San Francisco prepares to switch to a more modern voting system in November

San Francisco is preparing to switch to a new voting system in November aimed at improving efficiency, security and transparency. 

The Director of Elections John Arntz says the new voting machines also could allow San Francisco to become the first county in the nation to make images of voters' scanned ballots available online.

The city's contract was up on the old voting system, which Arntz says was out of date. 

"The components were designed, essentially developed in the 70's and 80's so it was just an old system," said Arntz.

That led to problems with increased need for maintenance and memory card storage. The old memory cards could only hold 5 megabites of data compared to the new voting machine memory cards which can hold many gigabytes of data.

The new voting system is called "Democracy Suite" and is made by Dominion Voting, a company that supplies voting systems throughout the nation. 

Voters will still receive a paper ballot and insert it into the new voting machines. 

'We'll have English, Spanish, Chinese, and Filipino and then once they make that selection, they'll be instructed to insert their ballot card. It will scan their ballot and once you hear the happy beep it's been accepted," said Mayank Patel, the San Francisco Elections Department Poll Worker and Field Support Manager.

Unlike the old scanners that search for pen marks, the new voting machines will utilize digital scanning.

"It takes a picture of the actual ballot and then the system will tally the ballot based on the image of the ballot," said Arntz.

With concerns over election security and hacking, Arntz says the new system will encrypt all data, require two-step authentication, and comply with California laws forbidding internet access.

"There's no way to actually hack into the system from the internet, because it will never hook up to the internet. It's impossible. And also there's nothing in the equipment that would receive a wireless signal, so you couldn't hack in using Wi-Fi or Bluetooth or something like that," said Arntz.

Voters will see some big differences. 

Ballot markings will change, so instead of filling in an arrow, voters will fill in an oval similar to those used in common surveys or tests. 

Also, for ranked choice races with a large number of candidates, voters will be able to rank up to 10 choices instead of just 3 choices. 

Arntz says he also wants to increase transparency by doing something no other county in the U.S. has done. He wants to post ballot images online. He says what's more, the vendor Dominion Voting is developing an audit software program that would allow the public to sort the ballot images in the database and generate their own results report.

"I want to have all the votes that were cast in an election to be on our website so that people can see how the votes were tallied," said Arntz, "People can see how the votes were cast, how they're marking the cards. They can see how the system interpreted all the votes, the markings on the cards and then  they can actually use a tool to run their own calculations."

San Francisco is leasing the system for four years at a cost of $ 2.1 million per year, regardless of how many elections are held, with all maintenance included. 

The Department of Elections developed a webpage that provides details on the new system:

The San Francisco Department of Elections says members of the public can contact the Department, either by email at or by phone at (415) 554-4375 for more information about the new voting system, or to request a presentation by the Department's outreach team at a public event.