Saturday, March 18, 2006

Humboldt Registrar To Recommend Vote-PAD, Forego Diebold Purchase

Late Friday afternoon, Humboldt County Recorder, County Clerk & Registrar of Voters Carolyn Crnich circulated a document intended to be presented to the County Supervisors next Tuesday. The document (.pdf), also posted to the County website in the Supervisors' meeting agenda, is titled "Progress Report of the Humboldt County Elections Advisory Committee March 21, 2006." It concludes with two recommendations:
That the Board of Supervisors approve the purchase of the VotePad system for use in each polling place by disabled voters; That the Board of Supervisors approve the transfer of $213,980 (base price $199,515 plus sales tax) from reserve for contingencies to department 140 for the purchase of the VotePad system. These funds may be reimbursed by HAVA funds as they are directly related to the accessibility issues addressed by HAVA.

Additionally, I would recommend that the department be directed to negotiate with Vote Here regarding the implementation of their "Mail-In Ballot Tracker"” system as a pilot project for the tracking of Absentee ballots from the verification that the correct ballot was mailed to the voter to it'’s [sic] receipt back in the Elections Department, verification of absentee voter'’s signature and the final status of the ballot (was it counted or rejected and if rejected, for what reason). The cost of funding this project is approximately $20,000 but may be less considering the status as a "pilot project"”. If it is the decision of the committee that this system should be implemented, I will return to you with more a more detailed proposal from the vendor. This product has yet to be discussed by the Elections Advisory Committee.
As I wrote following the recent Vote-PAD demo, it is a huge relief for Humboldt to abandon its interest (.pdf) in purchasing Diebold touch screen machines.

The Voter Confidence Committee has circulated PSAs, press releases, and subscriber e-mail to promote attendance and participation at Tuesday's meeting. I am scheduled for a radio interview with Mike Dronkers on KHUM at 11am Monday. Even though this is good news, there is a lot more that needs to be addressed regarding local election conditions and the public needs to use this opportunity to be heard.

The primary objection is that our votes are recorded by optical scanners that use illegal interpreter code. There is no basis for confidence in the results reported once the data has been converted into the non-human readable, proprietary AccuBasic programming language of Diebold (or any other vendor). The scanners will review all votes, including those cast on Vote-PAD. Sad but true, while Vote-PAD is far superior to touch screen machines, the method of counting renders it a false alternative.

Let us also not forget the known problems with the GEMS central tabulator software, also made by Diebold, and used to aggregate the numbers from various polling places. See for yourself in Votergate, the movie.

So for Tuesday's meeting, we've dodged the need to deal with Diebold on one front but not another. Our opportunity will be to bring the Supervisors into a discussion about how the votes are counted, ideally by hand in public with witnesses. Given the issue with the interpreter code, it is also worth asking why the elections department is so determined to comply with the disability requirements of HAVA while ignoring the fact that the scanners do not comply (.doc) with state or federal law.

Crnich indicates she intends to present a second recommendation on Tuesday, calling for funding a pilot project for tracking absentee ballots. She notes that Vote Here has not yet been discussed by the Election Advisory Committee and indeed it is new to me. Given the late hour and the peace march in the morning, I will have to leave that a topic for a future GuvWurld blog post.



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