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Elections official rips into Shelley
By Dan Smith Sacramento Bee Deputy Capitol Bureau Chief
Published 2:15 am PST Friday, February 4, 2005
California's chief county elections official says Secretary of State Kevin Shelley's administration has created a "full-blown crisis" that threatens the state's compliance with federal law and its ability to conduct the 2006 elections.

In testimony prepared for a legislative committee, Los Angeles County Registrar of Voters Conny McCormack blasted Shelley's process for approving voting machine systems the counties must purchase, and suggested he had manipulated the system "to favor or punish some equipment vendors." She called on the Legislature to step in and take over the process.

 "County election officials have concluded that the voting system certification process in California is completely broken," McCormack, president of the California Association of Clerks and Election Officials, wrote to the Joint Legislative Audit Committee scrutinizing Shelley's alleged misuse of millions in federal Help America Vote Act funds.

Shelley spokeswoman Caren Daniels-Meade defended Shelley's certification process, calling any suggestion of political manipulation "absolutely bunk." McCormack, Daniels-Meade said, simply disagrees with Shelley's support of a requirement that electronic voting machines have a verified paper trail.

"It's a policy disagreement that she seems to want to put in personal and political terms," Daniels-Meade said.

McCormack intended to present her testimony at a JLAC hearing Thursday. But the meeting, which was to include testimony from Shelley, was postponed by legislative leaders after they concluded that the panel needed more time to prepare.

McCormack said she is asking lawmakers to pass emergency "narrowly crafted" legislation to override Shelley's office and temporarily certify 2004 systems for use in the 2006 elections. Such legislation also would have to suspend a state law requiring a paper trail.

"There's a paralysis going on that we have to get beyond," McCormack said in an interview. "The situation is beyond dire, and it won't be solved if Kevin Shelley resigns or s dead tomorrow. ... If Shelley's (office) has the only door, I need the Legislature to get a bulldozer and go in the back of the house."

Counties face a 2006 federal deadline to have state-certified voting systems ready for the elections, but Shelley's office has approved just one Sequoia model, and that is not certified for the June 2006 primary. If the counties are unable to use voting systems that comply with federal law, the results could be vulnerable to legal challenge.

McCormack suggested Shelley's office appears to have favored Oakland-based Sequoia Voting Systems in a series of voting machine certification decisions while a competitor, Ohio-based Diebold Inc., was not treated fairly.

McCormack would not elaborate on what she believed motivated the secretary of state's actions.

While neither company is a big campaign contributor in California, Sequoia did give $100,000 to back the Shelley-sponsored Voting Modernization Bond Act, Proposition 41, in 2002 and $1,000 to Shelley's campaign the same year.

Diebold, meanwhile, has drawn criticism from Shelley's fellow Democrats nationally for the fund raising and partisan comments of its chairman, Walden O'Dell. Company officials have given $46,000 to President Bush and the Republican National Committee since 2003, according to federal campaign records compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. In a 2003 fund-raising letter to Ohio Republicans, meanwhile, O'Dell wrote that he was "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year" at the same time his company was seeking voting systems contracts from Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, a Republican.

Diebold representatives could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Alfie Charles, a spokesman for Sequoia, rejected the notion that his company had received favorable treatment, and generally defended Shelley's process.

"I think it's restrictive, tighter than it has been," he said. "There are times when it has seemed unreasonably tight, but the objectives are the right ones."

Shelley spokeswoman Daniels-Meade said she expects more voting systems to be certified in time for the June 2006 primary. The Sequoia system given provisional certification on Jan. 21 likely will be cleared for the June primary when software changes are made.

She said the process is designed to be tough enough to meet state and federal standards, including the verified paper trail component.

"The bottom line appears to be that there is resentment among a handful of elections officials because the secretary of state has imposed extremely strict security requirements," Daniels-Meade said.

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