Alameda County Could Replace Diebold Machines By MATTHEW ARTZ

Friday August 26, 2005

The Alameda County Board of Supervisors Tuesday will consider accepting bids for new voting machines to replace the controversial Diebold touch-screen voting systems. 

Elaine Ginnold, the Acting County Registrar of Voters, has recommended that the board solicit bids from other electronic voting systems, after Diebold, the county’s supplier of voting machines, failed to win state certification for its newest line of machines, said Rodney Brooks, chief of staff to Supervisor Keith Carson. 

Alameda was one of the first counties in California to buy Diebold’s touch screen system, which has experienced repeated malfunctions in county elections. 

Last June, the Board of Supervisors voted to buy Diebold’s latest model that included a verified paper printout of votes. But shortly after the vote, Secretary Of State Bruce McPherson reported that 19 out of 96 machines failed. 

“At this point the county doesn’t know if they’re going to make certification, so we have to see if there’s some other company that can do something for us,” Brooks said. 

Under state law, the county must use machines in the June 2006 primary election certified by the California Secretary of State to produce a paper trail of votes. 

Diebold still has time to win state certification for its machines before the June election. Alameda County had agreed to pay Diebold an extra $4 million for the new systems with a paper trail. 

The county could be eligible for up to $9 million in federal funding for new machines from the Help America Vote Act, said Steven Hill, an Irvine Senior Fellow with the New America Foundation. 

“Even if new machines cost $12 million, if that’s all Alameda County has to pay to get rid of the headache of Diebold machines, I think it would be worth it,” Hill said. 

The prospect of a different company supplying the county is welcome news for advocates of Instant Runoff Voting, which Berkeley voters approved overwhelmingly last year. 

Two potential bidders to supply voting machines for Alameda County are Elections Systems & Software (ESS), which currently supplies machines for San Francisco elections and Sequoia Voting Systems. Both companies specialize in paper-based ballots that can be read by a high-speed scanner like those used on standardized tests. Also, both systems can handle instant runoff voting elections, according to Hill. 

Supporters of IRV, which ranks candidates when there are more than two people running for an office, are pushing for it to be available in Berkeley by November 2006.  

Diebold, however, has said that its system to allow for instant Runoff voting in county elections would not be ready until 2008 and would require the county to pay an extra $1 million, according to Sherry Kelly, Berkeley’s former city clerk, who is now heading up the city’s effort to implement IRV. 

“Diebold has put up a lot of hurdles,” she said.  

Berkeley Councilmember Kriss Worthington is planning to introduce a resolution calling on the county to bring in a new voting system vendor that could make IRV voting a reality next year. Worthington reasoned that since ESS and Sequioa are competing to supply San Francisco’s system and San Francisco has IRV, Berkeley could also have IRV as soon as next year. 

“Why should it take four years to honor the will of 72 percent of the voters,” he said. 

But Kelly said that no matter what system the county uses next year, IRV voting in 2006 appeared unlikely. 

“There are a lot of questions that have to be answered in the next three to four months,” she said. 

Because the county handles local elections, Berkeley needs the blessing of county officials before it can implement IRV. The other option—holding its own election—would be prohibitively expensive, according to Kelly. 

Kelly said that Berkeley was near agreement with officials in Oakland and San Leandro—the two other towns in the county with authority to go to IRV elections—on protocols to guide how the IRV elections will be run. 

Once the protocols are complete, Kelly said legal questions remain as to whether the county has the authority to certify IRV elections.  

“IRV elections will happen,” Kelly said. “It’s just a matter of how and when it will happen.”w