Supervisors approve new electronic voting system
Ammiano spearheads push for open-source transparency
By Ari Burack
December 12, 2007
San Francisco supervisors Tuesday gave final approval to a replacement
computer voting system for the city, but not without expressing
concerns that the new system was not a long term solution.
By a 9-2 vote, the supervisors adopted a resolution for a four-year,
$12.65 million contract with Sequoia Voting Systems, Inc., replacing
the troubled current computer voting system, furnished by the
Omaha, Neb.-based Election Systems and Software.
Problems with the ES&S machines resulted in prolonged hand
counts of votes in the Nov. 6 election. Elections officials finally
were able to certify the results on Friday, a month later.
Supervisor Gerardo Sandoval said the replacement was a necessity.
"We can't have another hand count," Sandoval said.
"Florida is not a model that we should be emulating."
Supervisor Gerardo Sandoval
Supervisor Chris Daly, one of the two dissenting votes, differed.
"What we have now is very far from ideal," Daly said.
"But what we did have is a certainty that every vote that
was cast, was counted."
Daly said that Sequoia has refused to open its source code and
is "unwilling to prove that every vote case is going to be
Supervisor Chris Daly
Daly added that he was willing to put off the "instant gratification"
of quick election results in order to ensure accuracy.
"We need to be a little more real about our choices today,"
Supervisor Sean Elsbernd responded.
Elsbernd contended the city needed to act to keep a "fraudulent
company from counting our votes."
Supervisor Sean Elsbernd
Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier noted that the Sequoia systems
have support from the disabled community for being accessible
to handicapped persons.
"This is a good system in front of us," Alioto-Pier
said. "We should be excited for having it."
She added that she felt open-source voting was important, but
not readily achievable currently.
"Many of us are holding our noses around this vote,"
said Supervisor Tom Ammiano, who also opposed the resolution but
acknowledged the agreement contained "some positives."
Supervisor Tom Ammiano
Ammiano said Sequoia had agreed to a third-party inspection of
its source code and to bring its software into open-source compliance
within a year.
Ammiano said a long-term solution might be for San Francisco
to consider furnishing its own computer voting systems, to "ensure
that open source and transparency will happen," he said.
"San Francisco can be a leader on this issue," he said.
The idea of city-owned voting systems "scares me to death,"
Elsbernd answered. "We've got some city services that have
to come first."
Ammiano said he hoped the board would come up with "an inclusive
solution" at a later time, and proposed legislation for the
city to pursue open-source voting, and legislation that open-source
ballots, already posted online by the Elections Department, be
required for all future elections in San Francisco.
Supervisor Aaron Peskin said at a meeting of the board's Budget
and Finance Committee last week that the board's current choices
were limited, and noted that there is a provision in the Sequoia
contract that would allow the city to terminate it any at any
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