Sunday, November 13, 2005
Press Release: VCC Calls Humboldt's First Parallel Election a Success
Media Contact: Dave Berman, Voter Confidence Committee
Voter Confidence Committee Calls Humboldt’s First Parallel Election a Success
Over 55% of Voters Participate in Citizen-Run Exit Poll at Arcata City Hall Precinct
Friday, November 11, 2005 – On Election Day, over 55% of all voters who placed their official ballot at the Arcata City Hall precinct also chose to participate in the region’s first “Parallel Election,” staffed by the volunteers of local citizens group the Voter Confidence Committee of Humboldt County (VCC). The VCC undertook this important project to compare the results and verify the accuracy of the official vote tally performed on electronic machines with secret programming code.
VCC co-founder Dave Berman was optimistic about results of the Parallel Election, saying, “Participation was much greater than expected.” He added, “Moving forward, voters can expect the VCC to remain vigilant about monitoring election results, and we will conduct this same experiment in the 2006 Primaries.”
The VCC and other election reform advocates have raised serious concerns about Humboldt County’s vote counting program called GEMS, manufactured by Diebold. On the whole, this software contains trade-secret (“proprietary”) programming kept private from election officials and the public at large. While no one can explain precisely how the program works, it is known that GEMS operates on Microsoft’s Access platform that has been proven unsecure by industry experts. The citizen-run Parallel Election was conducted largely to increase awareness of this with Humboldt’s voting public.
Election Day Experiment Determined Successful
From 7 am to 8 pm on Election Day, VCC volunteers invited voters exiting City Hall to participate in the Parallel Election by replicating their votes on a second, secret, parallel ballot that duplicated what was on the official ballot.
Official poll results provided by the Humboldt County Elections Department indicate 473 voters cast official ballots inside City Hall, and there were 261 people (55.2%) who participated in the VCC project. A comparison of the two sets of voting results can be found at: http://tinyurl.com/af8go.
Voters Grateful for VCC’s Watchdog Role
Throughout election day, many Parallel Election participants expressed gratitude for the VCC’s watchdog role. “Even though we were located across the street, calling out to voters as they exited the polling place,” said VCC co-founder Scott Menzies, “most voters were eager to participate and supportive of our efforts.”
Results Not Comparable Yet Experiment Raises Important Questions
Dr. Josh Meisel from HSU's Department of Sociology, oversaw the hand count of parallel votes conducted in the open public space of the HSU library lobby. Meisel determined that it was not possible to compare the Parallel Election results to the Official Election results. Meisel identified two critical issues with the Parallel Election: the questionable representativeness of the voters who participated and uncertainty regarding reported and actual voting behavior.
"We don't know how those who didn't participate in the PE would have voted," Meisel cautioned. "We cannot assume that the 261 Parallel Election voters are representative of all 473 precinct voters." Meisel also raised concerns about whether the Parallel Election results accurately measure official voting behavior. "We do not know whether people voted exactly the same way in the PE as they voted in the official election," he said. Nevertheless, Meisel said the VCC's experiment made "an excellent point about the functional utility of the Parallel Election -- the questions raised about making such (voting behavior) comparisons is analogous to the uncertainty surrounding voting systems that eliminate paper trails for vote verification."
“Despite some of the inconclusive results mentioned by Dr. Meisel, the VCC’s concerns about election conditions remain unchanged,” said Berman. “Our trial run Parallel Election is proof positive that voters are wary of electronic voting machines, and looking to ensure the verifiability of official results.”
Dave Berman. 707-845-3749 / firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on the VCC, visit www.voterconfidencecommittee.org or attend the group’s weekly open meetings, Mondays at 6pm, at the Liquid Café in Eureka’s Burre Center (map).
Edited: 11/13/05 9:55pm