If anyone is happy after San Francisco’s failure to tally precinct ballots on election night — and for up to three weeks afterward — becomes generally known, it will be the good folks of West Palm Beach, Fla. They could finally be displaced as the nationwide symbol of electoral incompetence they became in the 2000 presidential election, “hanging chads” and all.
With 21st-century electronics becoming ever more rapid and accurate, one might reasonably expect complete and correct results of U.S. elections to be available within minutes after the polls close. Instead, San Francisco is being forced this year to tediously check every ballot by hand. And these are not your traditional ballots. The City has entered a brave new world of ranked-choice voting, which of course will require much more care if they must be manually processed.
The direct cause of San Francisco’s hand-checkout ballot fiasco is Secretary of State Debra Bowen’s decree restricting use of our precinct voting machines because they only read marks made by No. 2 pencils or black-ink pens. Even voting rights activists such as the New America Foundationpublicly blasted Bowen’s edict as an “excessively draconian” overreaction that “punished” San Francisco voters.
However, there is plenty of blame to go around. An editorial cartoon of the situation would depict high officials standing in a circle and pointing fingers of blame at each other. Mayor Gavin Newsom last month put fault on the Board of Supervisors for rejecting a $12.6 million contract in April to purchase state-certified voting machines from an Oakland company that had refused to open its software for public review.
It is also undeniable that American private enterprise has thus far failed to produce an electronic voting machine that earned wide public confidence. In the 2006 congressional elections, some 17,000 problems relating to flawed electronic voting machines were reported to the Election Protection Coalition’s hotline. A Google search on “electronic voting machine failures” brought up approximately 195,000 results in less than one-third of a second.
What makes this all especially sad is that the Bay Area and most of California have long obtained fast, accurate tallies from proven reliable optical-scan readers. And if San Francisco this month risks becoming an electoral laughingstock, imagine how much greater our odds for national embarrassment will be in barely 90 days when California’s early presidential primary arrives.
San Francisco could start 2008 as the city that delayed California’s announcement of the primary winners until the end of February, especially with the state Republican Party now awarding most of its delegation to candidates winning in individual congressional districts. Last month the mayor told The Examiner editorial board that his office was “working on” achieving a timely Feb. 5 presidential vote count. But that hardly sounds like a specific plan.
So call out our Silicon Valley neighbors and get this mess cleaned up now! There is no excuse for it ever happening again inthe world capital of high-tech.