Vote system could get OK this year
Secretary of state optimistic touchscreens will be approved
Greg Kane The Record
Nov 4, 2005
STOCKTON California Secretary of State Bruce McPherson said during a tour of San Joaquin County's elections office Thursday that a controversial touchscreen voting system could be certified by the end of the year.
McPherson told Registrar of Voters Deborah Hench and other county officials that he is "optimistic" about the Diebold TSx machine, which goes before a state certification panel Nov. 22. The county agreed to purchase 1,600 of the machines for $5.7 million three years ago, though they were only used once before being decertified by the state in 2004.
The county has only paid Diebold $858,000 while waiting for the ATM-like machines to be approved. McPherson will take a recommendation from the certification panel later this month and soon after will decide whether to allow their use in June's primary election.
"By mid-December we'll have a decision on the certification," McPherson said.
Voters in San Joaquin County will use paper ballots on Tuesday.
McPherson's visit was part of a months-long tour to talk to elections officials across the state about Tuesday's statewide special election. Hench and Assistant Registrar Austin Erdman led McPherson through the North San Joaquin Street office, where he shook hands with workers, inspected precinct maps and briefly spoke to a training class of poll workers.
McPherson also encouraged voters using absentee ballots to mail their ballots by today so the votes can be counted in time for the Tuesday election. Absentee voters must submit their ballots 72 hours before the election, Hench said.
McPherson estimates that from 35 percent to 40 percent of registered California voters will vote in Tuesday's election. In San Joaquin County, Hench believes fewer than 35 percent will vote.
By comparison, McPherson said, voters in Iraq turned out in higher numbers despite threats of violence.
"They had bullets flying over their heads, and they had 60 percent," McPherson said. "I'd like to see a lot more" California voters at the polls, he added.
County Administrator Manuel Lopez and Supervisor Jack Sieglock also welcomed McPherson during the early-afternoon tour. Sieglock said it is encouraging to see an official from Sacramento take the time to visit Stockton and see the elections operation for himself.
"He's rolling up his sleeves and seeing how it works at the local level," Sieglock said. "It's exciting to see a state official do that."
McPherson's visit is believed to be the first for a sitting secretary of state since the 1980s, Hench said. He said he has toured more than 40 other elections offices across the state since taking office earlier this year.
The TSx machines were decertified after San Diego and Alameda counties reported problems during the March 2004 primary. McPherson refused to allow their use in Tuesday's election after a large test held in Stockton in July exposed paper jams and screen-freezing problems.
A test of 100 TSx machines held in San Diego in September fared much better, Hench said. Those results will be used when the state panel reviews the machines in mid-November.