S.F.’s vote tally will come late

San Francisco voters won’t get computerized results at the end of election night in November, but will have to wait weeks instead, due to problems with The City’s electronic voting machines.

The Examiner first reported the potential disaster in May, shortly after Secretary of State Debra Bowen — whose office oversees elections — sent a letter to the company that provides San Francisco with its voting equipment, Elections Systems and Software. In that letter, Bowen said her office would not certify the voting equipment The City uses. Bowen’s spokesperson said in July that the ES&S system is “seriously flawed.” The City began preparing to hand count ballots.

On Friday, Bowen sent a letter to ES&S notifying the company that it would conditionally recertify the voting system — but would only allow the central computers at San Francisco’s election office to tabulate ballots, not the machines used at the precincts.

“Instead of having 561 machines at the precinct level tabulating, it’s just three machines at City Hall,” S.F. Election head John Arntz said.

The only ballots that will be counted by election night will be the absentee ballots, Arntz said.

The machines have been shown to inaccurately read a ballot marking when the voter uses a pen other than the pens supplied by ES&S.

For that reason, Bowen is requiring San Francisco officials to visually inspect all ballots before putting them through the central system. The added process will limit The City’s ability to count more than 10,000 votes a day, said Arntz. It will be about three weeks before all the ballots are tabulated, he said.

beslinger@examiner.com

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