10:00 PM PDT on Wednesday, June 29, 2011

By DUANE W. GANG
The Press-Enterprise

Riverside County should purchase four additional ballot scanners to speed vote counting during next year’s presidential elections, the county’s top election official said.

Even with extra machines, the county likely will remain among the slowest in reporting election results to the secretary of state, Registrar of Voters Kari Verjil told supervisors Tuesday.

The county’s sheer size, lengthy paper ballots and older vote-tallying technology all contribute to slower election-night counting, she said. “I do want to provide a word of caution: The additional counting scanners will not solve all of our election night counting issues.”

Riverside County hired Verjil in February to replace former registrar Barbara Dunmore, who was fired last year amid controversy surrounding delays in posting Nov. 2 election results on the registrar’s website.

As is the custom for all new department administrators, Verjil presented supervisors with a three-month status report on the registrar’s operations.

The county currently has six Sequoia Optech 400C scanners to count paper ballots. By comparison, San Bernardino and Santa Clara counties, which use the same machines, each has 14, Verjil said in her report.

The three counties are the largest in the state to use this particular type of vote-counting machine, and all are among the last to submit results, she said.

‘TYPICALLY BOTTOM TIER’

“We are typically in that bottom tier,” Verjil told supervisors. “I don’t see that changing with our current system.”

In the November 2010 election, Riverside County was last in the state to complete its precinct count and report those to the secretary of state. San Bernardino County, where Verjil was registrar until February, was second to last.

With California set to elect a new secretary of state in 2014, Verjil said it doesn’t make sense to invest in a new ballot-counting system now.

The county invested heavily in electronic voting, only to see current Secretary of State Debra Bowen decertify the devices in 2007. A new secretary of state might allow the electronic machines or make other changes in what types of voting systems counties can use.

“We need to make our current system work to get us through the 2012 election,” Verjil said.

BUILD TO ORDER

Sequoia no longer regularly manufactures the Optech 400C scanners. The company would have to build them to order for the county for about $100,000 each, she said.

The four extra machines would process an increasing number of vote-by-mail ballots in the days before the election. But on election night, the new scanners will speed the counting by, at best, a few hours, Verjil said.

Supervisor John Benoit questioned whether the cost is justified, given a boost of only a few hours in the vote counting.

Supervisor Jeff Stone said Verjil has been a “refreshing change” and said the new counting machines could serve as a backup.

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