What is going to happen with electronic voting in California's upcoming June primary?

A lot has recently been written about HAVA compliance across the nation, in particular how many states are well behind the curve in meeting the various HAVA deadlines. One particular problem is looming in California, where it is unclear whether most counties will have HAVA-compliant voting machines in precincts for our state’s upcoming June primary.

Yesterday there was a hearing in Sacramento, where Senator Debra Bowen (a Democrat running for the Secretary of State’s office) subjected the current (Republican) Secretary of State to serious questioning about the state’s readiness for the June primary (who ever said that state election administration in California is not partisan??). The hearings were detailed in a story in this morning’s Los Angeles Times. According to this news report, during the hearing yesterday it was revealed that only five of the 58 California counties have electronic voting machines that are ready for use in the June primary; the remaining counties hope to use electronic voting systems that are either not federal or state certified.

One option, that I wrote about earlier this week, is for the state to allow those counties with uncertified electronic voting systems to conduct the June primary entirely by mail. While a temporary solution to the delays in voting system certification, holding a major statewide primary election entirely by paper mail ballot is likely itself to produce a series of other problems. For example, there are the logistical issues associated with the production of party ballot forms for what is going to be an extensive statewide primary election — and in many counties these ballots will need to be produced in multiple languages. There are also the issues of accessibility, and whether voters will get confused by the shift to an entirely by-mail election.

Other options include some type of expedited or conditional certification of those electronic voting systems that now are not certified. Given the current political context, and the on-going controversies associated with electronic voting equipment, it seems unlikely that these options will be pursued.

That leaves voters in 53 of California counties in an interesting position, given that the June primary is just around the corner. What is clear is that California is continuing to navigate a rocky road toward election reform and HAVA compliance. We’ll keep you posted about future developments.