Monday, November 28, 2005

Further Humboldt Implications of the GAO Elections Report

For the past week and a half I've been studying the GAO report condemning the conditions under which our elections are held. Last Tuesday I posted this searing analysis of the report's implications on Humboldt County, which I also circulated as a Media Advisory to Humboldt press outlets. So far the Humboldt Advocate and Eureka Reporter have expressed interest in the story and I consider this very encouraging.

On the other hand, it is perplexing to have to tell of the response from the Eureka Times-Standard. Before issuing the Advisory I contacted editor Charles Winkler with a head's up just to check out the GAO report. He always seems pleasant enough in greeting me. Then comes the confounding factor. Winkler tried to tell me the GAO report was only about Ohio. Knowing that I could show him otherwise, I let it go. After receiving the actual Advisory, Winkler e-mailed saying "we don't have these machines here, as far as I know..." He copied that fantasy to Dave Rosso. I spoke with Rosso on Friday when he repeated the delusion that "we don't have these machines here." I asked then what software counts votes in Humboldt? Silence.

I want to say that I don't know what to make of this contrary behavior. But it is strikingly similar to what I've been describing recently in more abstract terms. And it is not isolated.

Three weeks ago, on the final Saturday night before California's Special Election, the Civil Liberties Monitoring Project had a forum with five speakers including Humboldt County Clerk-Recorder Carolyn Crnich. In the closing portion of the program I had the opportunity to ask Crnich a question from the audience.
(Me, paraphrased): Given that 30% of the national vote in November 2004 could not be recounted, and that a press release says nine counties will be using paperless electronic voting machines in Tuesday's special election, I say in both cases there is no basis for confidence in the results reported. Humboldt notwithstanding, as a voter of California, do you have confidence in the results that will come from the upcoming Special Election, and if so, what is the basis for that confidence?

(Crnich, also paraphrased): California law requires a voter verifiable paper audit trail. There will be no paperless electronic voting on Tuesday.
After the forum, I caught up with Crnich milling in the audience. I pointed out to her that she hadn't answered my question because instead she disputed my premise. She again insisted that the VVPAT requirement was in effect. I knew this would be true after January 1, 2006 and offered to bring her proof. We also agreed to verify the issue of paperless machines for this election as a separate question. I haven't had a chance to get back together with her yet, but all the evidence is linked in this post. I'll be calling her for an appointment later today.

I asked Crnich one other thing. I wondered, if she realized there really would be paperless electronic machines in use, would she still have confidence in the results reported? Conceding not quite all the way to the language of the Voter Confidence Resolution, Crnich said: "I would say there is a basis for not having confidence." I thought this had to be close enough and slinked off with a smirk.

Over the past many months, members of the Voter Confidence Committee have met several times with Crnich. She has humbly admitted being unfamiliar with many of the concerns about our current election conditions. This is in contrast to County Elections Manager Lindsey McWilliams who both stands in denial of these problems and becomes hostile and defensive when confronted with them. Following a Board of Supervisors meeting this past April, I reported about Lindsey's vulgar public outburst when challenged about election standards:
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.
This too was not a stand-alone incident. Upon reviewing my Parallel Election Wrap Up report, written early in the morning following California's recent Special Election, McWilliams zoomed in on this excerpt:
I may have botched the procedure here, missing my chance to get the totals by officially observing the closing of the official poll. If that wouldn't have given us the numbers then I was operating on a false assumption since I waited for the results to be posted outside. After a while I finally got the attention of someone inside (not clear what they were doing but they had locked themselves in City Hall) who told me the results wouldn't be posted there (are they not required to do this?). She said I should check at the police station. At the station they said they only receive ballots for temporary safekeeping and have nothing to do with the results. The elections department website hasn't been updated and going there is just out of the question.
In an e-mail forwarded to GuvWurld, McWilliams dispatched the following vitriol to Mark Konkler, Voter Confidence Committee liaison to the elections department:
So, Dave has you for a front man because there's no way he's coming to the Elections Office? Ignorant cowardice is disappointing. He doesn't know California election procedures but he's got a fix for them?
I'll take those charges in order. First, Konkler has long been the designated VCC point-person working with McWilliams and Crnich. Second, at midnight on Parallel Election Day, some of our volunteers were exhausted from working since 6:30am. Recognizing that we could achieve nothing different by obtaining the "official" results at that late hour or the following morning, the group's consensus was to call it a night. And finally, as I puzzled in my PE wrap up report, the precinct should not be locked to bar witnessing of the counting, and results are indeed required to be posted outside the polling place according to California Election Code:
[19380] During the reading of the result of votes cast, any candidate or watcher who may desire to be present shall be admitted to the polling place.

[19384] The precinct board shall, before it adjourns, post conspicuously on the outside of the polling place a copy of the result of the votes cast at the polling place.
So this brings us full circle to my GAO report analysis, which by the way, comments on only a tiny fraction of the improprieties discussed in the 107 page official GAO report, and omits mention of this additional illegal activity. I implore you again, GuvWurld readers, demand from our local media a thorough investigation and report. Equally important, notify the Board of Supervisors that this is entirely inadequate and inappropriate performance from our elections department.

What would be better, and what we have a right to expect, is reality-based public servants who recognize and acknowledge the extent of the problems with election conditions, and who are committed to improving those conditions. The Supes simply must rise to the occasion in their oversight capacity and help to define meaningful qualification criteria for new candidates for employment at the elections department. After all, Crnich is running (currently unopposed) for re-election in 2006 and McWilliams holds his position by appointment. If you are willing to run for one of these jobs, please contact me and I will gladly interview you and publish the transcript here in the GuvWurld blog.



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