Aguirre writes to registrar over security of balloting
City attorney says he wants observer
By Leslie Wolf Branscomb San Diego UNION-TRIBUNE November 5, 2005
Just four days before the statewide special election, San Diego City Attorney Michael Aguirre has sent a letter to the county Registrar of Voters expressing "concerns" about Tuesday's voting.
"While I am not a conspiracy theory proponent regarding this issue," Aguirre wrote, "I do believe that legitimate questions exist about the accuracy and security of the canvassing process."
Among his requests, Aguirre wants a deputy city attorney to observe the vote counting Tuesday night.
The letter was faxed to Registrar Mikel Haas yesterday afternoon.
"This process is open to the public, and you don't have to get my permission to be an observer," Haas said yesterday, after reading the letter.
"The City Clerk is the chief elections officer for the city, and that's who we typically deal with on all matters regarding elections," Haas said. The clerk "has not at this point expressed any concerns about procedures for this election."
He added: "We conduct these elections in conformance with state law."
Tuesday's election is particularly important in the city of San Diego, where voters will pick a mayor and two council members. There also will be eight statewide initiatives on the ballot, and four ballot measures in various areas of the county.
City Clerk Elizabeth Maland said last night that she hadn't seen the letter. "As far as the elections process goes, the Registrar of Voters is very competent and they do a good job," she said.
Aguirre's letter was prompted by a meeting he had with some citizens Oct. 26. They were mainly concerned about electronic voting, Aguirre said.
But electronic touch-screen voting machines will not be used in Tuesday's election. Voters will fill in bubbles on their ballots instead.
There were some computer glitches with electronic touch-screen machines during the March 2004 primary election, which caused some polling places to open late. Touch-screen machines won't be used again in California until 2006 at the earliest.
On Tuesday, ballots will be fed into a machine that will optically scan the votes, tally and record them on a computer memory card. Aguirre's letter focused on the potential for problems with the way the votes are scanned and the records maintained.
"Current practices establishing a chain of custody for the cards seem at best haphazard," Aguirre wrote.
"I urge your office to institute a mandatory written chain of custody for both the voting machines and the memory cards. In addition poll workers should be trained to appreciate the importance of this written record of possession," the letter said.
In an interview this week, Aguirre said, "There are ways to inappropriately rig the system." I don't believe there's any plan to do that, but there is a certain type of vulnerability."
In August, the registrar conducted a partial recount of the July mayoral election. The results of the hand count were nearly identical to those of the machines.
Haas said yesterday that even if a scanning machine breaks down at a polling place Tuesday, voting will not be affected. The paper ballots would be taken to the Registrar of Voters' office to be counted, he said.