County Registrar Asks for Permission to Use Same Uncertified ES&S Touch-Screen Machines Again, Despite Cost and State's $15 Million Lawsuit Against Distributor...
By Brad Friedman on 11/24/2007, 9:44pm PT  

Blogged by Brad from St. Louis, MO...

Things are really expensive in Marin County, California. For example, the cost to the county, so far, for each vote cast on their brand-new AutoMARK touch-screen voting machines has been $45,588.23.

Yes, that's more than $45,000 per vote for each of the 17 votes cast on the county's 130 machines over the last two countywide elections since they began using them.

And apparently, the county's elected Registrar of Voters, Michael Smith, really wants to continue using those machines, even though ES&S, the company which distributes them, is now being sued by the State of California for deploying uncertified AutoMARK machines in counties across the state, in violation of state law.

Nonetheless, Smith is asking CA Secretary of State Debra Bowen if he can continue using the uncertified machines in the upcoming Presidential Primary election next February, despite all of that, according to the Marin Independent Journal, who reports today:

Marin was one of five California counties that bought the machines. The county spent $775,000 to buy 130 machines. They were used by 17 voters in the two countywide elections during which they were used.

True, the cost per vote on the AutoMARK in Marin will theoretically come down with each successive election in which they are used (depending on what ES&S charges the county to program them each time, plus the excessive costs of warranties). In a decade or two, at this rate, if the same machines are still in use, each vote cast would come at a bargain basement price of just a few thousand dollars a piece.

The AutoMARK touch-screen voting system is not a Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) touch-screen machine, like those made by Diebold, Sequoia and even ES&S, in that it does not record vote totals. Instead, it simply uses a touch-screen and/or audio interface to allow disabled voters to print out their ballot on a piece of paper which is then counted by another device or by hand.

Even at that, the AutoMARK, like all of the other devices recently tested for accessibility [PDF] in Bowen's "Top-to-Bottom Review" of e-voting systems fails to meet the requirements of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002, which mandates one device per polling place allowing disabled and blind voters to cast their ballot privately and independently.

That particular mandate has been frequently (and inaccurately) cited by elections officials and media around the country, as the reason many states and counties decided to purchase new, inaccessible, inaccurate, untested, hackable electronic voting systems for all voters, with the aid of $3.8 billion in federal tax-dollars appropriated for the purchase of such systems.

Options for disabled-accessible voting systems in California are limited however. The state's previous Secretary of State, Bruce McPherson, refused to certify low-tech, inexpensive, tactile ballot devices, such as the Vote-PAD, for disabled and blind voters. So county registrars are forced to purchase the expensive electronic devices even if they don't work, are too expensive, and in this, are uncertified. Nobody, however, forces ES&S to overprice them as they do.

In addition to Bowen's lawsuit against ES&S --- which she announced last week, stating that the company had "ignored the law over and over and over again" --- San Francisco has also now filed their own separate lawsuit against ES&S, the world's largest distributor of voting systems, alleging fraud, false claims and breach of contract.

Marin County's Registrar of Voters, however, seems to feel just fine about the company. To date, we're unaware of any lawsuits against him. But perhaps someone in Marin County will soon step up.

CORRECTION: Due to a math error, we had originally reported the cost per vote cast on the AutoMARK machines in Marin as $55,357. The cost is actually just $45,588 per vote. The BRAD BLOG regrets the error.

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