Could voting system failure in CA affect November elections?

150 150 Alexandra Bjerg

The infamous “hanging chad” in Florida in 2000 (photo:

In every national election for the past decade, some form of our voting systems has failed. Votes were lost or mis-tallied, machines malfunctioned during voting, memory cards couldn’t be read, and who could forget those pesky hanging chads? 

Although problems may be inevitable because we lack a uniform nationwide voting system between states, sometimes even county to county, a recent study shows that California needs to be better prepared for failures. 

A report released Wednesday, by the Verified Voting Foundation, Common Cause, and Rutgers School of Law, reviews how prepared each state is to guarantee that every ballot cast is counted and that every eligible voter can vote. 

California Forward has supported several proposals that enhance the mechanics of the electoral process because we strongly believe in encouraging more voters to get engaged and vote. Voters feeling insecure about the value of their vote will only increase apathy and decrease turnout.  

The study ranks each state from worst to best (inadequate, needs improvement, generally good, good and excellent) based on how they compare in the following five areas:

  1. In the event of computer or human errors, does the state require paper ballots or records of every electronic vote?
  2. If a machine fails, does the state have a contingency plan set at each polling place?
  3. Does the state protect the privacy uniformed service and overseas (UOCAVA) voters by not allowing marked ballots to be cast electronically?
  4. To ensure that electronically reported tallies are correct does the state conduct adequate post-election audits?
  5. In order to ensure that no ballots are lost or added as votes are aggregated from the local to the state level, has the state instituted strong ballot reconciliation and tabulation practices?

While no state received the rank of “excellent”, the report argues that Minnesota, New Hampshire, Ohio, Vermont, and Wisconsin are the states best-prepared to catch voting errors. 

Overall California was rated “generally good”, 3 out of 5, rather than “good”, primarily because UOCAVA voters are allowed to submit their ballots by fax, risking the possibility of corruption. As a result of this policy, California is considered “inadequately” prepared to contain the risk of corruption and protect the privacy of military and overseas voters. 

Although California may be vulnerable in this area, we excel in others. 

During the June 5th primary I served as a pollworker (you may recall reading about my experience).  During set up that morning, a neighboring precinct realized that its precinct ballot reader (PBR) wouldn’t turn on.  After a brief freak-out moment, a pollworker called the regional local coordinator and within a few hours a replacement machine was delivered and installed. 

Regardless of the malfunction, voting never stopped that day because California counties have instituted some great polling place contingency plans, which is why the authors of the report found California to be one of only three states “excellently” prepared to resolve this type of failure. 

In the areas of both post-election audits and ballot reconciliation, the Golden State received 4 out of 5 stars. According to the report, California is on the right track but there is still room for improvement.  

Why does it even matter how prepared California is to respond to voting system failures?

Many elections are increasingly being decided by slim majorities. During the June primary, the fate of Prop 29, the tobacco tax, was decided by just 27,000 votes; it failed by less than 1 percent. California is the most populous state in the nation with the most electoral votes; California needs to do everything it can to ensure that all votes cast this November will count and be tallied accurately. Regardless of the outcome, California Forward believes that every vote cast should count.


Alexandra Bjerg

All stories by: Alexandra Bjerg