Riverside Registrar Tests Temporary Voting System

Election officials in Riverside County tested a new, temporary voting system Tuesday. The county hopes to have the system in place in time for the February presidential primary. Last summer, Secretary of State Debra Bowen decertified the electronic voting system the county had used in 39 previous elections. KPCC's Inland Empire reporter Steven Cuevas reports.

Steven Cuevas: Riverside County has always used voting equipment made by the Bay Area company Sequoia Voting Systems. Now it's only allowed to use one Sequoia touch screen voting machine per polling place. It can also use these Sequoia optical scanners to tabulate paper ballots.

[Sound of voting machine]

Barbara Dunmore: We're testing not only the ballots we've pre-marked, but any votes or marks you'd like to make on a ballot to see how the voting units operate.

Cuevas: Registrar of Voters Barbara Dunmore wants to use the stove-sized scanners to keep the election process from bogging down, now that the county's touch-screen voting machines are largely sidelined. The two scanners here at county election headquarters are on loan from Sequoia.

Dunmore says the County Board of Supervisors hasn't decided if it wants to spend more than half-a-million dollars to buy six scanners in time for February's election.

Dunmore: Or whether we use another system, our old Mark-A-Vote system, which is 1970s technology, or move to another system if that's their desire. We're getting very nervous. There are timelines within our calendars of when we need to submit our envelope orders and our paper ballot orders to these vendors so that they can order that material in order to provide us with the proper materials to conduct the election.

Cuevas: If paper ballots have to be counted by hand, and that's a real possibility, that'll delay results and also require more election workers. That's okay with Tom Courbat.

Tom Courbat: When you hand count paper ballots, you would have to have thousands of people involved in an effort to flip the outcome of an election.

Cuevas: Courbat is head of Save R Vote, an election watchdog group based in Temecula. He says electronic voting equipment is vulnerable and unreliable.

Courbat: When you count ballots electronically in a millisecond, you flip 10,000 votes (snaps fingers) just like that. And the programmers are so sophisticated now that they can do that and leave absolutely no trace. And so when they say we've run 39 successful elections, my question is: How do you know?

Cuevas: Barbara Dunmore insists the e-voting system is secure, and that it shouldn't have been decertified because the Secretary of State's tests were not done in a real-world environment.

Riverside county will be allowed to use e-voting equipment in November's election. In the meantime, Sequoia Voting Systems is working on improvements to its electronic equipment, in the hopes that it will be recertified in Riverside County. Even if it is recertified, that won't happen in time for the February presidential primary.