OF LOS ANGELES
12400 IMPERIAL HWY. - P.O. BOX 1024, NORWALK, CALIFORNIA 90651-1024/(562) 462-2716
CONNY B. McCORMACK
|October 1, 2001
TO: EACH SUPERVISOR
FROM: Conny B. McCormack, Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk
THE CHALLENGE: VOTING SYSTEM REPLACEMENT
This report responds to Supervisor Antonovich's motion of September 25, 2001 requesting the Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk to report back to the Board by October 9, 2001 with an action plan to fully implement a touch screen voting system. This motion was in response to the California Secretary of State's September 18th announcement de-certifying the use of pre-scored punch card voting systems in the State no later than January 2006 or, if feasible, "in time for the 2004 presidential elections" (Attachment A contains the full text of the Secretary of State's announcement). This unprecedented decision to disallow use of a currently operational voting system affects 8.5 million registered voters in nine California counties, including Los Angeles County's 4.1 million voters.
Following a brief overview, this report offers a preliminary examination of the major issues associated with voting system replacement including implementation timeline, funding, current state of readiness, logistical concerns, staff resources, election vendors' capacity, voter awareness and education on the use of a new system, poll worker training, and the impact to the County's 88 cities responsible for conducting municipal elections. Follow-up reports will be submitted to your Board as more information becomes available regarding the issues outlined herein.
The last time the County purchased a new voting system was in 1968 when there were 40% fewer registered voters than today. Throughout the past 33 years, the County's Votomatic punch card voting system has been well maintained and continually upgraded, most recently in 1997 when the entire inventory of 36 ballot card counters were replaced. As was highlighted in my January 2001 report to your Board on Voting System Comparisons (Attachment B), very low operational cost is the primary reason why this system has remained in use. Additionally, until touch screen voting systems were certified for use in California in 1999, there was no viable alternative system to punch card voting for Los Angeles County due to our size, complexity and diversity.
The report referenced at Attachment B explains in detail why large paper ballot optical scanning systems, that have replaced punch card voting in a number of small to mid-sized counties in the U.S., are not a feasible alternative here. This is primarily due to optical scan ballots costing up to ten times more than punch card ballots and the County's current requirement to provide ballots in six foreign languages in addition to English. Additionally, the County needs to accommodate a sizeable community of disabled voters, including the blind, by providing the opportunity to vote privately and independently. This is only possible with touch screen voting systems and not paper-based systems.
The County conducted a successful pilot program using a touch screen voting system in conjunction with the early voting period  in the three weeks preceding the November 2000 General Election. A full assessment of the pilot program and recommendations for the future were included in the January 2001 report to your Board. That report recommended establishing a Touch Screen Voting Task Force  to formulate a plan of action to move toward the goal of replacing the punch card system.
On January 30, 2001, on a motion by Supervisor Yaroslavsky, your Board directed the CAO and RR/CC to report back identifying Federal, State and County funds to support expansion of touch screen voting. On March 1, 2001 the CAO and I submitted a memo outlining several Federal and State bills that had been introduced proposing funding for upgrading voting technology but no action had been taken on those bills at that time and no County funding had been identified.
The County's Touch Screen Voting Task Force met on March 28, 2001 to discuss funding and operational requirements in order to conduct touch screen voting in conjunction with the early voting period for the March 2002 Primary Election. Subsequently, I sent your Board a report on March 30th (Attachment C) detailing these requirements, including the need to allocate $3 million in funds by April 30, 2001 in order to proceed in time for the March 2002 election. As no funding was forthcoming, the planning focus shifted to the November 2002 General Election. The status of the project to deploy touch screen voting devices at 35-40 locations during the early voting period in advance of the November 2002 General Election is described under Section II - FUNDING and Section III - STATE OF READINESS below.
It would be unwise to be lulled into the belief that the County has four years and three months, until January 2006, to completely eliminate the use of the pre-scored punch card voting system. While setting 2006 as the outside date, the Secretary of State's de-certification announcement leaves open the possibility of an earlier date. Additionally, the federal lawsuit brought by Common Cause/ACLU against the Secretary of State  seeks a 2002 de-certification date for pre-scored punch card voting systems. This case remains a major factor regarding timing of de-certification.
In late August Judge Stephen Wilson set a trial date of January 14, 2002 to hear this case in Los Angeles federal court. The Secretary of State is attempting to settle this lawsuit in the wake of the Secretary's de-certification announcement. Although initially rebuffed by the plaintiffs due to their dissatisfaction with the 2006 deadline, attorneys for the plaintiffs and the Secretary of State met with Judge Wilson on October 1st regarding settlement. According to the Secretary of State's lead attorney, the plaintiffs are willing to settle if the de-certification deadline is moved to November 2004.
In a conference call on October 3rd with Secretary of State Bill Jones, his lead attorney, his elections chief, myself and three other Registrars, information was provided to the Secretary regarding the reasons why it would be impossible for all of the affected punch card counties to transition successfully to a new voting systems during a presidential election year, which is the most challenging election in the four year cycle. We explained the importance of introducing new technology in an off year such as the November 2005 Uniform District Elections (UDEL) when voter turnout is dramatically lower and the ballots are less complex for these city, school and special district elections.
During that telephone call
we also discussed the fact that touch screen voting is a nascent technology
with significant stages of development and maturity still remaining. Even
if/after funding for expensive system replacement is identified, we highlighted
the importance of RFP procurement issues and timelines, retooling election
processes including equipment delivery, storage and maintenance, the need
to develop and integrate a new absentee voting system for the 25-30% of
the public who have been voting by mail using pre-scored punch cards,
poll worker recruitment and training challenges to use advanced, unfamiliar
new technology, voter education and other issues.
Late last week the Secretary of State's Elections Chief sent a memo to Chairs of the affected Boards of Supervisors, CAOs and Registrars (Attachment D) outlining the areas of focus of the November hearings. The RR/CC will convene a meeting of the County's Touch Screen Voting Task Force to prepare documentation to present at the November 14th hearing in Los Angeles. It would be very helpful if members of your Board and key County staff attend this hearing.
If the de-certification deadline
is accelerated to November 2004, or even if a compromise is forged for
a date in late 2005 but sufficient funding has not been identified to
acquire and operate touch screen voting technology countywide, the RR/CC
will prepare a contingency plan for use of an alternative paper based
voting system until such time as a new electronic voting system can be
The best estimate of system acquisition cost to purchase the necessary hardware and software for a countywide implementation of one of the currently available touch screen voting systems is $100 million. This figure does not include other factors that are expected to be more expensive than punch card operational costs including annual system maintenance, the need to upgrade the voting equipment storage facility, charges associated with delivery of much heavier equipment, additional technical and operational staffing, vendor support costs as well as anticipated consultant fees to assist with voter education and poll worker training. We are in the process of collecting information on these ancillary, on-going costs from Riverside County and other jurisdictions that have implemented touch screen voting systems.
State Funding: AB 56, a bill to place a $200 million bond issue on the March 5, 2002 Primary Election ballot, passed out of the State Legislature on September 15, 2001 and is awaiting the Governor's signature. Assuming the Governor signs it and a majority of the state's voters approve it, the County may be eligible for reimbursement of up to $75 million of the estimated $100 million acquisition cost.
If bond funding does become available, AB56 calls for establishing a committee made up of representatives selected by the Governor and the Secretary of State who will, once appointed, need time to determine guidelines for grant applications.
Federal Funding: Although several bills have been introduced in Congress containing provisions for federal matching grants for voting system upgrades, none have reached a floor vote in either the Senate or the House of Representatives. Staff to the authors of these bills have candidly admitted that funding for voting system improvements has diminished in priority in the wake of the September 11th national focus on anti-terrorism legislation. Also, it must be noted that no federal funds have ever been appropriated to finance any aspect of Primary or General elections, although federal candidates always appear on these ballots and the County is required to comply with federal mandates regarding voter registration file maintenance and ballot availability in five foreign languages that costs millions of dollars annually.
County Funding: In the worst case scenario, assuming non-availability of State or Federal funding, total system acquisition costs estimated at $100 million for one of the currently available touch screen voting systems could fall on the County. However, if up to $75 million in State matching grants becomes available next year, the County's $25 million local match could be financed over a number of years as was done in Riverside County's acquisition of a touch screen voting system last year. Also, the 88 cities within the County are a potential funding source for either a portion of the system acquisition cost or on-going per election equipment lease costs.
To date, funding estimated at $3-4 million has not been identified for the County's anticipated next use of touch screen voting in conjunction with the early voting period for the November 2002 General Election. If the State bond issue mentioned above is placed on the March 2002 Primary Election ballot and it passes, the County could anticipate recouping up to 75% of the cost of this crucial next step to phase-in the transition to a new touch screen voting system.
III. CURRENT STATE OF READINESS
The County's pilot program experimenting with touch screen voting in conjunction with the early voting period in the three weeks preceding the November 2000 General Election was a successful and important first step in learning about new touch screen voting system technology. However, the pilot program was instituted on a small scale and involved only nine locations with 21,963 voters casting their ballots using this new voting method. Due to the truncated timeline to launch the pilot program and the fact that at that time only one of the three certified touch screen voting system vendors had the capacity to accommodate the County's complex multi-lingual ballot requirements, a one-time contract involving purchase of only very limited hardware and no software was negotiated without an RFP process.
As stated in the Overview to this report, the focus of the RR/CC's efforts during 2001 has been in preparations for conducting a much more substantial touch screen voting implementation beginning with the early voting period in conjunction with the November 2002 General Election. The scope of this project was identified in numerous meetings with staff of the RR/CC, ISD/ITS, CIO, CAO and County Counsel. This culminated in the release of an RFP on September 14th seeking a system to accommodate seamless integration of ballot layout and ballot tally for punch card election day and absentee/mail voting with touch screen early voting for use beginning in November 2002. The bidder's conference to review the RFP and to answer questions was held on October 4th. Three touch screen voting system vendors attended and expressed interest in competing for this project.
It required six months of preparation and multi-departmental coordination to write this comprehensive 150+ page RFP in anticipation of the need to acquire 1) sufficient touch screen voting hardware to accommodate up to 150,000+ touch screen voters at 35-40 sites in conjunction with the early voting period for the November 2002 General Election, and 2) the integrated software to accomplish complex ballot layout and to tally the votes compiled from two different sources, touch screen and punch card. Vendor selection and final contract negotiation is expected to be completed within the next four months for this relatively modest interim acquisition anticipated to cost $3-4 million.
By contrast, the timeline to prepare a RFP and conduct contract negotiation for a countywide touch screen system acquisition costing up to $100 million would obviously be more extensive and time consuming than the ten month process involved to move to the next application of touch screen early voting beginning with the November 2002 General Election as outlined above.
Of great importance regarding
the issue of timing and readiness for total system conversion is the fact
that touch screen voting technology is in its infancy. Converting too
rapidly to a new voting system countywide could relegate the County to
an expensive acquisition of first generation electronic voting technology.
Most election officials and academicians, including the Cal Tech/MIT voting
technology project , recommend
waiting a few years for greater maturation of electronic voting systems
prior to full system implementation.
IV. LOGISTICAL CONCERNS
Loading hundreds of ballot combinations of election contests and candidates onto 30,000+ touch screen voting devices, testing the accuracy of the tally software and rolling the equipment out to the County's 5,000 voting precincts will present an unprecedented challenge. Currently available touch screen voting equipment is heavy, weighing between 40-60 pounds per unit. Compared with the portable, 2 pound Votomatic unit and foldable voting booths, the net difference in delivery weight per countywide election is anticipated to be an additional 500+ tons. Also, delivering expensive electronic equipment to the voting locations prior to election day and post-election equipment pick-up leaves open the possibility of theft or tampering. Currently, poll workers take the election supplies, including 30,000+ Votomatic punch card units, to and from the polling locations on election day. Additionally, when not in use, storage of the new equipment will require larger and more customized space.
V. STAFF RESOURCES/VENDORS' CAPACITY
An assessment has not yet been made regarding the anticipated need for additional RR/CC technical and operational staffing to transition to state-of-the-art election equipment. This evaluation is in progress.
With regard to vendor resources, the small number of election system companies is a major concern as numerous counties throughout the U.S., including many of the largest, are embarking upon voting system conversions. Currently, there are four companies certified to sell touch screen voting equipment in California. Several others have begun the process of submitting newer models of equipment for certification. In addition to manufacturing capacity, election support capability is a concern due to the relatively small number of personnel employed by election companies and the competing needs of new accounts during the same time of year.
VI. POLL WORKER RECRUITMENT/TRAINING
Poll worker recruitment, retention and training continues to be the most difficult operational issue for all election departments. For each election, approximately 50-60% of poll workers are seasoned veterans who are familiar with the current voting system. Training on how to operate challenging new technology for 100% of the 25,000 poll workers required for each countywide election, as well as sustaining training for the 40-50% of new recruits for each subsequent election, presents a formidable obstacle.
When Clark County, Nevada converted to electronic voting equipment in 1996 the governing body instituted a requirement to place two trained County managers at each voting location in recognition of the continuing challenge of operating electronic voting equipment.
Your Board's July 2001 motion supporting and strengthening the County's voluntary employee poll worker program that was begun in 1998 may prove to be helpful regarding recruitment issues. However, to date this program has resulted in very few new volunteers for the upcoming November 6, 2001 UDEL election. An expanded program modeled after Clark County may have to be considered in conjunction with a countywide implementation of a new voting system.
Poll workers are truly the front line of the voting process in a democracy. Inevitably, some poll workers will cancel at the last minute with or without notification, will arrive late on election morning or will encounter a locked building - all situations that impact voters who arrive at 7 a.m. to vote. While such problems delayed poll openings at only ½% of the voting precincts for the November 2000 election, voters in 27 of the 5,000 voting locations were affected. Currently, when a poll location is locked at 7 a.m. voters are able to cast a punch card ballot outside in the parking lot and be on their way. If electronic voting equipment is locked inside, some voters may have to leave before the problem can be rectified. This is but one example of issues that need to be considered with the dynamic of a new voting system.
VII. VOTER AWARENESS AND EDUCATION
After 33 years of using the punch card voting system in Los Angeles County elections as well as elections conducted in 88 incorporated cities, voters both at the polling locations and the 20% who vote by absentee mail are familiar with it. With the introduction of a new voting system, all 4.1 million registered voters in the County will need to learn how to use a new system.
Surveys completed by 9,000 of the 21,963 County voters who voted on touch screen equipment in conjunction with the November 2000 election revealed a high satisfaction level regarding the ease of use of this ATM-type approach to voting. As noted earlier in this report, the next step of system phase-in is being planned in conjunction with the early voting period for the November 2002 General Election when 150,000+ voters would be anticipated to cast their ballots on touch screen devices at 35-40 locations throughout the County.
A successful new system implementation will require devising a comprehensive plan involving a wide range of voter education processes. A key component will be hands-on system use, highlighting how vital it is to secure the necessary funding to proceed with plans to conduct early voting on touch screen devices for the General Election next year.
VIII. IMPACT TO CITIES
A strategy involving city clerks participation is essential to ensure that after a new voting system is in place voters throughout the County have the opportunity to vote using the same system whether the election is conducted by the County or by clerks of the 88 Cities within the County. Complex cost sharing arrangements will have to be developed. This remains an on-going process in Riverside County following their conversion last year to touch screen voting. We are currently gathering information from the Registrar of Voters in Riverside regarding the impact and costs to the cities within that County.
Engineering and delivering a successful replacement voting system on the uniquely demanding scale of serving 4.1 million voters will depend upon identifying and solving a myriad of challenges including funding, logistical concerns, staff and vendor resources, poll worker training, voter education and the impact on the 88 cities that conduct elections in the County. It is essential to avoid a hastily implemented process that could deliver a legacy of poll workers overwhelmed by technology, unable to serve a large number of voters, and/or procuring expensive equipment that becomes obsolete within a short period of time.
A deliberative, phased-in approach is necessary to achieve the smoothest possible transition. As a follow-up to the successful November 2000 pilot program, it is essential to continue with touch screen voting in conjunction with the November 2002 election. To do so will require allocation of approximately $3 million this fiscal year. This will result in a larger number of voters having the opportunity to experience electronic touch screen voting next year. Due to the audio capability of touch screen voting systems, blind and visually impaired voters are able to cast their ballots privately and independently and many ESL voters are better served due to the six foreign language alternatives that can be programmed into a touch screen voting system. Continuing the option of touch screen voting is also essential in order to further the development of staff expertise begun during the pilot program last year.
This report has been docketed for oral presentation to your Board on October 9th. The Secretary of State will hold a hearing in Los Angeles on November 14th to discuss voting system transition issues. You and members of your staff are encouraged to attend.
1. The Secretary of State has the authority to certify and decertify voting systems in California (under Government Code 12172.5 and Elections Code 19222). The affected Counties currently using Votomatic or Pollstar pre-scored punch card systems are Alameda, Los Angeles, Mendocino, Sacramento, San Bernardino, San Diego, Santa Clara, Shasta and Solano.
Based on federal requirements the County prints ballots in Chinese, Japanese,
Spanish, Tagalog and Vietnamese and in Korean as a result of Board policy
adopted in 1998. When printing bilingual ballots, i.e. English and Spanish,
or English and Chinese, multiple optical scan ballots are required. San
Francisco converted from Votomatic punch card to optical scan paper ballots
in November 2000 and spent $700,000 on optical scan ballots for 486,000
registered voters while Los Angeles County spent nearly the same amount
on punch card ballots for ten times as many registered voters. The number
of translated languages may increase once the U.S. Department of Justice
evaluates the 2000 U.S. Census statistics to determine if additional languages
are required under the U.S. Voting Rights Act.
We will request the site of the hearing be changed from the RR/CC
office in Norwalk to the Hall of Administration.
11. The Cal Tech/MIT Voting Technology Project released a report in July 2001 entitled "Voting: What Is, What Could Be" highlighting the need for further development and evaluation of electronic voting equipment (www.vote.caltech.edu).
12. Riverside County found storage of their new touch screen equipment to be a major challenge especially regarding electrical requirements to charge back-up battery units and building storage racks that allows appropriate access for system maintenance.
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