Elections officials await orders; Secretary of State expected to rule on counties' voting systems by midnight
North County Times (2007-08-04) Chris Bagley
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By: CHRIS BAGLEY - Staff Writer
SACRAMENTO -- Although the state's chief elections official had signaled the possibility that she would order the replacement or massive overhaul of counties' voting systems Friday, the minutes ticked down to a legal deadline of midnight with no word.
After a series of studies last week described security gaps in all electronic voting systems used in California, Secretary of State Debra Bowen was expected to either recertify, decertify or impose new security requirements for the touch-screen voting terminals used in Riverside and a dozen other counties. That could prompt the counties to fall back on paper ballots for the Feb. 5 presidential primary elections.
The possibility of 11th-hour orders left manufacturers and some local registrars checking a government Web site late into Friday evening, as the highly anticipated directives had not been issued by 10:30 p.m. State election law requires that counties be given 180 days' notice before an election to make any changes; that six-month window began at midnight.
The possibility remained Friday night that Bowen would miss the deadline altogether, freeing up local elections officials to put off any changes until at least June. Bowen's deputies weren't able to discuss the late-night release of her conclusions, though one spokeswoman said about 10:15 p.m. that they were still on the way.
Senior elections officials in Riverside County have called the six-month timetable possible but challenging and potentially expensive. Meanwhile, it wasn't clear whether the county's governing board, which is in recess until Aug. 28, would need to sign off on a decision by Dunmore to go with an interim voting system.
"It's not like a decision has to be made by Thursday," county spokesman Ray Smith said, "especially if we can use current equipment through November."
Any Bowen directive on the Sequoia Edge voting machines could apply to Riverside, San Bernardino, Imperial and another 12 counties where poll voters used the Sequoia Edge touch screens in last November's elections.
Bowen was also expected Friday evening to issue separate criteria for the voting systems used in remaining counties.
The directives were expected in the wake of experts' reports on the systems' security. A report by UC Santa Barbara computer scientists described seven methods of hacking into the Edge II system used in Riverside County ---- methods they said they had tested successfully in a five-week period this summer. Representatives of Sequoia and other voting manufacturers argued that the tests were of limited use, being so far removed from the real-world conditions in which the voting equipment is used and stored. Those protests echoed members of the county's governing board, who have defended touch screens repeatedly. A monthlong attempt to manipulate voting software is no more telling than an unguarded exercise in stuffing stacks of paper slips into a slotted box, some argued.
Bowen discussed the scientists' findings with the company representatives and county registrars last week; she emphasized repeatedly that her eventual orders would account for security measures that registrars do or should implement.
One of the two leaders of the UCSB team said even that wouldn't be enough to remove all his doubts.
"There are some very skilled hackers for hire out there," Giovanni Vigna, an associate professor of computer science, said in an interview last week. "As a citizen and a voter, if I had to choose, I would choose paper ballots."
-- Contact staff writer Chris Bagley at (951) 676-4315, Ext. 2615, or firstname.lastname@example.org