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Citing “safety concern,” CA Secretary of State decertifies voting machine (*updated)

Saturday, August 4th, 2007

Following a study by University of California voting security experts during which they were able to hack into electronic voting machines, Friday California Secretary of State Debra Bowen put into place new security procedures for electronic voting, and decertified the use of a certain type of voting machine used in Los Angeles County. She issued the order just minutes before a midnight deadline in order to ensure the changes to go into effect before the February 5 California presidential primary election. From LA Times:

[Bowen] withdrew state approval of the InkaVote Plus machines used in Los Angeles County, saying that the machines’ maker, Election Systems and Software, had failed to submit its equipment to her office in time to analyze its vulnerability to hacking.

She said her office would examine the InkaVote machines and expressed optimism that they would win approval in time to be used in next year’s elections, but did not say what would happen if the machines failed her tests.

“When NASA discovers a flow or a potential safety concern in the space shuttle, it doesn’t continue launching the missions…,” Bowen said. “It scrubs the missions until the problem is fixed.”

Her announcement, made just nine minutes before a midnight deadline, was condemned by the head of the state’s county registrar’s association, Contra Costa Registrar Stephen Weir.

Weir said Bowen’s actions — along with an unusual audit in which she dispatched several computer experts to try to hack into the machines, which they did — had undermined public confidence in the security of the new electronic machines. But her solutions, he said, would not do anything to restore the public peace of mind, especially for elections that will occur this year, such as a special Congressional election in Los Angeles in two weeks.

“I think the secretary has redefined the definition of midnight madness,” Weir said. He said that while he was not sure what the impact of the new rules would be, they had enough potential for causing chaos and delays at the polls that he encouraged people to vote by mail. Her restrictions on the use of two types of machines to one per polling place would require the printing of far more paper ballots that planned, and that could prove difficult to achieve.”

California happens to be one of 35 states that allow some form of no-excuse early or absentee voting. If this scenario were to play out in one of the 15 states that require an excuse, it isn’t clear whether a recommendation like Registrar Weir’s would suffice as an excuse. If it not, it’s Tuesday or bust. So we ask that familiar question: why Tuesday? Stay tuned for more on this breaking story.

* Sunday update: The LA Times runs a longer version of the above story, written too late to make it into the Saturday paper, on today’s front page. The headline says that 39 counties’ vote systems are now in question. Hector Becerra and Jordan Rau write:

The decision places California at the center of the national debate on electronic voting machines. And with Bowen’s action, the state now has some of the nation’s strictest regulations governing” the use of electronic voting machines.

Indeed, The New York Times also runs a story today about what is going on in California. So, who is the woman that is bringing election reform to the front page? The LA Times runs a profile of CA’s Secretary of State along side today’s article.

Photo by Brian Baer for the Sacramento Bee

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