Politics, government and public life for Southern California

State audit: Counties spent $22M on voting machines that couldn't be used

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A California state audit released Thursday found that counties spent $22 million on voting machines that could not be fully used — and that about $13 million alone was spent by Riverside County, an early adopter of new voting technology.

Most counties have exhausted the funds allocated for the voting technologies, with the exception of Los Angeles County.

The California Auditor's report also said that Secretary of State Debra Bowen's office was not efficient in overseeing how millions of federal dollars were spent on those voting systems.

Los Angeles County was found to have spent $1.2 million on machines that couldn't be fully used, but it still hasn't spent about $20.6 million. L.A. is in the midst of designing its own voting system and plans to use the funds to pay for it.

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The audit was ordered after country registrars complained about the lack of a consistent set of rules for new voting technologies. 

Congress in 2002 set aside $380 million for California counties to update old voting systems after the disputed 2000 presidential election.

But that turned out to be a costly move as public criticism mounted about alleged security flaws in electronic voting machines. That's when Bowen changed the rules.

"In 2007 Secretary of State Debra Bowen did a top-to-bottom review of electronic voting systems and decertified the particular system that we use," said Riverside County Assistant Registrar of Voters Rebecca Spencer.

Spencer said the Secretary of State decision to decertify the machines should have take into account various security measures, such as having poll workers carefully watch voters.

"This review was completely in a vacuum," she said. Riverside had to trade in $7 million worth of paperless voting machines and spend millions more federal dollars and its own money on voting machines that provide a paper audit trail.

Secretary of State spokeswoman Shannan Velayas said the office acted to restore public confidence in electronic voting systems.

"People were not trusting voting systems in California," Velayas said. "So what she did was she withdrew approval of all the voting systems used in California and she went through one by one and recertified each of them."

She stressed that the audit found no wrongdoing in the Secretary of State's actions.


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