State: S.F. may have been swindled

The company that sold San Francisco $3.8 million worth of electronic voting equipment is being scrutinized by California’s secretary of state, who said the machines delivered might be different, and thus uncertified, than those ordered.

Secretary of State Debra Bowen announced Tuesday that a public hearing Sept. 20 will examine whether Elections Systems & Software Inc. sold uncertified voting machines to as many as five counties in the state — including San Francisco.

Questions about the ES&S certification procedures is not a new concern for San Francisco. In May, Bowen sent the company a letter saying her office would not grant an extension on the certification of The City’s machine rank-choice-voting program — leaving city officials with no other choice than to prepare for a possible hand count of the expected 3 million-plus votes in November.

The ES&S AutoMARK Version 1.0, also known as Phase One, is an electronic ballot-marking device certified by the state in August 2005. ES&S is purported to have sold an uncertified Phase Two version of AutoMARK to five counties — San Francisco, Colusa, Marin, Merced and Solano — in 2006, according to the Secretary of State, “If ES&S has broken the law and misled counties into buying nearly 1,000 uncertified machines, I intend to go afterthe company for the full $9.72 million in penalties allowable by law, along with the original $5 million the company took from counties’ pockets,” Bowen said, who estimated the cost of each machine at approximately $5,000.

Of the five counties, San Francisco purchased the largest number of the ES&S machines in question, 558, which cost $3.8 million, said The City’s Election Department head, John Arntz.

“No one ever knew there was a Phase Two,” Arntz said. “There was just an AutoMARK the counties could buy.”

The state is working to create a contingency plan for San Francisco, said Nicole Winger, spokeswoman for the secretary of state.

ES&S sent out a statement Tuesday in response to Bowen’s announcement, saying the company “has the greatest respect” for the required certification processes and “will certainly work with the State of California as this process moves forward.”

beslinger@examiner.com


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