REDWOOD CITY — When it comes to readying its Hart InterCivic eSlate electronic voting machines for the onslaught of elections next year, San Mateo County is resting a little bit easier than many of its counterparts in the state.

Secretary of State Debra Bowen's decision late Friday to curtail electronic voting systems will probably leave San Mateo County mostly unscathed, but will likely send other counties into serious scrambling mode to have an acceptable voting system by February's presidential primary.

"For us, in comparison to that, we are breathing — and you can quote me — a sigh of relief," San Mateo County Chief Elections Officer Warren Slocum said. "It's doable."

The decision, announced just minutes before a looming midnight deadline, will allow for the continued use of Hart InterCivic's systems, provided that additional security and post-election auditing measures are undertaken.

But Bowen decertified the Los Angeles County's electronic voting system and significantly curtailed the use of electronic voting machines manufactured by Diebold Election System and Sequoia Election Systems. Sequoia's are used in neighboring Santa Clara County. For those counties, only one machine will be allowed in each polling place to meet the 2002 Help America Vote Act disability-access requirements. Most voters could use paper ballots read by optical scanners.

Slocum said his staff was still reviewing the 36 additional security and audit orders that Bowen has ordered for Hart InterCivic systems, but preliminarily believed a "good number" of the new requirements are measures that the San Mateo County Elections Office already takes.

Examples of measures already implemented, he said, are placing serial numbers on "tamper evident" seals used to secure voting, and not allowing poll workers any access to audit records.

However, there are steps that theElections Office will have to take to comply with the order, such as reinstalling the system's software and firmware or purchasing additional hardware from the vendor.

"This will require man-hours, money and time, there's no doubt about that," Slocum said. "It ranges from a couple of PCs to increased labor costs."

Slocum said his office plans to spend the week reviewing the details of Bowen's requirements and will provide a report to the Board of Supervisors.

He said he does not believe Bowen requires anything that San Mateo County could not handle to ready the machines for use in time for Election Day.

"We didn't see anything in there that would render the machines inoperable," Slocum said. "When we met this morning, it's like, 'Oh, yeah, that's a piece of cake, we can do that.'"

According to the secretary of state's Web site, San Mateo, Orange and Yolo counties use Hart's electronic voting system. Yolo only uses Hart's eSlate for its disabled voters and uses Hart's optical scan ballots otherwise.

According to Hart, its systems are used in more than 300 jurisdictions in 11 states. The eSlate is not a touch-screen, but uses an iPodlike wheel to allow voters to scroll through screens to make their voting selections.

Bowen's decision comes after eight weeks of a "top-to-bottom" review of the state's voting systems, in which security and computing experts from the University of California tested them for vulnerabilities.

Electronic voting critics have largely praised Bowen's effort, though some think it did not go far enough. Some election registrars have found the edict too drastic, worried that they will not be able to comply with the changes required in six months' time. Vendors criticized Bowen for conducting tests in laboratory situations without the additional security measures that would occur in real voting situations.

Slocum said he supported the review and testing in the laboratory setting.

"We had to know what the vulnerabilities were, just from a pure software point of view, in order for everyone to layer in the added security procedures and protocols," Slocum said. 

Slocum said the review has created security standards that all counties must comply with, when previously they were left to come up with their own.

"For the most part now, everybody needs to adhere to these standards and these practices, and I think that's a good thing," Slocum said. "Unfortunately, for those counties that got decertified, this is a very tough time. I can't imagine being in those shoes."

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