County ignoring court order calls for sanction

May 17, 2007

EDITORIAL, The Argus

IT is the kind of mistake that makes you wonder.

Alameda County officials refused to collect electronic ballots and internal logs in a disputed election even though a state appeals court had ordered them to do it. Now the county faces possible fines and legal sanctions.

We find the actions of the election officials high-handed and irresponsible.

In 2004, Berkeley residents voted down Measure R, an initiative for medical marijuana dispensaries. However, Americans for Safe Access, a pro-medical marijuana group, disputed the results. It requested the electronic ballots and internal logs stored inside the electronic voting machines to verify that no changes had been made to the ballots after they were cast.

County election officials denied the group the data, claiming the records stored on removable and rewritable PC cards were sufficient.

A state appeals court sided with the group. Still, three months after the court ruling, the election officials returned the machines to their manufacturer, Diebold Election Systems Inc., without obtaining the data stored inside.

As the lawyer for the advocacy group said, he had never seen election officials throw away election materials while a lawsuit challenging the results is pending.

Not to mention disregard of a state appeals court order.

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Winifred Smith didn't mince words when she scolded election officials for their actions.

"Nobody thought outside the box?" she asked. "Why was that not a wise, not even a wise, but a reasonable thing to do?"

County officials say Diebold has identified most of the machines by their serial numbers, and they are optimistic the rest will be located. However, two years and six elections later, it's possible the data have been written over or lost.

County officials now say they are working to comply with Smith's order and retrieve the records. Their previous actions seem incredibly arrogant. In fact, they raise suspicions that officials might have been trying to hide something about those election results.

We've moved away from electronic voting because of concerns about the security of the votes. In this case, the blunders of election officials were more basic, demonstrating a disregard for the authority of the courts and the rights of voters.



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