 percent of voters cast ballots—up from 78.6 percent in 2004, according to a sample of precincts.

"Historical practice would lead us to believe this is going to exceed our previous record," said Dean Logan, the county's registrar of voters.

Record-breaking voter registration—which pushed the state's voter rolls 5 percent higher than in the 2004 presidential election—led officials to add precincts and poll workers and order more ballots to meet the demand. Voters were eager to cast ballots in the contentious race between Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain.

Power outages after light rainfall forced three Los Angeles area polling places to move outside, but the only other problems were reports of some poll workers showing up late, said Kate Folmar, spokeswoman for the secretary of state.

At many polling places, voters lined up hours before the polls opened after seeing hours-long lines at county registrar offices during early voting over the last week.

"People are waiting in a long line and are proud of it" said Patti Negri, who found people lined up at 6 a.m. at the Hollywood polling place she has overseen since 1990. "I've never seen anything like this."


In Los Angeles County, some poll workers feared they would run out of ballots due to the crowds. About 100,000 additional ballots were delivered to poll sites to meet heavy demand, Logan said.

Kathay Feng, executive director of California Common Cause, said many voters were not on the rolls at their polling places and ended up submitting provisional ballots, which must be verified before they can be counted in the coming weeks.

"I think it was clearly a day where the huge voter turnout overwhelmed Los Angeles County's voting system," she said.

In Stanislaus County, a voter asked for help when he saw his Spanish-language ballot was marked for Obama. He said a second ballot he received had been similarly marked.

Registrar Lee Lundrigan said a field inspector checked all the remaining ballots, which were "unmarked and clean." Both ballots were voided and sent to county offices for examination.

In San Diego County, several voters reported electioneering near polling places over the proposition to ban gay marriage. In Santa Clara County, some touchscreen machines—which are provided for disabled voters—broke down and had to be replaced.
Nearly 4.3 million people had cast their ballots by mail by Tuesday afternoon, according to a statewide association of election officials. But that leaves nearly 3 million mail-in ballots outstanding—many which may have been dropped off at polling places before they closed.

Election officials in San Bernardino and Riverside counties—which shifted to paper ballots this year—expect to be tallying ballots into Wednesday or Thursday.

Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, said voter turnout could reach 80 percent. About 76 percent of the state's eligible voters cast ballots for president in 2004.

"We had no major meltdowns," Alexander said. "I think, overall, we had a successful election today."

57 Sequoia touchscreen machines fail in Santa Clara county

The San Jose Mercury News reported this morning in this article that 57 Sequoia touchscreen machines failed to work in Santa Clara county polling places yesterday. Excerpts are below.

Record-high voting in the Bay Area on Tuesday mostly defied predictions of unwieldy waits and overwhelmed polls. But in Santa Clara County, concerns about touch-screen voting machines will likely increase following significant malfunctions.

Fifty-seven of the county's Sequoia Voting Systems machines failed on Election Day, resulting in hourslong delays before replacements arrived. State officials decertified electronic machines for widespread use in California last year amid reliability concerns; on Tuesday, each of the county's 785 polling places was equipped with a single machine for use by the disabled.

"We've had technical problems before, but we haven't had to resort to getting a replacement out or leaving a polling place without a machine at all," said election office spokesman Matt Moreles. He noted that voting at the affected precincts continued on paper ballots.

California Voter Foundation president Kim Alexander called the glitch "concerning" and said it marred an otherwise largely problem-free election statewide. "It underscores the ongoing challenges we face in California attempting to implement computerized voting," she said. "If Santa Clara County were still using touch screens as its primary election system, you bet it would have been a huge problem."

Loose printer connections, as well as dead batteries and broken screens, caused the failures.

Long lines and scattered snags surfaced across the Bay Area on Election Day and an expected record number of voters anxious to cast ballots. From San Jose to Oakland, poll workers were greeted by a steady stream of voters. Some problems emerged, but the overall mood was one of excitement.

ABC News story provides overview of U.S. voting technology shifts

This November 3 ABC News article by Kurt Keiner provides a good overview of how voting technology changed between the 2004 and 2008 presidential election, and some examples of touchscreen voting problems found in early voting this season. Excerpts are below.

As the US heads into a historic and contentious presidential election, concerns over electronic voting technology could be about to stir up controversy over the legitimacy of some results.

Ironically, electronic voting machines were meant to make elections more reliable and secure. After the 2000 presidential election, when spoiled ballots and "hanging chads" sent the disputed result all the way to the Supreme Court, Congress began dispensing billions of dollars to help states replace punch-card ballots with more-sophisticated voting technology. Since then, however, concerns over the trustworthiness of electronic voting system have steadily grown.

Already in several key states, early voting has seen touch-screen voting machines "flip" votes from one candidate to another. Some voters casting early ballots in Virginia, Tennessee, and Texas say that machines have flipped their votes. All were able eventually to correct the mistake, but this has added a sense of urgency to long-held unease over the security and reliability of electronic voting systems.

Earlier this month, a report from Election Data Services (EDS), a Washington, DC-based firm that tracks election administration, said that electronic voting machine usage will drop this year for the first time ever. In Tuesday's election, 32.6 percent of all ballots will be cast using an electronic voting machine, compared to 37.6 percent in 2006, the equivalent of 10 million fewer voters. "Basically, the activists and the political scientists have kind-of won that battle," says EDS president Kimball Brace. "Most election administrators don't find it worthwhile trying to fight the battle and are trying to move on."

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Watching the election online

I've spent most of this election day watching for election stories and problems on various web sites. Fortunately, so far things seem to be going pretty smoothly in California. The biggest problem being reported has been long lines earlier this morning, due largely to the fact that a record turnout approaching 14 million voters is expected for this election.

According to the vote-by-mail chart compiled by the California Association of Clerks and Election Officials (available on this page), 7.2 million VBM ballots were issued to California voters, and as of yesterday, at least 4.5 million had been returned to county election offices. In 2004, 8.5 million voters cast ballots at the polls in the Presidential election; this time, it may be more like nine or ten million polling place voters (including many vote-by-mail voters who return their ballots to the polls). Given the high level of turnout, voters may find themselves waiting in long lines this evening to vote.

But long lines because of huge enthusiasm for an election is not the worst kind of problem to have. The worst kind of problem is long lines because voting equipment is malfunctioning or because too many voters are assigned to a polling place, or because the supply of ballots has run out. Fortunately, California has drastically reduced the use of electronic voting machines, state law requires no more than 1,000 registered voters per precinct, and California counties appear to have done a good job estimating the number of ballots needed on hand (and are required to have a contingency plan in place if supplies run short). But in other states, voting equipment malfunctions are causing delays for many voters, along with insufficient polling place staffing or too many voters assigned to one polling place, or a failure to have a contingency plan if equipment fails.

One of the sites I've been visiting today to track problems is CNN's Voter Hotline map, which shows the calls coming in to CNN and the kinds of problems voters are having across the country. Over 94,000 voters have called CNN's Hotline, 800-GOCNN-08. According to the data posted on the CNN site as of 4:30 p.m. Pacific this afternoon, registration problems account for 29 percent of the calls received, followed by mechanical problems which have been reported by 14 percent of callers. 13 percent report problems accessing the polling place, primarily due to long lines.

Another great online resource for tracking election problems around the country is the Our Vote Live Blog and Map. This information is provided by the Election Protection Coalition, which has 10,000 volunteers answering calls made to the 1-866-OUR-VOTE hotline. So far over 40,000 calls have been received on Election Day. According to recent blog postings, voters in some areas of Virginia are waiting as long as seven hours to vote, and voters in some areas of Florida are reportedly waiting five hours.

Once the polls close in California, I will start watching the returns on the Secretary of State's web site, which I expect will be posted here . CVF will also provide links on our home page to all of the county returns. While the presidential election is not expected to be close in California, there are several hotly contested statewide ballot propositions, as well as legislative and congressional contests that will be decided.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Verifying the Vote in 2008 Presidential Election Battleground States

Pam Smith of Verified Voting and I put together this document, Verifying the Vote in 2008 Presidential Election Battleground States to help voters and the media track the vote counting process in thirteen battleground states. The summary includes Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia.

A lot has changed since the 2004 Presidential election. Many states that initially embraced paperless, electronic voting systems have replaced those systems with paper ballots, or have added printers to electronic voting machines that produce a voter-verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) of electronic ballots.

Paper ballots and VVPATS are important tools for verifying the vote, and many states have enacted automatic, post-election manual audit laws that require paper ballots or VVPATS be used to verify the accuracy of computer vote counts. This is accomplished by hand-counting a sample of paper ballots or VVPATs and comparing the hand-counted tallies to computer vote counts.

Manual audits of election results are important because, while most states allow candidates to request a recount, actually doing so can be expensive and politically unpopular. Automatic manual audits of election results means those results will be verified regardless of the election outcome or whether a recount is sought.