Electronic voting machines get green light

Electronic voting machine opponents on Tuesday protested the county Board of Supervisors’ approval of controversial new voting machines, saying they put the democratic will of citizens at risk.

More than 20 people — many known to one another through their common resistance to electronic voting — pleaded with supervisors to delay approving funds for new Hart InterCivic voting machines. Some cited security and voter fraud concerns and news reports of irregularities in other states using Hart machines, to no avail.

“Much of the public has become bitter and skeptical about the outcome of our elections,” said area resident Margaret Timothy. “Please don’t erode our confidence by adopting these controversial machines at this time.”

David Dill, a Stanford professor and founder of the nonprofit Verified Voting (www.verifiedvoting.org), echoed Timothy’s sentiments. Area voting activist Cheryl Lillienstein said that because eSlate machines, owned by Hart, count votes using proprietary software, to which the public has no access, citizens have no assurances that votes will be properly tallied.

The Help America Vote Act (HAVA), passed by federal lawmakers in 2002, requires the county to adopt state-certified voting machines that allow the disabled to vote privately and independently.

Chief Elections Officer Warren Slocum said that despite concerns he plans to make San Mateo County the “gold standard” for electronic voting in the state.

“I have invested hundreds and hundreds of hours and a couple of years in the process of making this decision,” Slocum said.

The eSlate machines electronically record votes in triplicate, as well as on paper should a recount be necessary, Slocum said. In addition, Hart is the only electronic voting machine company that files its software program with the National Science Foundation so that it can be compared for tampering at anytime.

Kent Mickelson, executive director of the Belmont-based Center for Independence of the Disabled, said he supports going electronic.

“We’re tired of the public wanting to wait for the perfect system; there is no perfect voting system,” Mickelson said.

Mickelson, who used one of nine machines rented for the disabled in the June election, said not a single complaint was filed in the county following that election.

By adopting the eSlate machines, the county expects to save about $1.2 million over a four-year election cycle by reducing the number of paper ballots being printed. Electronic voting will also help streamline election oversight by reducing printing, allowing for more languages and all range of disabilities, Slocum said.

Supervisors approved $1.3 million from the county General Fund for the purchase, with $9 million coming from state and federal grants, officials said.

A total of 2,100 eSlate machines — including 525 equipped with special features for the blind or physically impaired — are to be purchased at a total cost of about $10 million, said Sarah Carrade, of the county elections division. That amount includes ongoing maintenance.

ecarpenter@examiner.com

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