Public Comment

Commentary: Will Our Votes Count?

By Jinky Gardner, Helen Hutchison and Susan Schroeder
Tuesday November 07, 2006

Will our votes count in this election? The short answer is yes.  

Members of the League of Women Voters in Alameda County have been observing and working closely with the Registrar of Voters Office (ROV) for more than a year an a half to make sure that our election system is working well. Guiding our work have been the LWVUS standard—SARA—voting systems should be Secure, Accurate, Recountable and Accessible, and the basic League tenet that voting is a fundamental citizen right that must be guaranteed. 

Four League members serve on the ROV’s Citizen’s Advisory Committee; two League members serve on the ROV’s Logic and Accuracy Board.  

Overall, League observers found the ROV conscientious and meticulous in carrying out its work. Election equipment and software are only part of an election system. Well trained staff and systematic procedures are key elements; they are essential to carry out a secure and accurate election. Acting ROV Dave Macdonald, who also heads the County’s IT Department, has expanded and improved the tracking and testing of equipment and systems, upgraded the training of the existing staff and brought with him from IT additional staff with computer expertise. An independent firm was hired to do a vulnerability assessment. The firm identified only a few weak points that the ROV needed to correct. The report is posted on the web at content/uploads/2006/10/alameda_sequoia_vuln.pdf.  

A full report of League observations of the November 2005 election, “How Our Votes Are Counted,” is posted on the Web at acc_rov.htm. Although some details of the system described in this report will change at this election, the descriptions are still relevant to citizen observers. During the canvass following the June election, the ROV posted large sheets explaining to citizen observers exactly what processes they were observing. 

This election will provide a strenuous test for the ROV since the County has brand new voting machines and a new voting system, from a new vendor, Sequoia Voting Systems. The Board of Supervisors made their purchase decision only just in time for the fall election; equipment began to arrive at the end of August. The Registrar of Voters staff had to work very quickly to learn the new system, to adapt existing training for poll workers and temporary staff, to train them and to study and test the new systems. Because of concerns raised by citizens about the security of electronic systems, the Board of Supervisors required the ROV to add extraordinary safeguards for this election—including independent testing and a full hand recount of all votes cast on touch screen machines. 

All voters will be able to review their ballots before casting them; all ballots will have a paper backup. Most votes will actually be cast on paper ballots. Disabled voters—or voters who wish to do so—will vote on new touch screen machines which will also print their vote on a paper roll; those who vote with an audio ballot will be able to listen to an audio replay.  

Voters in Alameda County can vote with confidence. 


Jinky Gardner is president of the Berkeley, Albany, Emeryville chapter of the League of Women Voters; Helen Hutchison is president of the Oakland chapter; and Susan Schroeder is presdient of the Piedmont chapter.