California wants every county in the state to be using new, more secure voting systems before the next statewide election, but that vote — the presidential primary, slated for March 3, 2020 — might be coming too soon for San Bernardino County.
Local election officials said this week that they are asking the state for more time to meet the order that will require San Bernardino County to replace its 15-year-old voting system. The March primary date is earlier than usual for California, and in order for have a new system working in time for that vote the equipment will have to go live in September, Interim Registrar of Voters Bob Page told the Board of Supervisors Tuesday, March, 19.
“That’s obviously a very aggressive procurement timeline,” Page said. “Much more aggressive than your typical (request for proposal) for a multi-million dollar service and contract like this.”
San Bernardino County, like many other counties across the state, is grappling with a Feb. 27 order from Secretary of State Alex Padilla that calls for widespread use of voting systems that meet the state’s newest testing and certification standards.
Counties that are unable to meet that deadline are allowed to request an extension by April 5, which, if granted, would give them until December 2020 — after next year’s elections.
In case the county is denied it’s request, the Board of Supervisors has given the elections’ office permission to start negotiating with potential voting equipment vendors.
“The best case scenario is we’re able to find a vendor who’s able to deliver in a record amount of time,” said Supervisor Janice Rutherford. “But that seems unlikely, especially when every other county in the state is trying to do the same thing.”
The state updated its voting system certification and testing standards in 2015. Since then, 20 of California’s 58 counties have purchased new voting systems.
San Bernardino County’s system was purchased in 2003-04, Page said. While the system has performed well and given accurate results, Page said, it has cost additional funding to maintain.
The office was planning to replace its voting system by 2021, but the state’s order is speeding up that timeline.
The state is providing $134.3 million in matching funds to help counties swap out their voting systems. San Bernardino County has been allocated $5.9 million of that money, but taxpayers will have to match it dollar for dollar, giving the county about $11.9 million, total, to create the new voting system.
Page believes the actual cost will be significantly higher.
While Rutherford said the county shares the Padilla’s goal of having elections with integrity, transparency and reliability, finding a system that works for the county is daunting.
Rutherford said she also is concerned that if the Secretary of State grants extensions to counties that implement voting centers, in place of traditional polling places — a change Orange County and others are taking to make voting easier, that will put the county in a tough spot.
The supervisors have yet to analyze what implementing voting centers would look like in San Bernardino County, Rutherford said, but they would have some unique challenges given the county’s large geographical size.
“Voting centers aren’t as straight forward a choice as they are in a more dense urban area,” Rutherford said. “That makes it actually become much more costly and difficult for us than the problems that they’re intending to solve are.”
Each extension request will be considered on a case-by-case basins, including any unique circumstances an individual county may be facing, said Sam Mahood, Padilla’s press secretary, via email.
Counties interested in implementing vote centers will not be given more or less consideration, he said, as the request for an extension is not contingent upon implementing vote centers.