City may get $3.5M from e-voting company

The City had to pay to hand-count ballots in November, but now it may be spending time counting the $3.5 million it could receive from settling a lawsuit against its former voting machine vendor.

Omaha, Neb.-based Election Systems & Software and The City on Tuesday announced a settlement in the lawsuit over AutoMARK ballot machines, which were not certified by the secretary of state.

The Board of Supervisors, which last month approved a $12.6 million contract with Sequoia Voting Systems, still must approve any settlement with ES&S.

In 2006, The City bought the AutoMARK machines for $3.79 million, but the day after Election Day in 2007, City Attorney Dennis Herrera announced intentions to file a lawsuit to recover costs in the wake of Secretary of State Debra Bowen handing down strict ballot-counting regulations to counties using AutoMARK machines.

In the agreement, ES&S will pay The City $3.5 million. Also as part of the agreement, The City will pay ES&S’s outstanding invoices for supplies and services, an amount of $400,000, city attorney spokeswoman Alexis Thompson said.

“Especially with an election cycle just around the corner we were very happy to have had the cooperation of ES&S in resolving this matter so quickly,” Thompson said.

Representatives from ES&S declined to comment any further than a news release applauding the “creative approach” benefitting both sides.

In the November election, more than 154,000 registered San Franciscan voters cast ballots, a 37 percent turnout. Even with a very predictable election, the results were not certified until after an early December deadline, which was set in order to meet Bowen’s requirements to avoid any discrepancies between a machine count and hand count.

San Francisco Elections Director John Arntz said the hand-counting process cost The City $400,000.

Early voting began Jan. 7, and voters have taken to the new touchscreen machines, Arntz said.

“It’s not the evil machine that people want it to be,” he said.

Many, including supervisors Tom Ammiano and Chris Daly, opposed the Sequoia contract because the company wouldn’t reveal its “source code,” or howthe machines tabulate the results.

dsmith@examiner.com  

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