Santa Cruz County to revamp its voting system

A poll worker checks boxes on a sample ballot on one of Santa Cruz County's new voting machines. — Todd Guild/register-Pajaronian

SANTA CRUZ — When Santa Cruz County voters come to the polls for the March 2020 Primary Election, they will find a completely new electronic voting system.

This will feature a large touchscreen computer connected to a printer, with which voters will produce a paper ballot that is then deposited into the ballot box.

The new technology comes after California in 2015 updated its voting system certification and testing standards, known as the California Voting System Standards. By February, 20 of the state’s 58 counties had adopted a new system.

In February, Secretary of State Alex Padilla told the remaining counties they must have their new systems ready in time for the March 3, 2020 election.

The move comes as jurisdictions nationwide are looking to protect themselves from having their voting systems compromised, and as voters grow increasingly skeptical that electronic voting systems can assure fair elections.

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Dominion Voting Regional Sales Manager Steven Bennett, left, demonstrates the Santa Cruz County's new voting machines along with County Clerk Gail Pellerin. They were giving the county's poll workers a first look at the new system. — Todd Guild/Register-Pajaronian 

“Throughout California, many counties are using voting systems that are at or near their life expectancy,” Padilla said. “Some counties use machines that are so old that vendors no longer make replacement parts. Some counties utilize operating systems that are so old that they are no longer supported and security upgrades are not available. While county officials have worked diligently to keep equipment up and running, our democracy faces increasingly sophisticated threats from nefarious actors, both foreign and domestic. The time is now for all California counties to modernize voting equipment.”

Because Santa Cruz County’s new system is not connected to the internet, and the encrypted data is accessible only by poll workers, it is considered to be more secure than the county’s current system, which County Clerk Gail Pellerin said is more than four decades old.

“I think it’s a better user interface for the voters, I think its an easier system for the poll workers, I think all around its a better system for usability and transparency and security,” Pellerin said.

The paper ballots will include a QR code, which will be read by the vote tabulation equipment. Election officials will audit the devices by comparing the printout of the voters’ choices with the votes that have been tabulated.

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A practice copy of the paper ballot produced by the new voting system. — Todd Guild/Register-Pajaronian

The system also allows vote-by-mail ballot, and provides access for voters with disabilities, as well as military and overseas voters.

The new machines come from Denver, Colo.-based Dominion Voting, which provides voting machines for 45 of California’s 58 counties.

“We are very confident the system is extremely accurate,” Regional Sales Manager Steven Bennett said. “Most importantly, we meet all the new security requirements that we must meet in voting standards. We have the greatest transparency, and we’re hoping to reduce the concern from the community of whether or not the election was held properly.”

The total annual cost of $206,000 will be split between the County and State.

Pellerin will ask the Board of Supervisors to approve the system on June 25.

The item is on the consent calendar, on which items typically pass without comment from governing boards.

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For information, contact the Santa Cruz County Clerk at 454-2060, email [email protected] or visit our website at www.votescount.com.

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