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Meeting Information

Elections Commission

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City and County of San Francisco
Elections Commission
Approved: Octrober 4, 2006
Minutes of the Meeting at City Hall Room 408
September 6, 2006

1. CALL TO ORDER.  President Matthews called the meeting to order at 7:08 pm.

2. ROLL CALL.  PRESENT: Commissioners Gerard Gleason, Richard P. Matthews, Arnold Townsend, Jennifer Meek, Victor Hwang, Michael Mendelson and Deputy City Attorney Ann O’Leary, Director of Elections John Arntz. 

3. Discussion and possible action on status of current voting system used by the Department of Elections.  This item will include an update on the status of certification of the entire voting system for Ranked Choice Voting.  Director Arntz explained that the system is still not certified.  The SoS (Secretary of State) tested the ES&S (Election Systems and Software) system at Omaha, Nebraska last week.  That testing has been completed but the report has to go the Secretary for his review, before it can be certified.  The Director was present during the testing.  He reported that the SoS demonstrated a “high degree of professionalism”.  The testing was to have been a one-day event.  It was determined at the start of the testing that ES&S couldn’t provide the software for the San Francisco equipment test.  Obtaining the correct software took three-quarters of the day, and the SoS was very patient during this delay.  At the testing, there was one Eagle and one C4 machine for the San Francisco test.  The ballots run through these machines did not read the marks that the SoS made on the ballot cards.  Both machines were disassembled, checked and reassembled, but the problem of not reading the ballots continued.  It was discovered that ES&S had supplied the SoS with the wrong pens to mark the test ballot cards.  Using the correct pens is important because of the carbon content in the ink.  It should be noted that the SoS staff had spent three hours the previous night marking the ballots for this test.  The SoS now had to remark all the test ballots.   This was not accomplished until the second day. 

Director Arntz reported that he was advised by the SoS last Friday that the testing of the RCV was completed, the ballot cards were finally read after the correct pens were used.  The AutoMARK was able to include the audio files in Cantonese.

In conducting the testing process, the SoS discovered a problem with the tie votes for RCV (Ranked Choice Voting).  Mr. Arntz explained that if the candidates with the least amount of votes are tied, but the combination of their votes are less than the next highest-vote-getting candidate, those candidates are supposed to be eliminated and those votes re-allocated.  The software cannot eliminate and reallocate the votes.   There needs to be a process developed for the tie vote possibility. 

Mr. Bruce McDannold’s report on the results of the ES&S testing will be released next week. 

4. Director’s Report
Director Arntz reported that two ballot cards are being printed for the November election, and the DoE is awaiting materials to be translated by the SoS for two other ballot cards.  A fifth card is being sent to another translator for formatting.  The VIP (Voter’s Information Pamphlet) is on schedule for completion, and the Director is expecting it to be in the mail 29 days before the election. 

The Department is currently verifying the signatures on the referendum petition regarding the Bayview Hunters Point Redevelopment Plan Ordinance.  The “raw count” of the total number of signatures  has beencompleted and a 3% random sampling  is currently being conducted of the signatures collected.  There are 33,000 signatures on the petition.  It is likely that the Department may have to certify each of these signatures.  The expense to do this was not anticipated in the DoE’s budget request, and the Director has been discussing it with the Mayors office recently. 

The Pollworker’s Manual will be going to the printer tomorrow.  Recruitment for pollworkers has begun now that that division’s staff has returned to the payroll.

Commissioner Meek asked about the status of the Election Plan.  Director Arntz said that he will be working on completing it before E-55 (55 days before the November election). 

5. Commissioners’ Reports
President Matthews reported that he went to Omaha to observe the certification testing of the City’s election equipment by the SoS.  Mr. Bruce McDannold led the SoS team.  The state team constantly reviewed the “change logs” that all manufacturer’s must keep to note all the changes made to their equipments’ soft/hard/firmware.  This particular process used to take two hours for the SoS to review, but currently takes  up to fourteen hours because manufacturers wait longer to have their changes reviewed, and more changes are made between seeking certifications to the equipment because it is expensive and inconvenient.

President Matthews’ notes on his visit to the testing are attached to these minutes.

President Matthews’ conclusion of the testing was:  SoS’s team was very professional, they do a very thorough job of testing by stripping down the voting equipment and then adding the software and firmware that the manufacturers provide (from trusted sources, i.e., escrow, county, ITA) and check to be sure it is the same code as previously submitted.

The Commissioner said that he observed a process where the ballot is printed at the precinct, therefore there are no pre-printed cards.  The vote is marked on the AutoMARK device, it works in your language, once a person votes, the vote is printed, the vote inspects his/her ballot and walks it over to the tabulator. 

Commissioner Meek asked that the information about the thoroughness of the SoS’s testing be posted to the Department’s website.   President Matthews said that these minutes will be one way of getting the information to the public.  Director Arntz said that the SoS records all of its actions regarding the testing, and that he could obtain this information for the website.

Commissioner Townsend said that, based on what he’s heard today about the non-preparedness of ES&S for the testing, he has no confidence in ES&S.  He said that the Commission and Department may have to constantly monitor ES&S, even after certification until election day, because they are not paying enough attention to details, even details as simple and important as providing the correct pens for voters to use. 

Commissioner Mendelson said that it seemed that ES&S doesn’t have any testing protocols.
He said that the company doesn’t appear to be showing the proper respect to their client, the San Francisco Department of Elections.  The Commissioner said he would like to see more competition for the business because ES&S has shown that it is not reliable.

Public Comment.  Roger Donaldson said that testing the machines before and after an election, and posting of the results is very important.  He said that he worked at the polls in the last election and that one out of five of the AutoMARKs had difficulty reading ballots and that this information should be collected and examined.  David Pilpel said that he is encouraged by the reports but concerned by the problems reported with the vendor.  He said that he hoped this election would be the last one in which the Department would use those services. 

Commissioner Townsend reminded the Commission that “The test was held at their (ES&S’s) house”, and asked how it was possible for them to be unprepared.  Director Arntz said that there was a constant stream of ES&S staffers coming and going during the testing, but there was no one person from ES&S in charge and no “check list”.  Director Arntz said that the state has protocols, but he saw no evidence that ES&S has such a check list.
6. Discussion and possible action to approve the minutes for the Commission meeting of August 16, 2006, and the Special Meeting of August 23, 2006. Commissioner Townsend MOVED and Commissioner Gleason SECONDED approval of the minutes.  The roll call vote was unanimous.

7.   Discussion of possible future voting systems in San Francisco after the November 2006 election.  President Matthews said that this item was suggested by the Director because he wants as much Commission and public input in the selection as possible.  The subject will appear in future agendas.  President Matthews said that he welcomes competition from not just two but four potential vendors.   He said that more competition breeds better ideas. 

 Director Arntz said that another reason this item is up for discussion is to give notice to the City and to the public that a new voting system will be coming next year.  The contract must be completed by December 31, 2006.  After that date, any federal money spent for the HAVA (Help America Vote Act) has to go ONLY to accessible voting equipment such as touch-screens or AutoMARKs.  But completing a contract before that date allows the City to get ANY voting equipment that’s been certified to the 2002 voting standards.  The contract will be more than 10 million dollars.  Any contract for over that amount, has to have the approval of the Board of Supervisors.  The Department needs to start negotiating the contract before October 2006.  The timing of the Board of Supervisors’ process is very important to meet the deadlines. 

Commissioner Mendelson said that he would like to see “teeth” put in any new contract to cover equipment maintenance.

Commissioner Townsend said that he would like to know when the Sequoia company plans to have its equipment certified for RCV.  Director Arntz said that he would invite representatives of that company to the next regular Commission meeting to provide an update of their certification.

Public Comment.  David Pilpel asked if there was a deadline for an RFP to be finalized because if both parties agree in one year but the actual contract is not signed until a year later the amounts may have changed.  He said that because ES&S has been mentioned negatively at Commission meetings, he didn’t want them to protest the selection of another vendor and have the process delayed because of their protest.  Roger Donaldson asked if the December 31, 2006 deadline was in the state plan or in the HAVA plan, because if it were a state requirement it could be amended.  He said that he has a number of letters from other counties who say they prefer Sequoia over ES&S because of their customer service.  Derek  Turner said that he’d like to see some “open standards” where any company can replace another without a huge transition cost. 

8. Discussion and possible action regarding sending a Commissioner to observe the Secretary of State's testing of voting equipment at Election Systems and Software Headquarters in Omaha, Nebraska, which occurred August 30 and 31, 2006.  Commissioner Gleason MOVED to make this motion retroactive and to approve it; Commissioner Meek SECONDED.   President Matthews gave a review of the events that led to this late approval.  The invitation for a Commissioner to attend the testing came on the day of the Commission’s last meeting, therefore it couldn’t be discussed because it was not on the agenda for that meeting.  The trip didn’t qualify as an emergency, and the earliest that a special meeting could have happened was the day before the travel was to commence to arrive for the beginning of the testing.  Commissioner Mendelson asked who was going to pay for the trip.  President Matthews said that although payment was not part of this agenda item, it would be within the Director’s discretion whether to approve Department funds for the trip or, if it is declined, it would be paid by the personal funds of the person who went, Commission President, himself.  Commissioner Mendelson said, “then why don’t you just pay for it”.  President Matthews replied, again, that this was not part of the discussion.

Deputy City Attorney O’Leary offered clarification of Commission oversight.  She said that in the matter of budget and expenditures, the Commission votes on the overall budget for the DoE.  But the Commission does not have a role and responsibility for approving or directing expenditures on an individual basis.  This is the responsibility of the Director of Elections.  The Commission does not have a budget that is separate from the DoE.  There is a minimal amount of funds used for incidentals needed for the Commission.  But in this instance, it would be the Director who will make the determination of payment for the expense of a Commissioner to observe the testing of the voting equipment.

Commissioner Mendelson asked the Deputy City Attorney if the Commission can ask for retroactive approval as requested in this agenda item.

Deputy City Attorney O’Leary answered that trip fits within the oversight of the Commission, and if it had been scheduled at a meeting prior to the trip, budget concerns could have been discussed, or a special meeting called, but the best thing to do at this time is to vote on whether to approve the trip retroactively.

President Matthews said that the total cost for the trip was $604.00.

Commissioner Gleason said that he SECONDED this motion to put it forward in the spirit of “catching up” with the process, although he is aware that the process is not supposed to work this way.  This was an important and necessary trip.  

Public Comment.  Roger Donaldson said that going to Omaha to observe the testing was an important part of the Commission’s responsibility and he was glad that someone was there.  David Pilpel asked what would be the effect if this motion is not passed, does it effect the possibility of reimbursement.

Deputy City Attorney O’Leary replied that there are two effects of this motion:  allowing a discussion regarding how to handle a similar situation in the future; and to put on the record whether the Commission believed that President Matthews’ trip fell within the responsibilities of the Commission.  Therefore, the Commission goes on the record as believing that the trip was an important part of the Commission’s responsibilities; and it allows Director Arntz to make a determination whether the Commission thought this was in the best interest of the Commission as he makes his discretionary determination regarding whether official funds should be used for this purpose.

A Roll Call Vote to approve sending a Commissioner to observe the Secretary of State’s testing of voting equipment in Omaha, Nebraska was as follows:  Gleason – yes, Townsend-yes, Hwang – yes, Meek – yes, Mendelson – no, and Matthews – yes.  MOTION CARRIED.

9. Discussion regarding items for future agendas.  Commissioner Mendelson asked about the Annual Report.  Commissioner Hwang asked that ES&S and Sequoia be invited to the next Commission meeting.  Commissioner Townsend said that he has contacted three organizations about the Special Meeting on September 20, 2006, and asked them to turn out their members to attend.  He said he was assured that the information will be dissimulated to the members of the organizations.

10. Public Comment.  Roger Donaldson said that he would like the Commission to review why the selection of a voting system is happening now, explain that all other alternatives have been explored, and that there is a good reason to spend another $10M.  Derek Turner said he’s been a poll inspector for the last three elections and he would like to know how that recruitment is going.

11. Announcements.  Commissioner Gleason announced that on Friday evening, at 9:00 pm, PBS will be airing a special program, “NOW”.  The program will show various voting systems and will be profiling San Francisco’s equipment.   President Matthews announced that the next Commission meeting will be at a different time and location.  He invited the public to come to the Bayview Police Station, 202 Williams Street between Third and Bayshore, at 6:00 pm, on Wednesday, September 20, 2006, for the next meeting

ADJOURNMENT at 8:30 pm.


Commission President Richard P. Matthews’ Observations
of  the Voting Equipment Testing in Omaha, Nebraska.

· Bruce McDannold from SoS office; the consulting firm of Freeman, Craft, McGregor Group, and a few more younger people (not sure if they were SoS or FCM).  They arrived over the previous couple of days to prepare for the test: 
o Test decks
o Change logs (used to take 2 hrs for SoS to review; now 14+, b/c mfrs are waiting longer to seek recerts b/c expensive)

· ES&S is located in an office bldg that also contains the radio station that is part of the same company.  Most of the testing took place in a conference room in the corporate offices: Eagle Optech and Eagle IV-C onhand, later an AutoMark was brought in.
· ES&S provided a computer that had been stripped down to just the Windows operating system.  SOS/consultant checks it to make sure there’s nothing on it.
· Then SOS loads the software and firmware from a “trusted source” – escrow, county, ITA, etc. – and then does a “hashmark” check to see whether any changes to the software have been made that the SOS didn’t already know about.  This takes hours.  And there are a few programs that must be loaded on, not just one.  Each must be loaded and each must be checked for any changes.  Most of the first day was given over to this.
· Also on Day 1, SOS prepared a test deck of around 40 ballot cards per precinct for 4 precincts, 2-sided, some RCV contests and some not.  They contained overvotes and undervotes, and were configured to meet several testing conditions:
o RCV contest with a winner in the 1st round
o RCV contest w/ no winner in 1st round and a tie for lowest current voteholder
o RCV contest w/ a tie.

· Day 2.  Continuation of loading software and firmware.  Finally, around 11:30 a.m., they started running the test deck through the big Eagle IV-C, and a problem was detected on one of the ballots:  the report was showing 3 undervoted cards but the team could only identify 2 such cards visually.  Finally, they figured out that the machine was not picking up a thin mark that was at the top edge of the arrows on the ballot card.  The ES&S folks then recalibrated the IV-C so that it would read a little wider, and this wasn’t doing the job.  The SOS team went on to other things, like the precinct Optech Eagles and the AutoMark set up, while ES&S continued trying to adjust the IV-C.  Finally, after 4 ½ hours, someone finally figured out that the SOS had been given the wrong pens for the ballots, not the ones that contain graphite like our precinct pens have.  When marked with the right pens, things went more smoothly.  We had to leave for the airport, but at the airport, I received a call from Lou Dedier saying that the remainder of the test decks had been tested across all machines, that the AutoMark had been tested, and that the SOS team had “no issues.” 
· Volume testing was going on in Orange County yesterday, today, and tomorrow.  ES&S was hiring 50 temps to fill out ballots all day for a couple of days on AutoMark machines, and possibly some ballots not on AutoMarks.  Obviously, this stuff has stood up to the most rigorous volume tests there are: actual elections in SF.

Conclusions and Observations

· The SOS does a really thorough job of testing.  They start with stripped down machines and add layer by layer the software the manufacturer previously provided, and then check to be sure it’s the same thing that was previously submitted. 
· I asked one of the consultants – who has done it all and seen it all and tested it all – whether he thought he could swing a few votes in a given contest, not throw 60,000 votes to a given candidate but maybe a few hundred here and there.  He said he could not, that there was really no way of doing that provided that counties do a decent job of guarding the precinct equipment once it is programmed.  His opinion, and mine, is that the number of people who would have to be involved and the amount of access that would have to be given to someone who was trying to manipulate the vote count would make it practically impossible, while theoretically possible. 
· In the warehouse where they assemble a lot of their machines, I saw the one for New York State: imagine 3 large AutoMark screens bolted together side by side.  NYS law apparently holds that the entire ballot must be visible to the voter at once.
· And ES&S mentioned that this stuff is getting discontinued and the next generation will be available early next year.  They swore that the precinct Eagle Optechs would be every bit as rugged as the current ones—one of the things that those of us who have worked at precincts will attest to is that the precinct Optechs are almost indestructible.