September 5, 2006 - HAVA forces vote system change
The Arcata Eye
Sept. 5, 2006
HAVA forces vote system change –
HUMBOLDT – The low-cost, low-tech disabled voting system thought to be the best way to comply with federal law has been rejected by the secretary of state, forcing the county to pursue a vastly more expensive electronic system.
Federal money – hundreds of thousands of dollars of it – will be used to pay for a new system that complies with the Help America Vote Act (HAVA). But the deadline for compliance was last January and Humboldt and other counties zig-zagged from one system to another as local controversy and statewide lawsuits from voter advocacy groups emerged.
And at a Sept. 1 special meeting of the Board of Supervisors, county Clerk-Recorder Carolyn Crnich reported that what was believed to be simplest and most cost-effective means of accommodating disabled voters has been snubbed by the secretary of state.
Known as vote-PAD, the cheap and low-tech system uses conventional ballots fitted inside plastic sleeves. At a cost of $65,000, vote-PAD would have been far simpler – and far less controversial – than electronic machines said by some to be susceptible to errors and manipulation.
But Crnich told supervisors that the state refused to certify vote-PAD due to the outcome of testing done in July. A state hearing last month featured lots of speakers – including system specialists and the disabled – who supported vote-PAD, and Crnich questioned the validity of the state’s testing.
The testimony at the hearing suggested that vote-PAD might be certified. The dashing of that hope “has kind of put us in a tailspin,” said Crnich.
With the HAVA deadline already in the past and vote-PAD disqualified, the county is scrambling for compliance by this November’s election. Now the county will pursue an electronic system called e-Slate, manufactured by Hart Intercivic. Buying enough machines to install one at each of the county’s 65 or so handicapped-accessible voting sites will eat up much of the $900,000 the feds have given the county for HAVA compliance.
Crnich and officials in other counties would have preferred vote-PAD. She said she was “absolutely disheartened” with vote-PAD’s rejection. But she didn’t dwell on it.
“I don’t think – I’m sure – we don’t have time to lick our wounds and fuss any more over this or appeal it or pursue it any further – it’s done,” Crnich said. “We’ve got an election in November and we’ve got to meet the HAVA requirements.”
During public comment, Dave Berman, an assertive critic of electronic voting systems, told supervisors that they should rebel against the state, the feds and “secret vote counting” by using vote-PAD anyway.
Crnich said doing that would result in loss of federal funding and possibly a federal lawsuit against the county. Supervisors shared her frustration with the situation, but unanimously voted to give her the authority to draft and enter into a contract with Hart Intercivic.
Still, about 20 of the county’s polling sites are not handicapped-accessible. And Crnich pointed out that in San Luis Obispo County, 69,000 voters cast ballots in the June primary – and only 11 of them used newly-installed HAVA-compliant machines.
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