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February 08, 2006

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Publication Date: Wednesday, February 08, 2006

State hearing on electronic voting set in Menlo Park State hearing on electronic voting set in Menlo Park (February 08, 2006)

The debate on electronic voting is coming to Menlo Park on Thursday, February 16.

State Sen. Debra Bowen (D-Redondo Beach), chairwoman of the Senate Elections, Reapportionment & Constitutional Amendments Committee, is holding a hearing on electronic voting systems at 1 p.m. in the Menlo Park City Council Chambers, 801 Laurel St.

At the hearing, which is open to the public, expert witnesses will be queried about flaws in the current system of certifying voting systems for use in California.

The experts are researchers from around the country who are studying voting technology with a $7.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation under the auspices of ACCURATE (A Center for Correct, Usable, Reliable, Auditable, and Transparent Elections).

The group will also investigate ways to improve the process for testing and certifying voting machines.

Electronic voting has been dogged by concerns about accuracy and security from tampering.

"The federal testing process is notoriously weak and it's done in secret," said Sen. Bowen. "These supposedly 'independent testing authorities' are not only paid for by the voting machine industry, but they also conduct their tests behind closed doors.

The Menlo Park hearing is the second of two on the possible role of open-source software use in electronic voting systems. The first hearing is to be held in Sacramento on February 8.

A number of the expert witnesses Sen. Bowen hopes to have participate in the Menlo Park hearing are attending a conference in Palo Alto the next day, the reason for the hearing's unusual location, said Darren Chesin, a consultant with the state Senate committee.

San Mateo County faces a federal deadline requiring elections officials to provide accessible voting machines to disabled voters, but can't yet purchased such machines because they have not been certified for use by the state.

The county's current voting machines don't comply with the federal law, and it must have accessible machines in place in time for the June 6 primary election.

Because of concerns about the timing and the reliability of electronic voting systems, San Mateo County elections official Warren Slocum is pursuing emergency legislation that would allow the county to hold an all-mail election in June.

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