2015 Voting Systems Subcommittee Meeting Minutes

Lynda Roberts, Registrar of Voters, Elections

July 31, 2015

Registrar of Voters
Voting Systems Subcommittee Meeting
Friday, July 31, 2015, 9:00 a.m.
Room 324A, Marin Civic Center

Members Present

Representing the Elections Advisory Committee
Anne Layzer, Sean Peisert, Bob Richard, Cat Woods

Representing the Elections Department
Tony Aquilino, Melvin Briones, Colleen Ksanda, Lynda Roberts



Lynda Roberts opened the meeting, and thanked everyone for their willingness to serve on this subcommittee.

Overview of Current Voting System

Tony Aquilino described the condition and remaining life of the current voting system (includes both voting equipment and tallying equipment), which was purchased in 1998.

  • The system hardware is out of date. It is becoming difficult to find replacement parts and the memory cards (PCMCIA) are no longer manufactured (there is no demand). We were able to replace the dedicated server last year, but it is required to run Windows 2003, and it is difficult to find a computer to run old software. About three years ago, knowing that memory cards would no longer be manufactured, the department purchased 250 extra cards to supplement the original supply of 115. We lose about 1-2 cards per election from the current supply. So far repairs to the optical readers have not been a problem, at one point it was difficult to find new rollers. Otherwise, the equipment still performs fine.

Group Discussion

  • Failure of memory cards at the polls impacts voter confidence.
  • The Accuvote does not have a redundant memory system. When a card fails at the polls, a rover picks up another card from the office and takes it to the polling location.
  • All memory cards have a lifespan.
  • The current system should continue to work as long as we can resolve hardware issues. After each election, we routinely check equipment and make repairs as needed. The number of machine replacements at the polling places has decreased. Ability to obtain hardware components will be the biggest limiting factor. Software shouldn’t be an issue since the servers are not connected to a network.

Target Date for System Replacement: 2017-2019.

Review and Refine the New System Features List

Group Discussion

  • We are assuming a minimum level of standards.
  • We will be somewhat limited by the equipment that is certified. Details of the list may change as we move forward.
  • Scanner technology is now digital.

Consider including to the list:

  • Equipment needs associated with the vote center model.
  • Ability to count ADA ballots on the regular equipment.
  • Redundant memory of vote tally.

Report from Sean Peisert

Dr. Peisert talked about the U.S. Election Assistance Commission and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. They have reconvened the Technical Guidelines Development Committee (TGDC), which is charged with helping to develop voting system standards (voluntary guidelines) under the Help America Vote Act. Overview:

  • The committee is involving more technical expertise than before.
  • They are considering usability, accessibility, inoperability, and new standards that might relate to testing, such as open-ended vulnerability.
  • They are also considering common language requirements to be used by manufacturers, along with paper audit trails, software independence, poll books, registration systems, and online marking systems (downloading a ballot to be marked and mailed in).
  • The federal government can dictate ADA requirements and issues pertaining to federal elections, but secretaries of state would make determinations about applying these standards locally.
  • This work seems to be moving quickly, and vendors appear to be co-designing systems in conjunction with these impending standards. The standards may be in place within two years.
  • A colleague of Dr. Peisert’s suggested watching Travis County, TX, and their RFI (Request for Information/Proposals) to develop their STAR system: secure, transparent, auditable, and reliable.
  • More information from the TGDC should be available six months from now. We should be able to see plausible change when it happens.
  • There is no downside to discussing these impending standards; these voluntary guidelines will not affect the discussion or decision about counting ballots at the precinct level or moving to a central counting model.
  • We should not move to buy something just to buy it.

Ms. Roberts pointed out that there are two parts of this discussion: 1) keeping track of developments pertaining to voting systems; 2) reviewing new voting models, i.e. central counting of ballots and vote centers. At this time, the committee needs to focus on part two since this will determine how many vote-tallying machines to purchase. Also, our decision about a new voting system will be determined by the systems certified in California.

Begin Discussions re Election Models

  • Central counting of ballots vs. polling place counting of ballots
  • Vote center model of voting (as proposed by SB 450)

Ms. Roberts mentioned that SB 450 will be taken up again in January 2016.

Colleen Ksanda gave an overview of the vote center model.

  • As currently proposed in SB 450: counties would have the option of adopting this model; there would be one vote center for every 15,000 voters; centers would be open 10 days prior to the election, including weekends, plus election day; and would be open at least 8 hours per day. Every voter would be mailed a vote-by-mail ballot (VBM).
  • At the vote centers, voters could drop off their VBM ballot and could get a new VBM ballot. Ballots would not be tabulated at vote centers, but would be taken to a central location for tabulation. Vote centers would require a computer to access the voter registration database (in real time) to determine if a person already voted; and would require ballot-on-demand printing equipment.
  • In addition to vote centers, SB 450 includes a requirement for drop-off boxes for VBM ballots. The boxes would have to be inside a secure location.
  • Basically this bill is intended to make voting more convenient so turnout is higher.
  • The proposed motor/voter bill, automatically registering every person who applies or renews a driver’s license unless they opt out, would add more registered voters to the rolls and thus, under the vote center model, require sending that many more VBM ballots.

Vote Centers

Group Discussion

  • Sending vote-by-mail ballots automatically to voters has been proposed before due to low voter turnout, but without the vote center component.
  • In the past, the “black box” advocates have been vocal about maintaining polling place counting for security reasons.
  • The vote center model would include a lot of logistical and implementation issues.
  • Some people don’t like this idea due to added travel time to a polling place.
  • A critical element in the vote-center model is ballot on demand so a voter can go to any vote center and get the right ballot type.
  • Retaining the high voter confidence we have now would be important, so security and chain of custody for ballots would need to be carefully addressed.
  • This model may not reflect the needs of Marin County.
  • The total person hours would roughly be the same as we have now with polling places. The job description may be different and we would need well-trained extra hire staff, which would mean higher pay.
  • In addition to ballot on demand, a vote center would require at least a wireless connection for computer access to the central voter registration records. Some hardware could be off-the-shelf.
  • We would still need an ADA marking or voting machine at each vote center.
  • On the plus side, once the complexities are resolved, a vote center might be easier.
  • Perhaps a mobile vote center would be possible.

Central Counting

Group Discussion

  • We would need to listen to a variety of concerns.
  • Many counties count their ballots at a central location.
  • Changing to vote centers would require the central count model.
  • Central counting means the number of ballots used at a polling place are counted, but the tallying of the ballots is done at a central location (i.e. the elections department).
  • In Yolo County, which uses central counting, a lot of people are involved in counting and recounting ballots. There are enough independent checks to verify accuracy.
  • Solid procedures make security more rigorous.
  • We need to maintain voter confidence in the process. This would require a lot of education.
  • Maintaining integrity of (ballot) batches would be important.
  • Any major change in process requires re-evaluation.

Addressing issues before making a presentation to the Board of Supervisors:

  • Work with stakeholders to maintain voter trust and confidence. Some people like to see that their ballot has been tallied at their polling place.
  • Dealing with pressure for fast results. Amount of time it will take to get ballots from the polling places and through the scanners.
  • Don’t want to purchase a lot of equipment for polling places if we then move to central counting and possibly to vote centers.

Schedule date of next meeting

  • Schedule in September after the next regular Election Advisory Committee meeting.

The meeting adjourned at 11:00 a.m.