Alameda County elections officials violated the California Constitution
and election law by refusing to provide data about Diebold touch-screen
voting machines to proponents of a failed ballot initiative seeking a
recount, a judge ruled.
Superior Court Judge Winifred Smith ruled last week that accuracy test
results on touch-screen voting machines, internal command logs, copies
of electronic ballots and records of who had access to those ballots were
"relevant" to conducting a recount of an election with fully
If appealed and upheld, the ruling could require elections officials statewide
to provide detailed records about the operation of electronic-voting machines
and software as part of a recount.
Matt Zimmerman, an electronic-voting expert at the Electronic Frontier
Foundation, applauded the ruling as "an absolute, best-case scenario."
"There's certainly no motivation here for elections officials
to want to voluntarily turn this over because any indication that anything
went wrong implicates their administration and their selection of the
machines in the first place," Zimmerman said. "We haven't
had a good ruling like this to tell elections officials to follow the
County officials said when they made the decision not to release the information,
it was the best one they could make at the time. "There is a rear-view
mirror of what is relevant, but now we are dealing in an electronic age,"
said Alameda County Counsel Richard Winnie. "At that time it wasn't
Smith's ruling is the result of a long court battle that started after
Berkeley's Measure R, which sought zoning and other regulations favoring
cannabis dispensaries, failed in November 2004. Alameda County elections
officials led by then-Registrar of Voters Brad Clark charged a national
medical-marijuana group, Americans for Safe Access, $22,000 for a recount
consisting of printing out the same electronic records in the original tally.
The group sued after Clark denied its request for the additional records,
which would have shown any discrepancies in tests of the voting machines
before the election, any breakdowns on Election Day, any software changes
made during or after the voting and any discrepancies in the handling
of the PC cards used as electronic ballot boxes.
California election code says that challengers to an election are entitled
to examine any ballots "voted and unvoted" plus any other "relevant
materials." Clark determined that the requested records were not
relevant for a recount of electronic ballots.
An early ruling by a judge concurred with Clark and the case was dismissed.
But the state Court of Appeal reversed the decision last April and sent
the matter back to Alameda County Superior Court for a determination of
what "relevant" means for electronic voting.
Smith found that records on the operation of the voting machines and access
to them met the broad definition of "relevant" for the purpose
of a recount.
Alameda County's Winnie said county officials "acted in good faith."