Voting machines approved in time for next election

Postponed vote tallies and aging voting machines are not in store for the February election as The City approved a four-year $12.6 million contract with a new voting-machine vendor Tuesday, despite concerns from critics about the accuracy of machine tallies.

Official results for this November’s election were not available for weeks due to problems with The City’s aging voting machines, which resulted in the California secretary of state approving them only for conditional use and requiring a portion of ballots to be hand counted. The City has since sued its current vendor, Election Systems and Software, to recoup post-election hand counting costs.

Secretary of State Debra Bowen has filed a separate $15 million lawsuit against ES&S over AutoMark electronic voting machines for the disabled that she claims were sold to five counties, including San Francisco, without certification. Although Bowen announced last week that the AutoMark machines can beused for the February election, the ES&S machines San Francisco uses to tabulate votes at each precinct were also determined to have problems, according to the state.

In February, members of the Board of Supervisors refused to approve a contract with the new vendor, Sequoia Voting Systems Inc., which promised updated machines and to pay penalties should complications arise. Instead, board members sided with voting-advocacy groups that said the contract should not be approved unless Sequoia offered “open source” technology, which would allow the general public to have access to the source code to see how the machines count the votes. No company presently offers “open source” technology, considering such information proprietary, according to city officials.

Nine months later, faced with the prospect of delayed voter results in the primaries and presidential elections, the Board of Supervisors moved forward to approve the Sequoia contract. The vote was 9-2, with Supervisors Tom Ammiano and Chris Daly opposing.

There is no way to ensure the votes are counted accurately, Daly said.

“Until we take a stand and either force the vendors to open their source code to us or develop or own open source voting systems, really, what we did this past cycle is the only way that we can guarantee that every voters vote gets counted,” he said.

Supervisor Sean Elsbernd countered that opponents “need to be a little bit more real” about The City’s choices.

“Let’s vote down this contract, and then what? We get to keep ES&S, the frauds. We cannot do that,” Elsbernd said.

Supervisor Gerardo Sandoval said that with three elections on the horizon that The City needed to approve the contract.

“These elections are too important to have the results tabulated a month after the rest of the country knows what happens,” he said, adding, “We can deal with the open- source issue at a later time.”

jsabatini@examiner.com

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