Paper Ballots Are Ready for O.C.'s Election Because Machines Aren’t

Times Staff Writer

Voters in coastal Orange County may feel a touch of nostalgia when they’re handed old-fashioned paper ballots in the April 11 special election to fill a vacancy in the state Senate.

The county switched to electronic voting devices for the March 2004 primary and has used them in eight state and local elections since. But a crunch of deadlines to certify new voting systems prompted the step backward.

“We have no choice,” Neal Kelley, registrar of voters, said of going back to paper.

“There’s no way the system is ready.”

More than five years after the 2000 presidential balloting fiasco in Florida, California is still struggling to meet federal standards to reform its voting systems.

In 2002, Congress passed the Help Americans Vote Act, requiring counties nationwide to replace punch-card machines with electronic devices or paper ballots that could be read with optical scanners.


Registrars throughout the state scrambled to buy and install new systems, which must be certified by federal and state officials in time for elections in 2006.

Last year, the Legislature added another edict, responding to worries that electronic systems were vulnerable to error and sabotage. Beginning Jan. 1, each electronic device must display a paper record in voting booths so voters can verify their selections and recast their ballots if they find an error. The paper records also must be used for recounts.

Many counties hope to have systems certified in January by Secretary of State Bruce McPherson. Some registrars have worried that they won’t have enough time to test and install new systems for the June primary, when hundreds of congressional, statewide, legislative and local candidates will be on the ballot.

“We feel stranded,” Christine Heffron, chief deputy registrar for Los Angeles County, said. “We don’t have lots of options.”

For next year’s elections, Los Angeles County will continue to use InkaVote paper ballots, which qualify under the federal law. A separate system to comply with other federal requirements for disabled voters is still in the works.

The silver lining: No special elections are scheduled in Los Angeles County that would push up the timetable before June.

San Bernardino County is the only one in California with a voter-verified system in place, but it can only be used for small elections.

New printers, which cost $1,000 each for 6,100 voting machines, were used for the first time in the statewide Nov. 8 special election.

This week, Riverside County elections officials agreed to borrow about 100 of the electronic machines with printers from San Bernardino County for the city of Riverside’s Jan. 17 municipal runoff election.

Officials said the devices probably wouldn’t be certified by state and federal authorities in time but said having the printouts would give voters more confidence that their choices were properly recorded.