Simitian, Yeager to Discuss Revamping Elections Process

This past November, Santa Clara County's election count made headlines not just for cliffhanger results in the mayoral election. A spotlight was also placed on outdated equipment that ensured for yet another year that the Registrar of Voters—in the heart of Silicon Valley, the tech capital of the world—came second to last in the state in tabulating votes. Only one other county posted slower result: a rural, sparsely populated jurisdiction east of Yosemite.

Adding to the embarrassment was a series of blunders leading up to Election Day: a couple batches of misprinted sample ballots, a high-ranking tech official who quit on the eve of election night.

The county will hold a hearing next week to discuss those issues, as well as figure out how to improve the process moving forward.

At the request of Supervisor Joe Simitian, the Finance and Government Operations Committee will convene a special hearing Wednesday to review issues that tripped up the Registrar's office in the 2014 election season.

“This has been a recurring challenge for the county,” said Simitian. “It’s time we look for some long-term solutions.”

Simitian, chair of the committee, and vice chair Ken Yeager will study the technologies and processes that may have slowed down the vote tally, which didn't post until 4am the day after election night. They will also consider enlisting private sector help, talk about solutions for candidates whose ballot statements weren't printed and consider adopting an entirely vote-by-mail system.

WHAT: Finance and Government Operations Committee, Special Hearing on Elections
WHEN: 2:30pm Wednesday
WHERE: County Government Center, 70 W. Hedding St., San Jose
INFO: Supervisor Simitian's office, 408.299.5050


  1. A year of study, another year evaluating RFPs and testing them for diversity, two years of testing new equipment. They may just miss two elections before they get a resolution, which will inevitably be fraught with new problems. Remember the DMV computer debacle a while back?

  2. Ken,

    We need more electronic voting. Every year I go to my polling place, nobody wants to turn the electronic machines on. Not Diebold though, we spent way too much on those machines.

    Instead go talk to apple. Try and recruit an apps developer. iPads are very secure machines to use as a voting platform, and cheaper than the diebold stuff.

    Once you have electronic voting in place, the tabulating becomes real time. Of course, keep it off the internet. Restrict voting to only known IP addresses, and maybe layer so VPN on top of it.

    • The problem with electronic voting is not figuring out how to do it. It’s figuring out how to make it secure, and trustworthy, and honest.

      As one computer consultant once said, computers just allow you to make mistakes a lot faster.

      If the voting process is fundamentally crooked, an electronic voting process is just crookedness done efficiently and on steroids.

      My enduring image of a crooked election was the infamous “hanging chad” election in Florida in 2000 where Bush defeated Gore.

      One of the TV channels aired a news “story” of election judges recounting punched card ballots looking for “hanging chads”. An election judge, who was described as also being a local Democrat Party official, was shown on camera holding a punch card ballot up to the light and then gravely pronouncing: “I believe it was the voter’s intention to vote for Gore”.

      Banana republic stuff.

      And the whole Democrat narrative that “hanging chads” occurred when honest Democrat voters just didn’t push the chads hard enough was also bogus.

      The chad punching system was shown to work reliably for single punch cards ballots. Hanging chads occurred ONLY when someone tried to punch the chads on a STACK of punch cards ballots, i.e. only in the act of ILLEGAL voting. A HANGING CHAD VOTE WAS AN ILLEGAL VOTE, and yet the Democrats DEMANDED that they be imagined and then counted.

      But voting itself, honest or corrupt, is itself becoming a pointless charade since the “insiders” are inventing ever more creative ways to simply disregard votes.

      The California High Speed Rail ballot initiative, Prop 1A, has been subverted and ignored by the political class. The project that is being funded and built is NOT what was approved by voters.

      And the votes of those who voted for Proposition 8 were simply thrown into the trash can by a judge.

      “Votes? We don’t care about your stinking votes.”

      And then there are all the ballot shenanigans where insiders run confusing, competing propositions, or get Sacramento politicians to monkey with the titles, or wording, or descriptions of initiatives, or think up other bizarre legal theories to derail or subvert voter involvement.

      Electronic voting is an engaging topic to speculate on, but is not the answer to fix what’s wrong with voting in California.

      • Bubble while you’re usually an expert on a wide swath of subjects, this is my domain.

        The problem with electronic voting is not figuring out how to do it. It’s figuring out how to make it secure, and trustworthy, and honest.

        See, if this was your domain like it is mine, you would know these methodologies are in place. Any software the public votes on needs to be open source, so the public can examine the source code for shenanigans. A post compiled executable would have a MD5 sum calculated and published, so people using the machine would know the executable hasn’t been modified. End to end point encryption over leased lines (phone lines) for tabulating the results, or no network, simply bring them back to central at the end of the night to dump the data.

        The same methodologies in printed paper can be applied. A voter is checked against a registration list before they are given a ballot. In this case, it could be a bar code or QR code scanned on the machine to let it know it’s “Time to vote”

        • > A voter is checked against a registration list before they are given a ballot.

          Robert Michael:

          I am tremendously reassured to learn that a voter is checked against a registration list.

          But, does the registration list contain dead people, people who have moved, illegal aliens, dogs, cats, hamsters, Disney characters, people who have registered multiple times, people who have registered in multiple jurisdictions, or registered in multiple states, people who are registered under both their maiden name and their married name?

          Computers and esoteric voting software are likely viewed by most voters as “advanced technology”. Certainly, most voters would have no clue about how the stuff works.

          And you are undoubtedly familiar with Arthur C. Clarke’s Third Law:

          “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

          Voters want an honest voting system that they understand and that they can trust. They don’t trust “magic”.

          • Voters want an honest voting system that they understand and that they can trust. They don’t trust “magic”.

            In today’s world of instant gratification, voters want instant gratification. This was the issue with the last election. Maybe your generation doesn’t understand or trust the technology, but my facebooking, tweeting, poking tagging generation does.

            If the county spent $19m on Diebold machines, apparently it wants this. It’s just as I said, they’re either really stupid, or corrupt for doing so.

  3. We’re in the Silicon Valley! Why not host a “hack-a-thon” and see if any of these fabulous tech employees can come up with a new and innovative solution? Other cities have started doing this.

    • Screw hackathons, just pay somebody. They paid $19m for Diebold machines a few years back. IIRC they didn’t get that many, maybe a few thousand for the county?

      They could have spent 1/40th of that on an IOS developer, and still have had enough money leftover to buy 13,000 iPads for them to run on.

      Problem is things are either blatenley stupid, or corrupt in our local government. The free San Jose Wifi? If they bought the hardware, I could have designed that out, heat map included for free. Instead we paid some company from Georgia for the install and hardware, at a pretty substantial cost (I’d have to look for the numbers)

  4. Robert Michael:

    Just curious.

    When you play poker and you show your hand, and the other guy says, “Too bad, I’ve got you beat”, but DOESN’T show you his hand, do you let him take the pot?

    Can we play poker sometime?

    • I don’t play poker. Quoting my wife as we walked through the rows of slot machines at the Bellagio, “How can you walk by these machines and not drop a quarter in?”

      “Because I understand the odds are always stacked in favor of the house, it’s a zero sum game” I don’t play the lottery for the same reasons.