Supes near voting machine contract

Nine months after refusing to enter into a $12 million contract for new voting machines, the Board of Supervisors appears ready to approve the deal in the wake of November’s election, which resulted in litigation, hand counting of ballots and yet-to-be certified results.

In February, Elections Director John Arntz advised the Board of Supervisors to approve a four-year contract with a new vendor, Sequoia Voting Systems Inc.

The board’s Budget and Finance Committee, then chaired by Supervisor Chris Daly, instead sided with voting-advocacy groups that said the contract should not be approved unless Sequoia agreed to allow public access to the source code — the program that directs the computers on how to count the votes.

Without “open-source voting” there is no way to be sure how the votes are tallied, leaving elections open to fraud, advocates say.

Since the new vendor was not approved, The City ended up using its existing machines, from Elections Systems and Software, for this November’s election, but because of problems with those machines, the secretary of state imposed restrictions limiting their use and ordered The City to hand count a cross section of ballots.

As a result, The City was unable to certify the votes by this week’s Dec. 4 deadline and had to file for an extension to finish up hand counting. To recover the additional costs for the election, the City Attorney has filed a lawsuit against ES&S, in addition to a $15 million lawsuit filed by the secretary of state over certification concerns with ES&S machines in several counties, including San Francisco.

If the Sequoia contract is approved, the machines would be required to be ready for the February 2008 election, according to the Department of Elections. On Wednesday, the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee, now chaired by Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin, sent the four-year $12.5 million contract with Sequoia to the full board for a vote this Tuesday. Board members told The Examiner that they expect the contract to be approved.

“I really don’t think we are ever going to get to the pure concept of open source because I really think the vendors — it’s not in their interests,” Supervisor Tom Ammiano said.

“We’ve got to deal with the crisis today.”

Voting technology that allows public scrutiny of the source code will not be available for several years, Peskin said.

“In the short term, we need a solution. This is the best and only solution that is in front of us,” he said.

jsabatini@examiner.com

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