San Joaquin County voters will go back to paper ballots Feb. 5 and will stay with them for at least the rest of 2008.
Election offices statewide had to abandon their electronic ballots after California Secretary of State Debra Bowen announced in August that the Diebold touch-screen ballots lacked security measures that would ensure accurate vote counts.
The San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously in December to spend $960,000 to make the change back to paper ballots after four years with electronic ballots.
“I was comfortable with it, but there are those who were not,” said county Supervisor Leroy Ornellas. “Here we are going back to the hanging chads and everything.”
Austin Erdman, San Joaquin County interim registrar of voters, said disabled voters can still use the touch-screen machines — one will be available in each of the county’s 373 voting precincts, including 47 in Tracy and two in Mountain House — but everyone else will use paper ballots.
The county has paid $280,000 for 400 new voting booths, plus $100,000 to buy 800 electronic memory cards that will hold vote totals data. The county also will spend $580,000 on a rent-to-own contract with Premiere Election Solutions Inc. of Allen, Texas, which will supply the equipment needed to count paper ballots for the February, June and November elections.
Erdman said the challenge isn’t just the format change, but the combination of vote-counting methods to be used. The Feb. 5 election will reveal how well the county is prepared to deal with different election methods.
“It’s a huge scramble for us. We basically have three systems we have to deal with,” he said. Erdman’s office will count both touch-screen ballots from disabled voters and mail-in absentee ballots.
Erdman said that the county gave away much of its old voting equipment after making the switch to electronic ballots, but some equipment, such as ballot boxes, is still on hand. He added that his office will hang onto the Diebold touch-screen ballot machines, which cost $5.7 million in 2003, in case the state ever certifies them again for use.
The secretary of state’s office last year decertified all of the electronic voting equipment used in the state because of security concerns. Three systems, including the Diebold system used in San Joaquin County, were recertified, but the state imposed conditions on their use. The Diebold electronic ballots can be used only for early voting and for disabled access.