SACRAMENTO - California's secretary of state is considering decertifying an "essential" new part of Los Angeles County's voting system because a vendor missed a deadline to provide key information about it.

Decertification would be a blow to the Golden State's largest county, leaving it struggling to comply with federal regulations for the state's first February presidential primary.

Secretary of State Debra Bowen said the action comes as her office reviews voting systems statewide, and the vendor repeatedly refused to provide the source code for software used in Los Angeles County's InkaVote Plus system. ....

According to Bowen's office, vendors throughout the state were informed March 26 about the pending review and told they had 30 days to provide the necessary software and equipment.

The review involves hiring a team of computer experts to try to hack into the systems, exploit vulnerabilities and find any potential flaws or errors.

Some vendors were given additional time, but it was not until June 26 - after repeated requests and an unusual effort to circumvent the company by obtaining the source code from a third-party escrow company - that ES&S complied, Bowen's office said.

By then, it was too late for the review, which is supposed to conclude in two weeks.

Deputy Secretary of State Lowell Finley said there also are discrepancies between the software version number held by the escrow company, and the version that was certified by McPherson last year.

If the software was updated since the certification process without notifying the state, that could be a potential violation of state Election Code, he said.

Finley, in a recent letter to the company, said Bowen's office still intends to review the InkaVote Plus system, but it is likely to be more expensive and difficult because it could involve reassembling the outside team conducting the current review.

If the Secretary of State's Office does not move to decertify the system, it could instead require Los Angeles County to take additional precautions when tallying votes next year - including using more manual recounting or installing new security measures.

Agreement reached

At the same time this dispute is brewing, the county and Bowen's office recently reached an agreement that a separate element of the county's system will not be subject to the top-to-bottom review.

The county uses an aging Microcomputer Tally System in its central headquarters to count votes that have been cast at thousands of precincts.

That system is due to be replaced next year by a GEMS II system made by Diebold. Bowen's office and the Board of Supervisors recently signed an agreement that the equipment and software for MTS does not have to be submitted for the review.

GEMS II has been submitted to the normal state certification process, which will now be as rigorous as the pending top-to-bottom review.

If GEMS II is not certified or otherwise not ready in time for the Feb. 5 primary, Bowen has agreed that the county can continue to use MTS, even though it has not been subject to the top-to-bottom review.

Staff Writer Troy Anderson contributed to this report.

(916) 446-6723