Sunday, April 02, 2006

Humboldt Registrar Downgrades Vote-PAD to 'Pilot Project', Prefers HAVA Non-compliance to Diebold Touch Screens

The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors will meet once again this Tuesday, April 4, at 9am. The agenda begins with this financial request from Recorder/County Clerk-Registrar Carolyn Crnich. The Supes are now expected to approve just $3730, a much smaller allocation than previously mentioned, for the purchase of two Vote-PAD packages comprised of 20 booklets and 10 extra ballot sheaths. The Elections Department would serve as the only polling place offering the low-tech, non-electronic assistive voting device. According to Crnich, Vote-PAD, designed to allow disabled voters to vote privately and independently, will also "demonstrate good faith efforts to meet HAVA [Help America Vote Act] requirements."

As noted previously at GuvWurld, Crnich recently appeared before the Supes to request substantially more funding (.pdf), which would have made Vote-PAD more widely available throughout Humboldt County. The revised plan downgrades the Vote-PAD implementation to a "pilot project" and calls for spending less than 2% of the original projection. The primary reason for the change is the lack of time required for elections department staff to manually prepare the six hundred Vote-PAD booklets that were to have been put in use for the June 6 primary.

Crnich cites assurances from Secretary of State Bruce McPherson's office that the limited outlay will be reimbursed by HAVA funds, even as she acknowledges the uncertainty of the Secretary's approval for use. This is about par for the course for McPherson who knowingly certified election machines that do not comply with state or federal law. recently filed a lawsuit (.pdf) against McPherson, Crnich, and 17 other CA county registrars.

In this week's submission to the Supes, Crnich mentions the lawsuit. The reference is part of the second of two "alternatives to staff recommendations." I interpret this to mean that if the Supes don't want to go along with the minimal use of Vote-PAD, the next idea is to be non-compliant with HAVA. If that is not acceptable, purchasing Diebold TSx machines is not off the table, despite the lawsuit.

I don't think there is much question that the Supes will approve the Vote-PAD plan. But to Crnich's credit, it is a strong statement for her to put on the record that she would rather not comply with HAVA than use Diebold TSx machines. I have to admit, I take exception with Crnich for several things but this is totally right on. It suggests the glimpse of optimism I flashed five weeks ago might have been justified:
In a previous meeting I attended with Crnich and Vets For Peace Secretary Jim Sorter, I encouraged Crnich to consider municipal civil disobedience. She reacted quite negatively. However, yesterday we discussed what an untenable position she is in and it seemed like maybe, perhaps, I hope I'm not just wishing that she began to get the idea that being controlled by others is not a suitable excuse to offer after everything has gone to pot and people are seeking accountability.
Another important part of this story is simply the topic getting an official hearing again on Tuesday's Supervisors' agenda. This is an opportunity we should not pass up. Last time, Chairman Woolley curtailed my public comment when I expanded the topic to include vote counting. How can we have any serious conversation about a new vote casting method and not also discuss how the votes are counted?

We need more citizens present this Tuesday to speak out for hand counted paper ballots. Perhaps an upshot here is that the Election Advisory Committee is meeting this Thursday, April 6, at 6:30pm at the Courthouse in Eureka. The main topic is scheduled to be election security and we need lots of citizens to show for that too. If they're not willing to hear about it at Tuesday's Supervisors' meeting, we should recommend strongly that their next agenda have an item "to report out of committee" about Thursday's election security discussion.

In his regular Friday afternoon guest slot, Brad Friedman of recently interviewed (.mp3) Crnich on the Peter B. Collins radio show originating in Monterey, CA on KRXA and aired in Humboldt on KGOE. A few interesting, but disappointing comments from Crnich:
(Collins): What is your level of confidence in the Diebold optical scan?

(Crnich): Well Humboldt County is considerably smaller than some of the counties that you may be broadcasting into or from. Um, but, we have through our audits in the past, we have not had any reason to, uh, any reason for concern over the security of the ballots this point in time, our 1%, or 1%-plus actually, uh, manual recount of those ballots has verified that the, uh, the results we have received have been accurate.


(Collins): Do you ever permit poll workers or precinct directors, whatever title you give them, to take a machine home overnight and then take it to the polling place in the morning or are the machines under your control at all times?

(Crnich): They, uh, the poll workers do have them at their homes and deliver them to the polling place. Before they receive them, the memory cards are sealed in them.


(Friedman): 1% certainly isn't sufficient to catch problems because you're going to miss them 99% of the time, essentially. But, um, as she [Crnich] says, when those machines go home at night with the poll workers, anything can happen to those machines, because they--my understanding is--they can be networked, they can be accessed through all kinds of ways and information can be put onto those memory cards even if the memory cards are locked in the machine and that's a very serious concern because that code can then be programmed to essentially delete itself the next day before anybody gets to see what has actually happened to that code.

(Collins): Carolyn, a comment?

(Crnich): Um, you know, I don't have any comment to that. I, uh, um, I have heard that comment before and I've, you know, I've not been able to address it and prove it or disprove it.
So let's review. Friedman is correctly asserting, according to the Berkeley/VSTAAB report (.pdf), that the memory cards can be altered even when "sealed" in the machines. By allowing the machines and cards out of their control, by definition, the elections department cannot vouch for the condition of the equipment when deployed at the precincts. And to validate the accuracy of the vote count, 99 out of 100 possible discrepancies are disregarded without consideration. Is it any wonder this approach has not revealed any problems in the past? Perhaps there were none, but how would we know? It is easier to miss what you are not looking for than what you are looking for.

What I'm looking for is a rational basis for confidence. I want to see a reason why I should accept the results that will be reported by an elections department that speaks for its equipment by announcing that they can't really speak for their equipment because others get it at the last minute. I want conclusive election results delivered by an elections department that can prove, over and over, that the final numbers they report match the will of the people. I'm looking for an elections department so committed to instilling confidence in the system (.pdf) that they themselves apply this rational basis for confidence criteria when approaching the challenges of preparing for an election.
(Crnich): Um, you know, I don't have any comment to that. I, uh, um, I have heard that comment before and I've, you know, I've not been able to address it and prove it or disprove it.
Crnich is uncertain, and understandably so. As I wrote in Blueprint For Peaceful Revolution (.pdf), these conditions have been created intentionally to cause inherent uncertainty. The Voter Confidence Resolution proves unequivocally that current election conditions ensure inconclusive results. While Crnich is uncertain, she also seems unable or unwilling to recognize the systemic source of her uncertainty. She is willing to plod ahead with the optical scanners, denying that she is perpetuating the conditions ensuring the uncertainty, and believing she is serving her community by making the best of a bad situation. How Manchurian.

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The Voter Confidence Committee is presenting the Demand Your Democracy Forum on Tuesday, April 11 at 7pm at Humboldt State University's Founders Hall Room 118. Click here for the press release. If you can help promote the event, there are links to downloadable leaflets and posters below.

Demand Your Democracy Forum leaflets (.pdf, 6 to a page)

Demand Your Democracy Forum poster (.pdf, 8.5 x 11, b&w)

Demand Your Democracy Forum poster (.pdf, 8.5 x 11, color)



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