REDWOOD CITY — With a "top-to-bottom review" of all voting systems in the state still not under way, San Mateo County Chief Elections Officer Warren Slocum worries that the short time-frame for any major changes will create an "impossible" situation for county elections offices.

Secretary of State Debra Bowen expects to complete the review by the end of July, with a public comment period to follow. Based on the results of the review, Bowen could decide to decertify or attach new conditions for certification to voting systems, which could require elections offices to implement new or revised systems by the February presidential primary.

"An end-of-July release of the findings from the 'top-to-bottom review' followed by a public comment period (which is usually 30 days long), will create an impossible situation for any registrar, unless there are no changes required," Slocum wrote in a May 17 memo to the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors.

Nicole Winger, a spokeswoman for Bowen, expressed a level of confidence that such a situation would not be the case. "We are hopeful that these systems are going to live up to their vendors' claims, and that is a hypothetical question for much farther down the road," Winger said.

The review was anticipated to get under way the week of May 14 but fell behind schedule.


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Winger said she expected it would get started with the first phase — document review — in the next few days. She was confident that it would still be completed on time.

The review follows on Bowen's campaign promise to investigate whether the state's voting systems are "secure, accurate, reliable and accountable." It will include reviews of manufacturer and testing documentation, source-code analysis, testing for potential avenues for hampering or errors, and assessment of accessibility for a range of disabilities.

Three teams of experts from academia and the private sector will be assembled by the University of California to conduct each of the four parts of the review. Two principal investigators are Matthew Bishop, a computer-science professor and co-director of the Computer Security Laboratory at University of California, Davis, and David Wagner, an associate computer-science professor at UC Berkeley. Wagner is a founding member of ACCURATE, a voting research center funded by the National Science Foundation.

"For additional transparency and independence and impartiality, Secretary Bowen tapped these highly respected leaders from the University of California and they built the teams," Winger said.

The review teams do not include county elections officials, which Slocum called "disappointing" in his memo. But Winger said county elections officials who sign non-disclosure agreements can observe portions of the review process.

On May 10, Bowen's office conducted a random drawing to determine the order in which the systems certified by the state will be reviewed. The voting machines used by San Mateo County, Hart InterCivic's System 6.2.1, were chosen to be fifth out of eight.

With the exception of Los Angeles County's custom-built InkaVote Optical Scan, which operates on large mainframe computers, all systems will be tested in a secured portion of the secretary of state's offices in Sacramento. Machines and systems supplied by the manufacturers, not counties, will be tested.

Winger said although an order was chosen for the systems, with three teams assembled for each testing stage, systems can be tested simultaneously to speed up the process. She did not know the specific date for when testing for Hart 6.2.1 will begin.

Slocum also expressed some of his concerns and questions about the review process in a May 25 letter to Lowell Finley, a deputy secretary of state in the elections division.

"We just want to know when, where and how so we can be prepared," Slocum said.

But it appears there will be very little required of counties, including funding. The cost of the review, estimated to be at least $1.8 million, will be covered by the manufacturers and the 2002 Help America Vote Act.

A few of Slocum's questions related to public accessibility of documents — such as test protocols and non-disclosure agreements signed by reviewers — and whether background checks of review team members were conducted.

"Anything that is a public record will be made available," Winger said.

"We have shared all of this information with Mr. Slocum and the other counties as well," Winger added, noting her surprise at some of Slocum's questions. "We look forward to reiterating the information to Mr. Slocum directly."

Staff writer Rebekah Gordon can be reached at (650) 306-2428 or rgordon@sanmateocountytimes.com.