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California county to defy e-voting ban

San Bernardino County plans to defy an order issued by California's secretary of state and use its electronic voting machines in the November election.

San Bernardino County plans to defy an order issued by California's secretary of state and use its electronic voting machines in the November election, according to a county statement released this week.

The order, issued April 30 by Secretary of State Kevin Shelley, banned Diebold touch screens in four California counties and decertified touch screen voting machines in 10 other counties until new security measures are put in place. Coming six months before the presidential election, the order has brought strong reactions from several California counties.

The county's board of supervisors issued a statement Tuesday stressing that the county intends to use its current systems--made by Sequoia Voting Systems--in the coming elections.

"The California secretary of state certified this system in its current form prior to the March 2, 2004, election, and absolutely nothing has occurred since that certification to call the system's performance or reliability into question," the board of supervisors said in the release.

San Bernardino is the second county to take action against Shelley's order. On Friday, Riverside County filed a lawsuit against Shelley, alleging that his decertification of voting machines robbed many disabled people of the right to vote in secret.

Touch screen voting systems, also known as direct recording electronic machines, allow people who are blind to listen to candidates' names using headphones, thus enabling them to vote in secret. Other voters with manual impairments also have been unable to vote in the past without assistance.

Concerns over security, however, have apparently trumped the rights of people with some disabilities, at least in California. Recent findings of a panel of state officials found the Diebold Election Systems had misled election monitors by using uncertified software in the March election.

Shelley condemned the company's tactics harshly. "We will not tolerate the deceitful conduct of Diebold, and we must send a clear message to the rest of the industry: Don't try to pull a fast one on the voters of California," Shelley said in a statement announcing the April 30 order.

Shelley's move complicates things for the 14 California counties that had moved to electronic touch screen voting systems.

"We don't want to return to a less accurate, less accessible paper ballot system," said Mischelle Townsend, registrar of voters for Riverside County. "It invites further complications in terms of poll-worker training and voter education."

The secretary of state's order included requesting that all machines produce a paper ballot. But outfitting the machines with printers will be costly and will cause further confusion, Townsend said.

"Why should we exponentially increase our costs?" she said. "To say that we are going to have duplicate voting methods in our polling place, at a time when California has critical funding problems, makes no sense."