Riverside County (CA) Panel Recommends Dumping DREs


Original Riverside Press Enterprise article at http://www.pe.com/localnews/inland/stories/PE_News_Local_H_vote13.400853f.html

Optical Scan, Precinct Posting, Video Cameras Among Recommendations

Tom Courbat, founder of SAVE R VOTE, an elections integrity group that has pressed the supervisors to abandon the touch-screen machines, called the panel's recommendations "very bold ... something they knew the Board of Supervisors did not want to hear."

The Press-Enterprise, 10:00 PM PDT on Thursday, July 12, 2007

Riverside County, the first in the state to use electronic touch-screen voting machines, should return to a paper-based voting system, a panel appointed by the Board of Supervisors has recommended.

The Sequoia Voting Systems machines in use by the county since the 2000 presidential elections haven't gained voter confidence and have failed to meet expectations of reliability and cost savings, the five-member panel found.

The panel found no evidence of any errors or defects in the county's touch-screen system, however.

Michelle Shafer, vice president of communications for Sequoia Voting Systems, said late Thursday that she could not comment on the recommendations until she'd had an opportunity to review them.

The decision about whether to scrap the electronic system rests with the county supervisors, who will discuss the recommendations Tuesday. The county has spent about $25 million on electronic machines since putting them to use. The cost to replace them is not yet known.

The supervisors appointed the independent panel late last year after their offices were overwhelmed with complaints about delays caused by technical malfunctions at the polls in the November election and results that took weeks to post.

Review results

The independent commission that conducted the elections review made these recommendations:

Move to a system of paper ballots counted by optical scanners.

Place a prominent sign at voting sites to let voters know they are entitled to cast a paper ballot.

Adopt uniform rules for the collection of absentee ballots in communities.

Severely restrict access to the tabulating room.

Install video cameras to record all activity in all areas of the central tabulating room.

Verify that election results are posted at every voting location.

Source: Riverside County Election Review Committee

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Riverside County has used touch-screen voting since 2000.

Supervisor Surprised

Supervisor Jeff Stone said the recommendations surprised him.

"It seems to me the system has worked well. We have complied with changing legislation that has left little time to comply, and we have
enhanced transparency and accountability," he said.

"But," Stone added, "this is why we formed an independent commission. We wanted to have a good consensus of people who are

Tom Courbat, founder of SAVE R VOTE, an elections integrity group that has pressed the supervisors to abandon the touch-screen machines, called the panel's recommendations "very bold ... something they knew the Board of Supervisors did not want to hear."

"I think that truly attests to their independence," he said.

Courbat reiterated his call for the supervisors to appoint an independent consultant to review the security procedures and the entire
operation of the registrar of voters' office.

The panel found no wrongdoing within the registrar of voters' office.

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Riverside County was the first in California to adopt a touch-screen voting system. The commission
found the system has failed to meet the county's expectations of reliability and cost savings.

Kay Ceniceros, the elections panel's chairwoman and a former Riverside County supervisor, said the group carefully scrutinized state
election laws to make sure its recommendations were in compliance.

She said it was impossible to know what portion of the 41 percent of voters who cast absentee ballots last November did so because they did not trust electronic voting machines.

The panel's recommendations come as California Secretary of State Debra Bowen is conducting a top-down review of electronic systems --including Sequoia's -- in use across the state. Some systems could be decertified for use if they fail to pass security tests.

Nicole Winger, a spokeswoman for the secretary of state, said Bowen is expected to release her findings by Aug. 3.

Riverside County has 3,700 electronic machines. The panel has recommended that those machines be kept available for voters with
disabilities, which is required by federal law because the machines are easier to use.

Alameda County's Example

In its report, the Riverside County panel pointed to Alameda County's abandonment of the touch-screen system as an example that
should be followed. However, it recommended no timeline.

Alameda County had a Diebold system that it gave up after a 2006 state law was passed requiring a paper readout for all touch-screen
voting systems. Riverside County supervisors purchased new Sequoia machines at that time.

Guy Ashley, a management analyst with the Alameda County registrar of voters' office, said that county went through several months of
vetting and bidding before going with a Sequoia system for the optical scan of paper ballots.

"While we felt the touch screens had worked well for us, we nevertheless decided voter confidence was essential," Ashley said in a
phone interview.

The debut was in the November 2006 election. He said less than 1 percent of votes were cast on a touch-screen machine, and 52 percent of voters filed absentee ballots. The remaining voters used paper ballots tabulated by optical scanner.

Ashley said the increasing trend toward using absentee ballots also played into Alameda County's decision to go with the optical-scan

"It brings uniformity. The absentee ballots are also paper, and it's pretty much the same process in recording the results," he said.

Consequently, he said, there were so few touch-screen ballots that the staff could double-check the paper results.

In addition to Ceniceros, the commission's members are: Lynn Bogh Baldi, a Beaumont-area businesswoman; Marcia McQuern, a UC Riverside associate vice chancellor; Robert Gregory Taylor, a retired Superior Court judge; and James Ward, retired state appellate court justice.

The panel attributed many of the problems last November to a lack of technical support at polling sites when the audit paper rolls ran out.
The large volume of absentee ballots and an antiquated system for counting them delayed election results in some races, the panel
concluded in its report.

Douglas Kinzle, Riverside County's assistant registrar of voters, said his office will await the supervisors' recommendations about the
future of the machines.

"No matter which way decisions are made, we will comply and put on elections in an accurate and timely manner, as we always have," Kinzle said.