City attorney demands cash, new voting machines

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera and Department of Elections Director John Arntz issued a notice today charging the company that supplied the city with voting machines used in Tuesday's election with

material breach of contract.

Election Systems & Software's alleged breach of contract comes in part from the company not notifying California Secretary of State Debra Bowen of changes made to their AutoMARK ballot marking devices. They lost the machine's certification but did not inform the city of San Francisco or other districts using the machine.

Every ballot will have to be hand counted due to the lack of certification of the machines, according to Herrera and Arntz.

“Five counties out there thought they were buying the AutoMARK,” said Arntz. “They didn't know there was an AutoMARK 2.”

Ballots that had marks made with the wrong kind of pens were kicked out of the machines. Additionally, ranked-choice ballots that did not receive enough votes, like the mayor's race, which asked voters to include a second and third choice, were kicked out of the machines.

Nearly 95 percent of San Francisco ballots have been denied by machines, said Arntz. He said starting today, his department will be counting votes 24 hours a day for at least a week.

The city's contract with ES&S began in December 1999, according to Herrera, with additional amendments to continue the contract each year since.

Herrera has given the voting machine company 10 days to supply new machines and pay for any costs accrued by the additional man power needed to count ballots.

Arntz estimated that the cost so far is approximately $300,000.

The city originally bought 565 AutoMARK machines for more than $3 million, said Herrera.

Almost 600 machines had to be borrowed from Contra Costa County, Herrera said. But that won't be an option for the February election, when Contra Costa County will need the machines.

Herrera said he did not want to announce the decision before today to avoid affecting voter confidence for the election.

— Bay City News

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