San Francisco Elections Go Digital

Giant Android tablets will now handle our city’s ranked-choice voting.

Dominion Voting Systems is demonstrating a new voting system The City is considering to adopt for use in future elections at City Hall on Thursday, July 26, 2018. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

This week, San Francisco supervisors took up a new voting system, which could enable voters to cast ballots on large Android tablets as early as November.

A retroactive contract with Dominion Voting Systems, the only company that met the list of qualifications sought by the San Francisco Department of Elections, began moving through the Board of Supervisors Tuesday. The contract costs $8.5 million and lasts through March 2023, but it could be renewed another two years for a total of $12.7 million.

The Elections Department all but knew Dominion would provide the new voting machines, as they were the sole bidder that meet certain criteria pertaining to security and open-source voting. Crucially, the machines allow up to 10 candidates for ranked-choice voting. As a reminder, that’s the system partly responsible — though vote-by-mail ballots that continued to pour in after Election Day were the main culprit — for the agonizing, eight-day wait last June for voters to find out who their new mayor would be. (London Breed won.)

Curious San Franciscans tested voting on Dominion’s Android machines in July, and explored its ADA-accessibility options, language bar, review page, and accompanying printer. They also witnessed how ballots that need a human to review them — for discrepancies such as unclear pen marks outside the bubble — record the history of every change made, for added transparency.

There’s added security built in for voters anxious about digital machines, as each ballot has a paper copy printed and digital scan for the Department of Elections to keep on record. Plus, they can be posted online and made available for public review (with personal information excluded for anonymity, of course).

Dominion’s voting system includes a machine for every one of San Francisco’s precincts, which scans the paper votes once they’re submitted and stores the data on a memory card. The card is then physically transported to the Department of Elections, leaving the riskiness of the internet out of the picture altogether.

In the long run, the Department of Elections hopes this new technology will help with labor shortages. The machines can scan 70 or 80 ballots a minute, which could make a dent in the waiting period for a final vote count.

San Francisco joins nearby counties like Alameda, Contra Costa, Napa, Sonoma, Sacramento, and Monterey in using Dominion. Voters may use the new system as soon as November, the Department of Elections previously said.

CORRECTION: This story previously reported that the Board of Supervisors approved the contract on Tuesday, Feb. 26. The item was instead assigned to the Budget and Finance Committee, which approved it on Wednesday, March 6

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