Weir, SOS office spar over voting issues

Secretary of State spokeswoman Nicole Winger disputes several statements that Contra Costa County Registrar of Voters Steve Weir made at a meeting Wednesday morning with reporters, editors and editorial writers of the Contra Costa Times. (Click here for link to my blog entry yesterday on the meeting.)

Reached earlier today, however, Weir stood by his comments. It was another in a series of tense exchanges between Weir, who is president of the state association of county registrars, and the Secretary of State’s office.

Here’s a rundown of the dispute:

Weir says the Secretary of State’s office failed to process a certification application from Election Systems and Software (ES&S) in a sufficient time-frame for him to use upgraded voting equipment in the Feb. 5, 2008, presidential primary. Instead, Weir will use older equipment that will work but has some operational problems.

“The state had the application on July 1 but three months later, they said they wouldn’t process it. The state has been sitting on it,” Weir said.

Winger, however, said ES&S didn’t file a completed certification application until Oct. 22 and the state couldn’t start the six-week testing process until it had obtained everything from the company that it had requested.

“Secretary (Debra) Bowen will not bend the law and the certification process for this one vendor, and she will continue to hold them accountable,” Winger wrote in an e-mail.

But Weir was not impressed with the state’s explanation.

“To my way of thinking, a pox on both their houses for not working together and resolving this issue,” Weir said.

The other dispute involves a state law — it pre-dates Bowen’s 2006 election — that Weir’s office says bans any direct network connections between the servers that store the uploaded election results from the data cards and the servers where his staff posts updated election results on the Internet. The restriction came out of security concerns in voting scandals elsewhere in the nation.

The unintended consequence of the network prohibition, Weir says, is that his staff must stop all uploading while they run a “snapshot-in-time” report, burn a copy and carry it over to a separate computer — they call it the “sneaker” network because a worker actually walks from one computer to another — and post it to the Internet. The process takes 15 to 20 minutes, he said, which slows down the counting process.

“My comment (about the uploading issue) was not directed as a criticism of the Secretary of State’s office,” Weir said. “It would require a change in the state law. But there has to be a way that we can solve this issue technically while avoiding any threat to the voting system.”

Lisa Vorderbrueggen