S.F. supes approve e-voting system

San Francisco supervisors today gave final approval to a replacement computer voting system for the city, but not without expressing concerns that the new system was not a long-term solution.

By a 9-2 vote, the supervisors adopted a resolution for a four-year, $12.65 million contract with Sequoia Voting Systems, Inc., replacing the troubled current computer voting system, furnished by the Omaha, Neb.-based Election Systems and Software.

Problems with the ES&S machines resulted in prolonged hand counts of votes in the Nov. 6 election. Elections officials finally were able to certify the results on Friday, a month later.

Supervisor Gerardo Sandoval said the replacement was a necessity.

“We can't have another hand count,” Sandoval said. “Florida is not a model that we should be emulating.”

Supervisor Chris Daly, one of the two dissenting votes, differed.

“What we have now is very far from ideal,” Daly said. “But what we did have is a certainty that every vote that was cast, was counted.”

Daly said that Sequoia has refused to open its source code and is “unwilling to prove that every vote case is going to be counted.”

Daly added that he was willing to put off the “instant gratification” of quick election results in order to ensure accuracy.

“We need to be a little more real about our choices today,” Supervisor Sean Elsbernd responded.

Elsbernd contended the city needed to act to keep a “fraudulent company from counting our votes.”

Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier noted that the Sequoia systems have support from the disabled community for being accessible to handicapped persons.

“This is a good system in front of us,” Alioto-Pier said. “We should be excited for having it.” She added that she felt open-source voting was important, but not readily achievable currently.

“Many of us are holding our noses around this vote,” said Supervisor Tom Ammiano, who also opposed the resolution but acknowledged the agreement contained “some positives.”

Ammiano said Sequoia had agreed to a third-party inspection of its source code and to bring its software into open-source compliance withina year.

Ammiano said a long-term solution might be for San Francisco to consider furnishing its own computer voting systems, to “ensure that open source and transparency will happen,” he said.

“San Francisco can be a leader on this issue,” he said.

The idea of city-owned voting systems “scares me to death,” Elsbernd answered. “We've got some city services that have to come first.”

Ammiano said he hoped the board would come up with “an inclusive solution” at a later time, and proposed legislation for the city to pursue open-source voting, and legislation that open-source ballots, already posted online by the Elections Department, be required for all future elections in San Francisco.

Supervisor Aaron Peskin said at a meeting of the board's Budget and Finance Committee last week that the board's current choices were limited, and noted that there is a provision in the Sequoia contract that would allow the city to terminate it any at any time.

— Bay City News

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