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Accord rescues e-voting

BALLOT: Riverside and San Bernardino counties strike a deal with the secretary of state.

06:44 AM PDT on Wednesday, July 14, 2004


Supervisors in Riverside and San Bernardino counties reached a truce Tuesday with Secretary of State Kevin Shelley that will allow Inland voters to use touch-screen voting in November's presidential election.

The unanimous vote by the two boards came one week after a federal judge upheld Shelley's right to decertify the electronic systems. In deciding to out of the lawsuit against Shelley, the two boards also agreed to provide paper ballots at polling places as an alternative to electronic machines, as Shelley had demanded.

Shelley announced in April that Riverside and San Bernardino counties and eight other counties could not use their touch-screen machines until they complied with 23 new security measures, declaring the electronic voting systems unreliable and subject to security breaches.

Shelley's rules require counties to give voters the option of casting a paper ballot and to give their machines' computer source code to independent analysts for security checks. He also wants a "paper trail" record of electronic votes.

Details of the agreements with the two counties still were being hammered out late Tuesday, so it was unclear where they stood on Shelley's demands beyond providing paper ballots.

Riverside County Counsel William Katzenstein said details would be released today at the request of lawyers for the secretary of state. He characterized the differences over language in the agreement as minor.

"Obviously we're pleased at the indication from the county boards that they want to work with us, and the secretary looks forward to recertification," said Carol Dahmen, a spokeswoman for the secretary of state's office. "The next step will be for the counties to provide us with the signed agreements that they will implement the security measures."

'We want to move forward'

Last week's court ruling and the dwindling preparation time before the election played large factors in the decision to resolve the dispute, county officials said.

"We want to move forward with the election," said Daniel Haueter, chief deputy counsel for San Bernardino County. "We want a certainty of what we're going to be doing."

The cost of printing the paper ballots and implementing other terms of the agreement will be covered by the state. Both counties will order enough paper ballots for 25 percent of the voters.

Printing the extra ballots in San Bernardino County will cost from $50,000 to $75,000, said San Bernardino County spokesman David Wert.

Supervisor Roy Wilson said he did not know how much it would cost to print the ballots in Riverside County.

Riverside County Supervisor Bob Buster said printing the extra ballots will be a waste of money. "If people have had concerns (about electronic voting) they could ask for an absentee ballot," he said. "This is redundant."

Once the agreements are completed, eight counties will have reached deals with the state and gotten their systems recertified, Dahmen said. Only Alameda and Plumas counties will remain decertified at that point. Sequoia Voting Systems, which provides Riverside and San Bernardino counties' systems, already has met Shelley's conditions in other counties, Dahmen said.

Riverside and San Bernardino counties had joined Kern - whose system was banned outright - and Plumas counties and advocates for the disabled in a bid to stop Shelley's order, but a judge refused last week to grant them an injunction. The American Association of Disabled Persons vowed last week to appeal the decision, but a representative of the association did not return a phone call late Tuesday.

Advocates for the disabled argued that electronic voting is better for disabled voters because it allows them to cast private ballots rather than depend on human assistance to fill out paper ballots.

The judge ruled that the secretary of state's interests in ensuring accurate, verifiable vote counts outweighed the disabled voters' interest.

A Los Angeles attorney handling the case did not return a phone call Tuesday, but Hauter said it appears that Kern and Plumas counties may not pursue the lawsuit without the larger counties. The boards in Kern and Plumas counties meet later this week.

The lawsuit

The federal suit contended that Shelley overstepped his authority and unfairly penalized counties that have had no problems with electronic voting. Riverside County has run 29 successful touch-screen elections since 2000, officials said.

San Bernardino County used the system countywide for the first time in March. Voters had to wait until the following day to get the results because the registrar waited too late to get the computer ready to count the votes, but there were no questions of accuracy.

Tuesday's deal does not affect separate requirements Shelley previously said he wants to impose in 2006, Wilson said

Shelley set a July 2006 deadline for all touch-screen machines to have a voter-verified paper trail. That means voters would be able to see, but not touch, a paper copy of their ballot produced by a printer attached to the touch-screen machine.

The decision followed protests Tuesday by 15 members of Democracy for America, a Temecula-based affiliate of former presidential candidate Howard Dean's national organization, outside the Riverside County building. The group asked the board Tuesday morning to the lawsuit against Shelley and make the changes ordered by the secretary of state.

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