By John Gideon on 8/1/2006, 1:26pm PT  

Guest Blogged by John Gideon

Yesterday, according to an article in The Bakersfield Californian, a panel of California state senators held a hearing in Bakersfield to discern what happened in the county during the June 6 state primary. The panel consisted of Sen. Debra Bowen, D-Redondo Beach; Sen. Roy Ashburn, R-Bakersfield; and Sen. Joseph Dunn, D-Garden Grove.

The California Senate Select Committee on Integrity of Elections has launched an investigation into problems in elections in the state. That investigation started in Kern County (Bakersfield) with testimony by County Deputy Registrar of Voters Sandy Brockman, Diebold Election Systems official Mike Rockenstein, and other election workers.

Brockman stood in for her boss, Auditor-Controller Ann Barnett, who was on vacation and not available to answer questions about why some voters were not able to vote in the primary. In fact, the paper reports:

Ashburn asked why Barnett wasn't there to answer his tough questions about the decisions she made.

Brockman said Barnett was on vacation.

"She had scheduled vacation time prior to them calling this hearing," Brockman said.

Later, Ashburn said that "she (Barnett) chose not to be here. I got the impression at several points that Sandy Brockman had to take responsibility for actions that were made by Ann Barnett."

Ashburn was critical of Barnett immediately after the June 6 election. He called for Secretary of State Bruce McPherson to investigate the county's election bungles.

The questioning was all about mistakes:

Committee members pelted local elections officials with searing questions about why they failed the voters.

State Sen. Roy Ashburn, R-Bakersfield, asked why touch-screen voting machines failed and paper ballots ran out making voting nearly impossible for as many as 500 Kern County voters.

County Deputy Registrar of Voters Sandy Brockman, sitting in for elections boss Auditor-Controller Ann Barnett, took the brunt of Ashburn's questions.

Under his questioning, she said Barnett decided not to train elections workers on the use of paper ballots and decided to send only the minimum number of paper ballots to each polling place.

Elections workers testified they were told not to use paper ballots.

But when electronic voting cards failed, the paper ballots ran out and as many as 500 voters could have lost the chance to vote, Brockman said.

The Diebold representative got his turn to answer some hard questions from Sen. Dunn:

Diebold made the voting machines and electronic ballot cards that malfunctioned in Kern County on June 6.

Through the negligence of Diebold, Dunn said, hundreds of Kern County voters were turned away at the polls and lost their chance to vote.

If a chance to vote is priceless, Dunn asked Rockenstein, how much would Diebold be willing to pay voters who could prove they couldn't vote because of the company's mistakes?

Rockenstein said he had no answer to that question.

The next stop by the panel has been unannounced so far. Could San Diego Co. be very far down on their list?