February 17, 2009

State and County Election Officials Differ on Reimbursement From Vendor

COUNTY ELECTION officials in Riverside County recently finished a hand-count of 72,000 electronic ballots from November's presidential election as required by the State. The cost for that tally is estimated at around $120,000 and some say that the actual costs could be around $250,000.

That number becomes important because under a California Secretary of State ruling that "recertified" the machines used in the county, the vendor is required to pay these recount costs. "Elections officials are required to conduct the audits, and the vendor is required to reimburse the jurisdiction," the conditional recertification document reads. "Vendors, not counties, apply to the Secretary of State to have their voting systems approved for use in California," Nicole Winger, Deputy Secretary of State, said.

"Certainly any vendor that has permitted a county to continue using a reapproved voting system did so understanding that all the conditions of the system reapproval documents apply - not just the conditions the vendor may deem more convenient or less costly."

Riverside County's Assistant Registrar of Voters has said, "If the Secretary of State would like to bill them for our expenses, she can do so. I have a contract with Sequoia that doesn't say that I can bill them for that." And as such, the county election officials do not plan to seek reimbursements from the company.

At the same time, the county has a $90 million shortfall which makes the entire matter even more serious.

This situation is interesting because it is true that the recertification order issued by the state contains language that require the vendor to pick up the tab for manual counts of the paper ballots created by electronic voting machines. At the moment, Riverside County election officials are refusing to submit the bill.

My guess is that the county will eventually submit a tab to Sequoia Voting Systems and they may or may not pay Riverside County.

If they pay - fine. It establishes a precedent for other counties and vendors. If they don't pay, however, what then? Will the county sue the voting machine company? Will the state submit the bill? Or will the entire matter blow over?

I doubt it.

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