Nevada County awaits voting machine verdict | SierraSun.com

Nevada County awaits voting machine verdict

Laura Brown
Sun News Service

Emma Garrard/Sierra Sun file photoIgnacio Cortez uses an electronic voting machine at Truckee Community Center, and said he found it easier than using paper ballots. Nevada County is waiting for the state to certify the machine.

Little time remains for the Nevada County clerk-recorder to prepare for a February election as the office awaits a voting machine certification from the California secretary of state.

Placer County officials, on the other hand, feel confident that the secretary of state will recertify the voting machines they have used in the past. Most voters mark their votes on paper ballots, which are then read by an optical scanner.

Nevada County’s situation is less secure.

“There is a sense of urgency from my office to get some answers … I don’t have any idea if the Hart machines (bought by the county) are in compliance” with state security requirements, Clerk/Recorder Gregory Diaz told the Nevada County board of supervisors at a meeting Tuesday.

The county cannot move forward in its preparations for the election until it receives a letter from California Secretary of State Debra Bowen authorizing the use of the machines the county recently agreed to purchase, Diaz said. So far, he has received no indication how Bowen will respond, even though he has made weekly phone calls to her office.

By contrast, Placer County voting officials presume that Bowen will authorize use of the Premier AccuVote TSX machines they’ve employed for disabled voters in previous elections.

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“We feel fully confident that they will be recertified, just with different procedures, which will be fine,” said Placer Assistant Registrar of Voters Ryan Ronco. “It’s the secretary’s preferred method, so we should be OK.”

Dec. 1 is the “drop dead date” for ordering the Hart InterCivic electronic voting machines, Diaz said. One machine is required per polling place for disabled voters.

“We need to have these machines in by the middle of December. If we get the machines six weeks before the election, we’ll pull it off,” Diaz said.

Nine other counties in the state use the Hart machines, including Orange County, where officials are confident Bowen will certify the machines in time for the election, Diaz said.

Several contingency plans are in place; they include using paper ballots and a certified tabulator to count the votes. Diaz predicts the election will come with “unforeseen costs” because it will require a bigger work force and extensive last-minute training.

If an electronic tabulator isn’t found in time, staff would resort to counting ballots manually, Diaz said.

“It worked for a couple hundred years that way,” he added.

Placer County feels secure with the Premier voting process for handicapped voters, which utilizes touch-screen machines in conjunction with paper ballots.

“With the new secretary, there will be new procedures [for using the machines],” said Ronco. “I feel like here in Placer, we’re pretty well set up to meet the procedures that the Secretary will put in place.”

Nevada County supervisors adopted a resolution to spend the remaining $565,000 of the original $866,000 in federal Help America Vote Act funds originally allocated to the county in December 2005.

Nevada County spent more than $300,000 to rent Diebold machines for the November 2006 election.

“That election cost the county a lot of money,” Diaz said.

Near midnight on Aug. 3, Bowen decertified three electronic voting machines for statewide use after a team of university scientists hacked into them using manuals, source codes and unlimited time.

Bowen is expected to respond by Nov. 3 to submissions made by the companies with the hacked machines, including Nevada County’s preferred model by Hart InterCivic.