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August 20, 2013 > Auditor: Calif. wasted $26M for updated voting

Auditor: Calif. wasted $26M for updated voting

By Juliet Williams, Associated Press

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP), Aug 08 - California has wasted more than $26 million in federal money intended to help the state update voting and elections systems, as counties spent millions on optical scan voting systems that the state has since outlawed because of security flaws, the state auditor reported Thursday.

Auditor Elaine Howle examined the state's use of more than $380 million in federal funding provided under the 2002 Help America Vote Act, passed in the wake of the disputed 2000 presidential election amid concerns about the old punch-card voting systems.

More than $22 million was spent to replace voting systems with new machines that ``counties and voters cannot fully use,'' she said.

Howier also noted that nearly two decades have passed since state law required the secretary of state's office to develop regulations outlining the requirements for acceptable voting systems.

However, the office has yet to write the regulations into law and continues to offer ``conflicting guidance'' to counties on what machines meet state and federal voting laws, Howle said.

``There appears to be a lack of clarity for the counties buying voting systems, the manufacturers who make them, and the general public as to what California's expectations are for its voting systems and what standards are being applied,'' she wrote.

The state began moving toward optical scan voting systems, but in 2003, then-Secretary of State Kevin Shelley revoked approval of a system after learning that the vendor installed unapproved software. Kern, San Diego, San Joaquin and Solano counties had already bought the machines.

Secretary of State Debra Bowen said the auditor failed to note that outlawed voting machines purchased with federal money are a nationwide problem after many states banned the use of direct recording electronic voting systems because they were found to be vulnerable to tampering and inaccurate vote tallying.

``It is truly unfortunate that the U.S. Congress foisted poorly constructed DRE voting systems onto governments and the voting public without first establishing high security, accuracy and reliability standards for these systems to meet,'' Bowen wrote.

The audit also said the state spent $4.6 million on a failed contract to update the statewide voter database that ``resulted in no long-term benefit to the state's voters.'' Bowen's office says the existing CalVoter system runs on outdated, proprietary software.

The audit recommends Bowen certify the existing system as compliant with federal law, thereby freeing up $131 million in remaining federal funds, some of which could go to counties for new technology.

The audit also found:

- California is not fully complying with the so-called ``motor voter'' federal law in which applications for drivers' licenses are supposed to simultaneously serve as voter registration applications.

- The secretary of state's office does not provide the most up-to-date accounting of its spending plan to the state Legislature. The audit said the secretary of state's office considers the document only a planning tool and said the Legislature has ``not complained about the spending information previously provided.''

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