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San Mateo County Report on November 2010 Election

Ongoing Problems & Recommended Solutions

Gail Work 650-400-9909

Chair – Election Integrity Committee : San Mateo County Democratic Party


I have served as a credentialed election observer for the Democratic Party in

San Mateo County since 2006 along with members of my Election Integrity
Committee. Over the years of observing before, during and after elections I
find a troubling pattern of issues that have not been addressed by the
Registrar’s office despite numerous requests, meetings and analysis of the

In particular there is a consistent pattern of the elections office not providing

an adequate supply of paper ballots that results in ongoing shortages that
inconvenience and potentially disenfranchise voters if lines form or if voters
refuse to use electronic methods of voting.

In 2008 the San Mateo County Democratic Party issued a press release after
observing a critical shortage of paper ballots across the county for the
primary election, this shortage started at 9am in the morning. I personally
watched all day along with committee members to see the response to this
shortage and noted that no new ballots were printed until around 4pm
despite the idle ballot printer at election headquarters.

Poll workers from precincts all over the county were calling in very
concerned that ballots were so scarce, thus forcing the voters to use the new
Hart Intercivic voting machines. Also I noted that the poll worker training
program strongly encouraged machine voting and discouraged the use of
paper, this was reported by numerous voters and some poll workers.

San Mateo is one of two counties in California that is so heavily dependent

on electronic voting systems because the Hart machines were not tested and
restricted during the Secretary of State’s Top to Bottom Review as the other
voting systems were. Therefore we have more voting machines in our
precincts than other counties where all the other voting systems were
tested, restricted and most of the state votes primarily on paper now. Not in
Sa Mateo county, per the Registrar’s choice.

This new dependence on the voting systems made Warren Slocum quite a
champion of electronic voting on Hart despite his prior, well known support
for voting on paper ballots. Many voters are concerned that the Hart system
uses secret proprietary software to tally the votes and the very small audit of

1% does not supply a statistically meaningful check and balance for the tally
(there is an 8-9% error rate in this small sample size).

First, please see attached press release from 2008 regarding the
widespread ballot shortages across the county for the primary election.

Second, see the 2008 incidence report from the general election and
note the continuing ballot shortages that year after the press release was
issued earlier that year. (electronic file available upon request)

When we asked the elections office in 2008 why the voters weren’t able to
get enough paper ballots at the polls we were told it was a mistake.
However the record of the past few years of ballot shortages shows
this is a chronic problem and if it’s a mistake then it’s a recurring
mistake. Again this past November I asked David Tom, Elections Manager,
why we again had ballot shortages and the story was the same as in 2008,
the office was again taken by surprise and wasn’t prepared for the turnout,
another recurring ballot shortage mistake.

Third, see Principles of Election Integrity – the fundamental aspects of

election integrity.

Fourth, please see the attached spreadsheet with approximately 235

incidents recorded. We selectively recorded notes to include mostly the
ballot shortages and machine breakdowns only with many other issues left
out of this list. This document comes from observers notes taken from the
Field Tech logs for the recent November election. This spreadsheet is not all
the reports, we copied as many as we could using volunteer observer time.
There were 349 precincts according to elections manager David Tom
and this report covers about 187 precincts, or 54% of the precincts.
Therefore we can assume that if the other 46% of remaining
incidents are similar than there would be an approximate total of
1.26 incidents of ballot shortages or machine breakdowns per
precinct. Total problem incidents reports would be approximately
439 for ballot shortages or machine problems.

Ballot Shortages

In the 187 precincts the observers recorded field tech notes for we saw 115
incidents of ballot shortages, sometime more than once a day, and the
repeated problem again, at the same precinct.

Machine Problems

These issues range from functional issues where the machines is rebooted
(are votes lost?) to having to replace malfunctioning machines. 55 incidents
of machines problems were reported in this review of approximately 54% of
the precincts.

Cost Considerations

I have not had time to do a thorough financial analysis of the cost of ballots
and the cost of field tech staff time to drive around to correct ballot
shortages. Because the large majority of field tech time appears to be
retrieving and delivering ballots most years, this seems to be a labor
intensive way to supply paper ballots to the precincts. I urge the next
Registrar to take on this analysis to find ways to supply the voters of San
Mateo County with an adequate supply of paper ballots. This should never
happen again. Between the cost of the 10,000 ballot experiment secretly
undertaken with paid academics and the cost of the many field tech staff it
appears that the election office has had priorities that reflect different
interests than supplying voters with the paper ballot choice.

It is a mystery why the elections office minimizes the paper ballots which
forces voters to use the machines, is it because the priority is to make the
statewide report at 8pm and the more electronic the count is, the faster the

Machine Delays

I received an email from a poll worker who described a situation whereby the
machines were creating such delays in voting that voters were clamoring for
ballots, which were in short supply. In the 10 cases of long lines reported it
would be an improvement to have field techs provide much more detailed
notes on why the long lines occurred, is it due to malfunctioning machines,
or the difficulty voters have in using them?

Machine Breakdowns

Sabrina Brennan spoke about her experience as a candidate being contacted

by a voter with the bad news that the voting machine in her precinct would
NOT register a vote for Sabrina. I suggested she contact the elections office
to ask that the machine be taken out of service, which she did. According to
the information she was provided the machines were not actually taken out
of service for a number of hours. Because all the machines are programmed
the same, this one malfunctioning machine must be taken seriously and
tested along with a random sample of other machines to find out what
happened and if other machines have the same programming error.

* What is the policy at the polls when a machine is malfunctioning?

* Does it remain in service until a candidate complains?

* Why are voter complaints not public record? We know complaints are
called in however they don’t get documented or often not even followed up
for resolution.

* Why wasn’t this machine taken out immediately and sequestered for

further investigation as a matter of course?

* Why would voters be subject to voting on a malfunctioning machine?

* Why aren’t the machines routinely tested to make sure they are counting
the votes accurately?

* Why isn’t the elections office concerned about these security issues
enough to take them seriously?

My understanding is that malfunctioning machines are just taken

out of service for the one election, then cycled back into service for
the next election WITH NO QUESTIONS ASKED! The voting public
has a right to be concerned when the election office takes no

Clearly the elections office has a responsibility to assure the voting public
that they will be protected from faulty machines and to conduct transparent,
extensive, thorough investigations when any problem arises. A healthy
skepticism of the proprietary technology is the minimum the voters should
be able to expect. However when we look at the spreadsheet we see that
malfunctioning machines appear to be left in service for hours for the sake of
convenience, and at the cost of security to the tally. The elections office is
run like a public relations firm rather than honestly disclosing the problems
that occur. It is time for that office to take election security seriously, with
full transparency and to put the emphasis on security of the tally, not a good
PR report.

Long lines for hours and East Palo Alto

Attached is an article from the Palo Alto Weekly describing the long lines in
East Palo Alto, this is a reminder of the long lines in Ohio in 2004. In addition
the spreadsheet shows an additional 10 precincts where “long lines” were
reported. We don’t know if the wait went literally for hours there, however
some voters were disenfranchised and couldn’t wait to vote, this is a
disservice to the voters.


1) Revert back to paper ballots as the international gold standard

for elections.

2) Minimize the use of electronic vote counting with machines

that did not go through the Secretary of State’s Top to Bottom

3) Undertake independent, transparent testing of the Hart

Intercivic systems and involve stakeholders in the design and
selection of the participants and scope of this research.

4) Assure the voting public that the chronic lack of paper ballots
will be corrected once and for all. This discouragement
deserves an apology, especially to East Palo Alto and other
areas where “long lines” were reported, and a full course
correction from this day forward.

5) Assure the voting public that further “experiments” on voters

would be done only after full disclosure and agreement by
stakeholders such as candidates, Secretary of State, the Board
of Supervisors, political parties and civic organizations.

6) Cost analysis of the current priorities that are taking resources

from elections to identify how to maximize efficiency, provide
adequate ballots, and avoid increased costs.

7) Change the election audit to be conducted by an entity other

than the elections office auditing itself. Perhaps a different
county department could do the audit so an increase
independence can occur in the reporting.

8) Increased oversight of the elections office to continue to

monitor these issues on an ongoing basis. Volunteers can only
do so much.