Voting Machines Laws: 53 Counties Not Ready

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With all of the complex issues surrounding federal and state laws regulating voting machines, one factoid stood out in a hearing this morning in the state Senate: only 5 California counties have systems in place that are fully compliant with all new laws, and the June primary is a little more than 4 months away.

That assessment is based mostly on a chart compiled with information from local elections officials in each of California's 58 counties. The issue at hand is not only having a voting system that's compliant with state laws, but also one that is compliant with the federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA).

As of last week, only Contra Costa, Stanislaus, Sacramento, San Luis Obispo, and Santa Barbara counties had voting systems that were fully compliant and ready to roll. Every other county faces some sort of hurdles that have to be jumped-- from machines that will have to produce a paper record in accordance with a new California law, to machines that don't meet HAVA requirements about being fully accessible to some disabled voters.

The issues are pretty complex, and this morning's hearing was dominated by a discussion of timelines-- timelines influenced by the manufacturers of some machines getting federal approval of their devices, and then also getting state approval of those devices.

And the debate was sharp between Senator Debra Bowen (D-Marina del Rey), chair of the committee, and Undersecretary of State Bill Wood (appearing on behalf of his boss, Secretary Bruce McPherson).

Bowen (a candidate, it should be noted, for McPherson's job) seemed pessimistic that state elections officials would be able to sign off in time on machines made by 5 different manufacturers.

"I see absolutely no way that you could possibly get your part of the work done in time for the [local county] registrars to have any ability to even make a decision about what they are going to use in the June election," said Bowen.

Wood, and others from the Secretary of State's office, said they believed it was possible, but stressed that the manufacturers of these machines needed to make deadlines of applications and documentation that are at the end of this month.

It should be noted that not all of the machines in question are the loved-or-hated electronic touch screen machines. Those machines have been at the epicenter of the rumblings about voting issues in recent years. And none have been given the OK for the upcoming elections.

Many local elections officials are, to say the least, worried. In fact, two counties... Alameda and San Mateo... are now seeking approval from the Legislature to conduct the June election as a "mail-in ballot only" election, rather than purchase the wrong equipment.

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About John Myers

John Myers is senior editor of KQED's new multimedia California Politics & Government Desk.  He has covered California politics for most of the past two decades -- serving previously as Sacramento bureau chief for KQED News and, most recently, as political editor for KXTV News10 (ABC) in Sacramento. He moderated the only gubernatorial debate of 2014, and was named one of the nation's top statehouse reporters by The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @johnmyers.

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