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News round-up: CA voting technology update, Basque voting system, CFP 2004

April 15, 2004

Hi Folks,

In this issue of CVF-NEWS:

California Voting Technology Update

The March 2 California Primary election was a disaster in several counties, leading to the disenfranchisement of several thousand voters. In Alameda County, problems with Diebold's "smart card" encoders impacted 186 of the county's 763 polling places, preventing voters from casting ballots on touchscreens during part of the day. In San Diego County, smart card encoder problems impacted 573 of the county's 1,611 polling places. In Orange County, thousands of voters were given the wrong electronic ballots; many were unable to cast votes in contests for which they were eligible, while others were allowed to vote in districts in which they did not reside.

While the voting problems in Orange, Alameda and San Diego counties garnered the most attention in the weeks following the election, many other counties that use computerized voting systems also had their share of problems.

In San Bernardino County, officials waited three hours for their new Sequoia vote counting computer to process the results before resorting to shutting down the computer and starting over. In San Joaquin County, a public radio reporter who selected a polling place at random to interview voters using the county's new Diebold touchscreen voting system arrived to find voters standing around, unable to vote because the machine being used to program smart cards was inoperable. In Merced County, ES&S machines that had been delivered to one city had been programmed with the ballots of another.

Reports of these problems, and what California counties are doing to address them, can be found on my weblog,

Prior to the March Primary, California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley was already considering decertifying some or all of Diebold's voting equipment. In light of the widespread problems counties and voters experienced on March 2, the possibility that all electronic, paperless voting systems will be decertified prior the November election is being considered by the Secretary of State as well as some members of the California Legislature.

CA Voting Systems panel will consider decertification of e-voting systems April 21-22

On Wednesday, April 21, the Secretary of State's Voting Systems and Procedures Panel will convene a two-day hearing in Sacramento to consider whether paperless electronic voting systems should be decertified. The panel will also report on the Secretary of State's investigation into Diebold's use of uncertified and untested equipment and software in numerous California counties. Under California law the Secretary of State cannot withdraw certification of a voting system less than six months prior to an election, so if anything is going to be decertified in California by the Secretary of State it must happen prior to April 30.

This two-day hearing is expected to draw a large crowd that will include local registrars, vendors, and activists who support and oppose paperless electronic voting systems.

The hearing is open to the public and begins at 10 a.m. in the Secretary of State's auditorium at 1500 11th Street in downtown Sacramento.

The agenda is online at

The California Voter Foundation supports the call for decertification of paperless electronic voting machines to prohibit their use in California this November. For more information, see my March 12 weblog entry.

It's important that Secretary Shelley hear from concerned voters before April 21. Please take a moment to communicate your concerns. Here's how:

Legislation introduced to prohibit paperless electronic voting systems in November

If the Secretary of State does not decertify papereless electronic voting systems, the Legislature may act to do so. A bipartisan team of California state senators is pushing to prohibit the use of paperless, electronic voting systems in the November 2004 presidential election. Senators Ross Johnson (R-Orange) and Don Perata (D-Alameda) are calling on California Secretary of State Kevin Shelley to immediately decertify paperless electronic voting systems.

Senators Johnson and Perata have also amended a bill, SB 1723, to include language that will prohibit paperless electronic systems from being used in California this November. SB 1723 is set to be heard by the Senate Elections Committee on May 5. Prior to the March election, the senators also introduced another bill, SB 1438, which would require a voter verified paper trail in California by 2005, and will be heard in the Senate Elections Committee at the State Capitol in Sacramento on Wednesday, April 21. The senators have also recently amended SB 530, which has language identical to SB 1723 but is further along in the legislative process. Bill texts, analyses and schedules can be found online at

Computers, Freedom & Privacy Conference begins April 20 in Berkeley, CA

The 14th annual Computers, Freedom & Privacy conference kicks off on April 20 and continues through April 23 at the Claremont Hotel in Berkeley, CA. I will be on a panel, along with David Wagner, Doug Kellner, Dan Tokaji, Mike Shamos and Scott Konopasek on Friday, April 23 at 3:15 p.m. to discuss voting technology and whether a voter verified paper trail should be required to back up electronic ballots. More information about this panel and the conference is available online at I look forward to seeing many of you there!

Observations of the Basque Government's "Demotek" voting system

I recently traveled to Spain to observe a university election using the Basque government's new Demotek voting system. Demotek was developed through a government-led initiative that brought a consortium of private companies and university departments together to make a new and better voting system for the Basque region. I was joined by observers from Argentina, Belgium, and other parts of Spain.

The Basque voting system starts with a paper ballot; designers felt it was important that the new voting system incorporate components that are familiar to voters, so that voters would be accepting of the new system. The two key components they identified as important are the paper ballot and ballot privacy.

In the Demotek system, voters go to a ballot table and select the party ballot they want to vote. The name of the party is printed on one side of the ballot, and is also printed on the outside in a format that is not visible to the naked eye, but when shown under a light, illuminates the name of the party. In this way, voters can verify that the electronic reading of their ballot is accurate. The ballot is folded and inserted by the pollworker into the top of a transparent ballot box. When the ballot has been electronically read, a green light on top to the box lights up and the pollworker and voter can both hear an audible click. Once electronically read, the paper ballot is dropped by the pollworker into the transparent box. A counter at the top of the box shows how many ballots have been accepted throughout the voting day.

The system is simple for pollworkers and voters alike. It did not require extensive training or technical expertise. Though the Basques do not currently use the paper ballots to verify the accuracy of the electronic count (i.e. by counting a subset of paper ballots selected by random by hand and comparing the totals to the electronic count) they were open to this suggestion. Overall, I found that the collaboration between the government, private sector and university departments helped shape a voting system that is transparent, reliable, and accepted by voters, and the developers of the system committed to improving it however possible. It was a refreshing change from the experience I and others have had working to improve voting systems here in the United States. The public/private sector collaboration is a path I hope we too will take to improve our voting systems.

-- Kim Alexander, President
California Voter Foundation, 916-441-2494

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This page was first published on April 15, 2004 | Last updated on January 27, 2006
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