Voting machines will be ready by June | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Voting machines will be ready by June

Susan Wood

El Dorado County wants to keep e-voting from becoming an e-ticket ride.

The county has begun to receive its electronic voting machines in time for the June primary that will, among other things, determine the supervisor for the next four years for Tahoe District 5. Supervisor Norma Santiago is running against City Councilman Ted Long for the seat.

In what’s considered the 11th hour for elections departments, the Diebold machines were recently certified for use by the federal government and California Secretary of State.

But the machines haven’t been without controversy as the former Texas-based Diebold chief moonlighted as a Bush campaign fundraiser and delays in the computer security coding required more tweaking of the system. In Ohio, which determined the 2004 presidential election, questions were raised about the accuracy of the system.

According to the Help America Vote Act of 2002, the law makes the nation’s punch-card version obsolete. Congress offered the states $3.9 billion to buy the modern-day voting equipment, and this county is using $1.7 million on the venture. The voting act came about after the 2000 presidential election in which thousands of ballots were not counted because of problems with Florida’s punch card system. The U.S. Supreme Court turned down a challenge from Bush opponent Al Gore, who argued for a recount.

County Registrar Bill Schultz put a mail-in ballot only election before the supervisors last month, when he wondered if he would get the machines and special-order software in time.

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The county is also spending $70,000 to remodel the Elections Department on Fairlane Court in Placerville. The counting will be more visible but secure come Election Day, and seating will be set up so observers may witness the Republic’s most regarded constitutional privilege.

Schultz has ordered 130 touch-screen electronic voting machines to be used by disabled voters. The screen may tilt in a downward position to accommodate those in wheelchairs. The county will also get 123 optical scan machines to be placed in 110 polling places, with some on reserve. South Lake Tahoe has 19 polling places and will require the same number of poll workers. Training is set for mid May.

In the meantime, the public may receive a preview at a demonstration scheduled at the library through the Lake Tahoe Democratic Club. Schultz said the Republican club had not indicated it selected a time.

“Most of us have questions. They’ve had problems,” said Charles Jensen, a Democratic Club member. “We thought it would be good for the community to see before they go to the voting booth.”

Jensen supported the remodeling plan where the election counting will take place.

“I can support a winner if I know the election is honest,” he said. “These machines have a paper trail, and that’s good.”

The company behind the vote

Even though Diebold’s machines have been certified and appear ready to go, skepticism has surrounded the Allen, Texas company known just as much for manufacturing automatic teller machines as its voting equipment. The latter has given the firm 50 percent of the market.

Reports of an August 2003 letter from former Chief Executive Officer Walden O’Dell caused a stir when his commitment to President Bush’s re-election campaign in 2004 provided uncertainty his company’s machines could fairly calculate votes.

Schultz said he was undeterred by the controversy dictating the outcome of the election. He agreed O’Dell’s actions were inappropriate, but he believes the certified machines will do the job.

Since February, California Secretary of State Bruce McPherson requested conditions that Diebold undergo an additional security analysis. Computer scientists from UC Berkeley concluded the company’s voting system is secure with conditions.

Electronic Voting Machine Demonstration

April 13, 7 p.m.

El Dorado County Library, South Lake Tahoe Branch

1000 Rufus Allen Blvd.