December 7, 2007 - High cost for hand vote count
Paper: Monterey County Herald, The (CA)
Title: High cost for hand vote count
Date: December 7, 2007
It would cost Monterey County about $560,000 more each election to conduct the kind of hand-counted paper ballot vote being requested by a local elections watchdog group, said the county registrar of voters.
A report by county elections chief Linda Tulett said a 100 percent hand count at the precinct would require 3,000 or more staff members to count the votes from more complex ballots, such as the one in next year's presidential election. The report also found that neither the extra expenditure nor extra staff would ensure a more accurate count.
But SAVElections spokeswoman Valerie Lane called the report a good first step and expressed optimism that voting changes could eventually follow.
Tulett presented her report at Wednesday night's county Board of Supervisors Voting Rights Committee meeting. SAVElections opposes electronic voting, arguing that machine-counted votes are less accurate and more susceptible to fraud.
Tulett said her report underscored several points, including that paper ballots aren't the most accurate method nor the most efficient, given the additional cost and deadlines for delivering a final vote tally. She pointed out that Secretary of State Debra Bowen does not support all hand-counted, paper-ballot elections, despite her decertification of touch-screen voting machines last summer.
Currently, the county uses all paper, machine-counted ballots, with the exception of one touch-screen voting machine per precinct for disabled voters to meet federal voting requirements. County elections staff members are required to hand count all touch-screen votes in addition to a 1 percent hand count of the paper ballots.
Supervisor Simon Salinas said he couldn't support the cost of all hand-counted paper ballot elections, especially considering the state's looming budget deficit and the county's list of other spending priorities.
"If I had to vote right now, I wouldn't vote to put $500,000-plus toward this," Salinas said.
But Salinas said he will accede to a request from SAVElections members who asked that the issue go to the full board. Salinas said the board would likely consider the issue after elections officials are able to consult with county attorneys about voting law and prepare a more detailed report.
Supervisor Fernando Armenta said it could take up to a year to bring the issue to the full board, noting that the county elections staff is in the midst of a particularly busy election season.
"Eventually, it's going to come to the full board; I'm just not sure how soon," Armenta said. "It's important, but whether it's a top priority for the board I don't know."
Including last month's local district election, county staff members will conduct four elections in 12 months. That includes the state's presidential primary on Feb. 5, a countywide election June 3, and the presidential election in November.
Salinas said he supports the watchdog group's request for the formation of a citizens' elections oversight committee.
Lane said she was grateful for Tulett's report and recognizes there are challenges that come with using hand-counted paper ballots. But she said an accurate, secure vote count is a crucial element of citizens' freedom, and a machine count "behind closed doors" threatens that freedom.
She also said she believes Tulett's report contains "some inaccuracies" and omissions.
She said SAVElections believes hand counts are more accurate than machine counts, contrary to the report's conclusions. She also said that she wants to see a more complete cost analysis of using the hand-counted paper-ballot method.
Lane said her group will be submitting a list of questions to the county elections staff in an effort to gather more complete information.
Lane said community support for SAVElections' preferred method is broad enough to offer plenty of volunteers to help count votes, reducing the number of paid counters and the overall cost of using the method.
"Logistically, yes, it would take some work to put this together," Lane said. "But there are people out there willing to help. This is important."
Tulett acknowledged that the county's voting system isn't perfect, but pointed to a statement by Vinz Koller, chairman of the Monterey County Democratic Party, at Wednesday's meeting that all voting methods have some flaws.
"I think that's the reality for elections," she said. "There are always going to be people who believe you should be doing things differently and their method is the best."
Author: JIM JOHNSON
Copyright (c) 2007 The Monterey County Herald