Hands may replace digits in November vote count

San Francisco’s electronic-voting machines still have not been certified by the state, leaving city officials no other choice but to prepare for a possible hand count of The City’s expected 3 million-plus votes in November.

In May, Secretary of State Debra Bowen — who oversees elections — sent a letter to Election Systems and Software, the provider of The City’s electonic voting machines, saying she would not grant an extension on the certification for San Francisco’s voting system as the company had requested.

ES&S subsequently submitted an updated version of the voting software June 25 that it expects will be certified for the February 2008 primary election, according to company spokeswoman Jill Friedman-Wilson. In the meantime, the company is under the impression that the state will allow it to once again use the older system, she said.

However, the former secretary of state told ES&S in September 2006 that the system would not be administratively certified, said Nicole Winger, spokeswoman for Bowen.

“Nevertheless, in April, ES&S ignored the prior warnings and asked Secretary Bowen for a fourth ‘one-time’ administrative certification of their seriously flawed system,” Winger wrote in an e-mail. “Of course, Secretary Bowen declined.”

The state is working to create a contingency plan for San Francisco, said Winger, who added that she couldn’t discuss any of the alternate ideas for counting ballots at this time.

San Francisco is preparing itself for the possibility that ballots will need to be hand-counted, according to a June 28 memo that John Arntz, the director of elections, sent to Mayor Gavin Newsom and the Board of Supervisors.

Arntz was not available for comment Tuesday, but told The Examiner in May that the cost to count all the ballots, based on an estimate determined in 2004 when The City faced a similar problem, would be roughly $1 million — and it could take as long as a month. State law allows counties 28 days to complete their accounting of ballots.

In his June letter to city officials, Arntz said it would take an estimated 400 people to conduct a manual count of a citywide election — which the department predicts will bring in 208,000 voters. Since each voter is expected to cast as many as 15 votes, between measures and contests for elected officials, election workers would have to tally more than 3 million votes, he said.

The concerns about possible handcounting could have been avoided, because The City had other options, said Newsom, who added that he was “utterly perplexed” by a January decision by the Board of Supervisors not to approve a $12.6 million, four-year contract for a new electronic-voting system with a different company.

The contract was never approved due to the high cost, the potential for the equipment to become obsolete and concerns that the deal — with Oakland-based Sequoia Voting Systems — didn’t provide public access to the source codes, the system of computer programming, Supervisor Chris Daly told The Examiner in May. Daly was at the time chairman of the Board’s Budget and Finance Committee.

beslinger@examiner.com


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