San Francisco Could Face Hand Counted Votes In Nov. Election (ABC News story 2 July 2007)

State Reviews City's Election System KGO By Carolyn Tyler

SAN FRANCISCO, Jul. 2, 2007 (KGO) – As the state conducts its comprehensive election review, San Francisco presents a special challenge. The city's elections director is warning the votes in November may have to be counted by hand.

San Francisco's optical scan voting machines don't meet state standards. The company that makes them, ES&S, has been granted three supposedly "one-time" only okay's.

In May, the Secretary of State denied a request for yet another temporary approval for November's election.

Here's the biggest problem. San Francisco voters use a pen to mark their ballots. The infrared scanner on the ES&S voting machines can't pick up certain types of ink.

Debra Bowen, CA Secretary of State: "That's not acceptable particularly when you have so many people voting absentee and you can't control the kind of marking device they use."

ES&S is now going through the Secretary of State's top-to-bottom review. A company spokesman told ABC7: "We're confident we'll have a voting solution certified before the November election."

But San Francisco's elections director is not so sure.

John Arntz, S.F. Director of Elections: "There's a possibility in our minds, in this department, that we could be going to a hand count."

A hand count could be tricky because San Francisco, unlike any other city in California, has what's called instant runoff or ranked-choice voting, where voters list their top three choices for city races like mayor. It's supposed to make the election process easier, but humans counting ballots instead of machines could be anything but.

John Arntz, S.F. Director of Elections: "We'd be very careful to make sure we were doing it correctly and it would take weeks."

But one expert says it's pretty straight forward.

Steven Hill, Political Reform Program: "For example, the country of Ireland uses instant runoff voting, or ranked choice voting, to elect its president and they hand count the ballots. They hand count 1.3 million ballots and they are finished with the results in less than 24 hours."

San Francisco Supervisor Sean Elsbernd tried unsuccessfully to convince his colleagues to hire Oakland-based Sequoia Systems instead of ES&S.

San Francisco Supervisor Sean Elsbernd: "The board has really rolled the dice and we're facing a precarious situation in November."

Everyone agrees a hand count would be a last resort and the Secretary of State said today she is working with the city to avoid it.

Copyright 2007, ABC7/KGO-TV/DT.

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