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Counties Test Driving Tech-Driven Voting

Sonoma and Lake counties are among California jurisdictions that are considering multimillion-dollar investments in new voting technology.

Sonoma County voters will likely see a new ballot format and new equipment at the polls beginning next year, including computer touchscreens, officials said Thursday during a preview of the latest technology for implementing democracy's bedrock process. Three manufacturers of high-tech voting systems — Dominion Voting Systems, Hart InterCivic and Election Systems & Software — displayed their equipment for a hands-on demonstration open to public officials and the public.

"I'm checking it out," said Sonoma County Administrator Sheryl Bratton. "It's time to invest in the new technology and a reliable system." County elections officials say the current system, called Mark-A-Vote, is still "functional and accurate" but 35 years old, uses parts no longer made and runs on software no longer supported. County Clerk Bill Rousseau said he had been determined to modernize county elections since he took office in 2012.

A new system could cost about $6 million, he said — less if the county opts for a multiyear lease that allows it to scale back the number of polling places in the future. Rousseau said the county is considering a move to an all-mail election, possibly in 2022, with ballots going out to all voters with just 30 "vote centers" around the county. Five counties are using such a system this year, and Rousseau said "we're going to learn from them."

Meanwhile, the county has already set aside $1.9 million for a new voting system and aims to buy one this year and use it for the first time in 2019 local elections, he said. The new system will be a major upgrade but still rely on paper ballots that voters insert into a ballot box or submit by mail if they are among the 75 percent of county voters who vote by what used to be called absentee ballots.

"Why fix anything that isn't broken?" said David Moreno, director of product strategy for Dominion Voting Systems. "This is where the industry is going. Very simple, very straightforward."

The computers at the polls will not retain voting data, nor will they be connected to the Internet, officials said. All ballots will be run through scanners at the county elections office, as they are now.

Lake County is also considering a replacement of the Mark-A-Vote system, the same as Sonoma County's, that it has used since 1983.

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.