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San Diego County prepping radical vote counting change

Why we are the slowest in the state

Costly high-tech gizmos could add another confusing layer of security vulnerability.
  • Costly high-tech gizmos could add another confusing layer of security vulnerability.

Stung by the slowest 2018 election tabulation in all of California, San Diego's Registrar of Voters is currently looking for a contractor to come up with a brand-new vote-counting system from scratch.

Nathan Fletcher is likely to play a key behind-the-scenes role.

Nathan Fletcher is likely to play a key behind-the-scenes role.

"The Contractor shall provide the County a Voting System with a set of System Components that is agile to be used in any voting model afforded in California law by utilizing modern technology in a transparent, secure, and cost-effective manner," says a February 19 request for proposals due by March 19.

"This includes but is not limited to an: all-mail ballot voting model, traditional polling place and mail ballot voting model, and vote center voting model."

Vote centers, per the website of the National Conference of State Legislators, "are an alternative to traditional, neighborhood-based precincts. When a jurisdiction opts to use vote centers, voters may cast their ballots on Election Day at any vote center in the jurisdiction, regardless of their residential address."

Possible drawbacks, per the legislators' conference website, include the need for costly high-tech gizmos that could add yet another confusing layer of security vulnerability to the counting process. "Vote centers must be able to produce the appropriate ballot for each voter; this requires either touchscreen machines that can be reset for each voter or 'print-on-demand' equipment."

Following San Diego's prolonged wait for final results of November's 2018 election, county registrar of voters Michael Vu gave Washington's The Hill a laundry list of reasons for the famously slow vote tally here. "In San Diego County, there are 594 different ballot combinations," per The Hill's November 10 report, headlined, "Why California Counts its Ballots so Slowly."

"The longest, a multi-card ballot, is four and a half feet long when laid out end to end. When a voter goes to the wrong precinct or casts a provisional ballot, the county determines which races that voter is eligible to vote on and counts those votes, rather than throwing out the entire ballot."

Duplicate ballots mistakenly dispatched to voters added to the perfect storm of mix-ups and confusion, another report has suggested. A January 31 review by the Sacramento Bee blamed the state's so-called Motor Voter program for compounding electoral headaches across California.

“In hindsight, I wish we could figure out the damn technology issues that we have in state government,” Democratic Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, who helped pass the 2015 bill, told the Bee. “We were scheduled to launch on Monday (April 16). On Thursday (April 12), they called and said they weren’t ready.”

Estimates of the San Diego system's final cost do not appear in the county's request for proposals but gutting and replacing the present system is expected to be pricey, with Gonzalez's husband, freshly minted county supervisor Nathan Fletcher, also a Democrat said likely to play a key behind-the-scenes role.

"The new Voting System will replace in whole the existing [Global Election Management System] Voting System including all ancillary voting system(s) and components," says the request for proposals, which is expected to attract a horde of would-be vendors and their lobbyists.

San Diego is not new to abrupt and costly revisions of its election systems, as Bloomberg reported in September 2016. "After California declared almost all of the electronic voting machines in the state unfit for use in 2007 for failing basic security tests, San Diego County put its decertified machines in storage. It has been paying the bill to warehouse them ever since: No one wants to buy them, and county rules prohibit throwing millions of dollars’ worth of machines in the trash bin."

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Comments

My hacker friends agree that there is no secure electronic system that does not include a paper copy of every vote. All known machines have flaws that could allow them to be manipulated. The paper record is essential along with the option for a manual count.

ELECTIONS CODE SECTION 19250-19255

  1. (a) On and after January 1, 2005, the Secretary of State shall not approve a direct recording electronic voting system unless the system has received federal qualification and includes an accessible voter verified paper audit trail.

So we’re good as far as that goes.

Whatever they do to "improve" our voting systems, just make sure there is always a paper ballot available to the voter. Personally, I think there are too many options now -- by mail, at your precinct, at the Registrar of Voters or at the new voting centers, early, on the day, mail-ballot turn-in at your precinct, machine or paper -- it's nuts. How about declaring a Sunday in November US Election Day, closing the bars and everyone going somewhere to vote a paper ballot? It works for Mexico.

“No one wants to buy them, and county rules prohibit throwing millions of dollars’ worth of machines in the trash bin."

You would think that an inability to sell them even for a very low price would demonstrate that they are not in fact worth “millions of dollars”; even simply depreciating them at the same schedule as similar embedded electronic systems should have wiped out their accounting value.

Good comments all. I've never understood the big thrill about mail balloting. It should be available for those who need it, but for those who do not the way to vote should be at the neighborhood polling place. Some states, and I think Oregon is one of those, want to do it and get rid of polling places altogether. But as soon as that is done, there is an authentication problem, with ridiculous signature verifications. (As though voter signatures cannot be forged or otherwise falsified.) Now on election night the counts that come in are woefully incomplete due to all the mail ballots and others that cannot be tallied at the precinct polling place and quickly reported.

I'd advise some caution about adopting monahan's suggestion; just because that seems to "work" for Mexico doesn't mean it is secure or honest. The PRI rigged the vote in that country for decades, and it was only in the election that put Vicente Fox in the president's chair that the vote wasn't massively doctored. We should know better than to emulate anything done south-of-the-border.

Visduh, I'm sure Mexico has its share of shady vote-counting, but the official system followed by Mexico elevates the act of voting to the status of a democratic Holy Day of Obligation, not the workaday confusing mish-mash we now have here. As for your contention that the only 100% honest Mexican presidential election is the one that gave the world Vicente Fox, I have to disagree. Probably Coca-Cola orchestrated that one for its favorite son.

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