Ballot-counting will be around-the-clock 

It will be an around-the-clock operation beginning Nov. 6, with thousands of ballots being counted 24 hours a day by city staff in hopes of getting the majority of votes processed within one week, San Francisco’s election chief told Mayor Gavin Newsom on Tuesday. The City’s voting machines have been conditionally certified this election. The strict restrictions for their use will force a time-consuming visual inspection of all ballots submitted in the upcoming Nov. 6 election.

The tedious job falls on the shoulders of the Department of Elections and its director, John Arntz, who told the mayor Tuesday that the department will work 24/7 and seek to have 65 percent of all absentee ballots and 75 percent of all polling-place ballots counted by the Friday following Election Day.

Last month, The City learned that the central computers at the main election office could be operated to tabulate ballots, but not the 561 machines used at the precincts.

Because the state requires San Francisco officials to also visually inspect all ballots before putting them through the central system, Arntz said The City would only be able to count about 10,000 votes a day.

With an anticipated 200,000-plus ballots, Arntz says it will be three weeks before all the ballots were tabulated.

At a special meeting of the Elections Commission on Wednesday night, commissioners and members of the public said they didn’t need a fast count and that they were more concerned about an accurate and transparent count.

Arntz told commissioners that he hasn’t yet calculated the cost for the careful counting. In his memo to Newsom, Arntz noted that the state is requiring the company that provides The City with its electronic voting equipment, Election Systems and Software, or ES&S, to pick up the tab.

The Examiner first reported the potential disaster in May, shortly after Secretary of State Debra Bowen — whose office oversees elections — sent a letter to ES&S, to say her office would not certify the equipment. Bowen’s spokesperson told The Examiner in July that the ES&S system is "seriously flawed."

The City needs to find a long-term solution, otherwise it will be in the same boat again come the February 2008 election, Newsom said Wednesday.

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