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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.”

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GOP vice chairman publishes new book

ncp_cover_yushA new book authored Tom Del Beccaro, vice chairman of the state Republican Party and chairman of the Contra Costa County Republican Party, will hit the streets on Nov. 13.

“The New Conservative Paradigm,” published by a Bend, Ore., boutique company called TMK Books, will “carve out new, solid ground for the next generation of Americans determined to make a difference,” according to the publisher’s web site.

Del Beccaro has scheduled a series of book-signings at GOP events around the state. Locally, he will appear Nov. 14 at a forum at Carondelet High School in Concord at 11 a.m. and at 5 p.m. at the Rossmoor Republican Club meeting in Walnut Creek.

For a link to a list of Del Beccaro’s scheduled book-signings, quotes from other writers about the book and other information, click here.

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Contra Costa Democrats to host debate party

Democrats will gather at A.J.’s Sports Pub in Concord on Oct. 30 to watch the televised Democratic presidential candidate debate.

MSNBC will air the debate, which will take place from 6-9 p.m. PST from Drexel University in Philadelphia. Click here for a link to the network’s debate page.

I’m planning to attend and cover the local reaction to the candidates’ views and performance. I’ll file a blog entry after the speech and a story for publication on Nov. 1. (It will go too late to meet our print deadlines Tuesday night.)

If it seems too early to think about the presidential options, keep in mind that even though California’s presidential primary election is on Feb. 5, its residents will start voting on their choices for the GOP and Democratic nominees on Jan. 7.

That’s when the counties will send out the ballots for permanent absentee voters, or those who choose to vote by mail every election. In some counties, half of its voters vote by mail and roughly half of those ballots are returned to the registrars’ offices in the first three weeks. The remaining ballots usually arrive in the final week as voters wait to see if any new information crops up that might influence their decisions.

A.J.’s Sports Pub is located at 4633 Clayton Road in Concord. Click here to link to Google maps.

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Contra Costa GOP women to air on C-SPAN

A Oct. 16 lecture by author Jack Cashill to a joint meeting of Contra Costa County’s Republican Women Federated organizations will air Sunday on C-SPAN 2, Book TV, at 10 a.m.

Cashill, a conservative author and former television producer, talked about his new book, “What’s Wrong With California,” and answered a variety of questions about his numerous other publications. (Click here to access his web site and his list of books.)

Cashill is an entertaining and engaging speaker, and his new book is based on the premise that many of California’s social ills can be traced to no-fault divorce and the decline of the traditional, two-parent family. He also calls for the pardon of Steven Levy, who is serving time in a California prison for killing a man in a bizarre, 1996 San Francisco gay sex case.

As a side note, those who enjoy media-bashing will like the speech, too.

Click here for information about the California chapter of Republican Women Federated.

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Contra Costa elections chief predicts slow returns

The days of knowing the outcome of the election on Election Day are over, Contra Costa County’s election chief Steve Weir told a group of reporters, editors and editorial page writers from the Contra Costa Times this morning.

He blames what he calls a “paranoid” environment promulgated by Secretary of State Debra Bowen and excessive, state-imposed restrictions that slow down the work of his office with no discernible benefits.

“I think we’re going in the wrong direction, in part, because of the secretary’s near-paranoia and the distrustful environment around voting equipment,” said Weir, who has been a vocal critical of Bowen’s decisions to curtail the use of some brands of voting equipment.

Weir specifically cited a prohibition on the simultaneous downloading of voting results from the precincts while pushing out updates on the vote tallies. Instead, election workers must stop all counting while the department generates a report, a process that can take 15 to 20 minutes.

The restriction is the result of fear following the voting scandals in Florida and Ohio, Weir said, although he added that no evidence exists of corruption in California voting equipment.

Weir had hoped to produce result updates on the department’s web site on election night every half-hour after the polls close but with the restriction, he says his election workers would fall further and further behind.

In Weir’s other election news:

— Your polling place will likely stay the same for all three elections in 2008, although circumstances on the ground could impact some voters such as road construction or the loss of availability of a home or other building due to fire or sale. Check the Contra Costa Election Division website starting Dec. 7 to look up your polling place.

— The Secretary of State has not yet certified the county’s upgraded voting equipment for the disabled. That means that workers must use the older version, which has had problems. Weir said he will have strike teams on call with replacement machines in the event of a breakdown.

— The county faces a serious shortage of pollworkers for the June 2008 election, largely due to disinterest in a primary that no longer includes a vote for the presidential nominees. That election was moved to Feb. 5. Prospective workers are signing up for February and November, but not June.

“Voter turnout in June is going to be terrible,” Weir said. “When the public isn’t excited about the election, pollworkers aren’t excited about the election.”

Of course, local interest in June could be higher than elsewhere in the state due to several potentially contested races such as Contra Costa County supervisor, and state Senate and Assembly.

— Don’t be surprised if you see presidential campaign literature mixed with those holiday catalogues in your mailbox. In California, absentee voting for the February primary starts Jan. 7. Contra Costa will mail out about 200,000 absentee ballots and Weir expects half of those ballots will be mailed back to this office in the first three weeks, while the others will pour in during the final week.

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Rice accosted at Lantos’ committee hearing

A CodePink protestor rushed at Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice this morning as she arrived to testify before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on U.S. policy in the Middle East; note how chairman Tom Lantos, D-San Mateo, went to grab the protestor, Desiree Anita Ali-Fairooz, even as Rice’s bodyguards hurried forward to grab the woman and drag her out.

Lantos ordered the other CodePink protestors tossed from the room too; Capitol Police say three people were arrested.

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