Friday, October 20, 2006

Election Integrity Advocates Expose Misconception of HAVA Funding

Guest Blogged By Jane Allen
We Do Not Consent EXCLUSIVE Report

San Francisco Elections Commission Meeting October 18, 2006

With the pressure off, one might imagine that the commissioners and Director of Elections John Arntz would breathe a sigh of relief and take time to reassess their rush to sign a contract with either ES&S or Sequoia before January 1, 2007.

One would be wrong.

The backstory: These folks hopped on a train a while back and still haven't jumped off. They (and the California Secretary of State) were operating under the mistaken belief that a decision about HAVA-compliant voting machines had to be made by the end of 2006 because Federal monies could be used only for accessible equipment after that date. Thus, Mr. Arntz and the Elections Commission have been racing to finalize a contract before end of year. At the commission meeting of October 4, Roger Donaldson (a voting activist) questioned that interpretation and then pursued the issue with the SoS and the Elections Assistance Commission. He was able to resolve the matter in seven working days.

Chris Reynolds, the California Secretary of State HAVA coordinator, said in an email dated October 13, 2006:

"HAVA funds that are now available via the Section 301 Voting Systems upgrade contract expended after January 1, 2007 are NOT restricted to purchases of voting systems or voting units that are fully accessible to voters with disabilities. Of course, all other Section 301 voting system standards - including 301(a)(3), which requires at least one fully compliant voting unit be available at each polling place - is STILL required. What this means, however, is that funds not committed or expended by the counties before January 1, 2007 CAN be used to purchase any type of voting equipment needed - again, as long as the voting system as a whole meets all requirements, including the requirements of Section 301(a)(3)." (emphasis in original)

....

This information was sent by email to Deputy City Attorney Ann O'Leary on October 13.

A tentative plan existed to hear public comment on the future of San Francisco voting systems at the November 1 Commission meeting. Despite Roger Donaldson's information and regardless of the woefully bad timing of that date, not one of the commissioners suggested a change of schedule. Public comment ensued. Probably the most compelling argument for moving the date was that such short notice and a week before election day would likely mean that the only public who would be commenting were already in the room. In the end, a bit of common sense prevailed and that agenda item was tentatively pushed to December 6.

Mr. Arntz showed considerable lack of interest in considering any equipment other than ES&S or Sequoia. He noted that his negotiations with those two vendors are ongoing and that San Francisco will continue to use paper ballots (with one touch screen per precinct for HAVA compliance and others for early voting).

Another public comment urging a slow down suggested that the present voting system could be used next year. Mr. Arntz replied that the Eagle equipment will not be recertified again. There was a curious statement by Ms. O'Leary during this discussion. She asserted that the existing equipment contract had been amended many times, so it could not be amended again. When Brent Turner asked for clarification about what law specified how many times a contract could be amended, Ms. O'Leary did not respond.

All of the passionate rhetoric was on the public side of the room. Jim Soper's "we need to do better than this" speech referred to unsecured machines and unknown software. He and several others urged the commissioners to slow down and take the time to get it right. Mr. Soper pointed out that by using open source code, San Francisco "could lead the way" and "show others how it's done."

And I sat there wishing for a sign that the people up front at the big tables had the vision and courage to make that happen.

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