Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Humboldt County Supervisors Approve Diebold Touch Screen Machines

I feel rather disgusted at this moment. The Elections Department made a presentation today to the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors in which they asserted that no current system will fully satisfy or create conditions for full voter confidence. It was nice that they recognized this as a criteria, but acknowledging it can't be met made their request to purchase between 76 and 110 Diebold touch screen machines utterly asinine. For the Supes to go along with this proposal was even worse.

As I addressed the Supes, one of the new points I tried out today was an analogy between the voting machines and a hypothetical communications system for the police department. I pointed out that if messages sent by dispatch to patrol units were likely to be garbled by static, or sent to the wrong patrol unit, or be received with different content than was originally sent, then the County would surely not follow a law mandating that they imperil the safety of our community through use of such a system. We must likewise reject the requirements of HAVA (Help America Vote Act), or at the least join efforts to repeal or delay its implementation.

In general, those of us opposed to today's decision were seeking a delay from the Supes, hoping that as long as they did not take action today we would be containing a fire for at least a little while longer. Supervisor Woolley asked whether a delay would meaningfully impact the work needed to be done by the Elections Department. Elections Clerk Carolyn Crnich said the process of negotiating contracts, obtaining machines, setting them up, and testing them would take many months and that she was concerned that any delay could conceivably contribute to missing the 1/1/06 deadline for compliance with HAVA.

Now that the Supes have approved the introduction of more electronics for Humboldt County elections, I don't see how they could possibly embrace the No Confidence Resolution. It is as if they were not convinced that U.S. federal elections have substantial problems, or that we will be moving towards more closely mirroring conditions that create most of these. I don't want to think of this front as being closed off for the No Confidence Movement, especially since the Supes were receptive to the idea of a citizen task force for vote counting and machine verification. Still, this would not seem to bode well.

Both County Elections Manager Lindsey McWilliams and I were interviewed for the (ch. 3?) evening news in the lobby of the courthouse after the decision. He and I then spoke frankly, in the presence of other Voter Confidence Committee members as well as Ellen Komp from the Civil Liberties Monitoring Project. I was astounded at the hypocrisy of McWilliams, a man I'm continually told is reasonable and should be considered an ally. McWilliams acknowledged on the one hand that we have a "monumentally fucked up system" in this country, but in the next breath he cast doubt on the breadth of the tens of thousands of "irregularities" reported from the 2004 general "election." He seems to honestly believe that election machines are not part of the problem. I'm not into personal attacks or even being judgmental, but you decide for yourself if that makes any sense.

When I asked Lindsey what he considers a basis for confidence in U.S. federal elections, he referred to certification standards and qualifications set on both the national and state level. This does not speak to whether the specs are good enough, an especially troubling aspect given that Lindsey has admitted Humboldt County election machines are not stored securely and that employees of the Public Works Department have "unfettered access." So we've got guidelines that are arbitrarily presented as adequate or appropriate, made irrelevant by a lack of security, and this is supposed to constitute a basis for confidence. In rejecting this, am I setting my standards too high?

We are so far past "fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me." We are now drowning in Kool-Aid.



I don't see why we need to go to touch screen when the ballots we're already using work well enough and leave a paper trail? Your concerns about the storage of the vote tabulating machines are certainly valid but that will always be a potential problem no matter how it's done. Someone will always be in charge of security for these apparatus. Who keeps an eye on the keepers?

By Blogger Fred, at 7:15 AM  

Oh, I see. According to the Times Standard story on this, the County's just buying around 110 of the touch screen machines. Most of us will still be using the old style ballots. According to the T-S, 110 touch screen machines would allow them to have one machine per polling place for the disabled to use. My question is, if a disabled person has difficulty, for whatever reason, with the current ballots, wouldn't they also have trouble with touch screens?

By Blogger Fred, at 8:30 AM  

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