Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Palo Alto Defers On VCR, McPherson Rejects Vote-PAD

On Tuesday night, the City Council of Palo Alto (.pdf) had its first discussion of the Voter Confidence Resolution (VCR). The Council considered the version of the VCR (.pdf) adopted in February by Palo Alto's Human Relations Commission (HRC). Commission Chairperson Shauna Wilson has taken the lead in pushing the voter confidence message in Silicon Valley and we need to get her more support. Following Tuesday's meeting, Shauna sent me these observations, printed with permission:
The Voter Confidence Resolution was sent back to the HRC for revision. Some members of Council did not like the call for Election Day to be a National Holiday, Equal time provisions, or Preferential voting. With some tweeking I think we can draft a resolution that would pass the City Council. I am not willing to drop the Equal time provisions as I believe the FCC not enforcing that aspect has greatly contributed to our deteriorated electorate.

Two members of the public spoke to the issue. I'll put the revison [sic] on the HRC agenda for June and hopefully have it sent back to Council by the end of June. When I spoke at the Council meeting tonight, I expressed my concern about the lag time between when the HRC passed the VCR and the City agendized it. I found out it was City staff not preparing the CMR (CIty Manager's Report) that caused the delay. I think we'll see the revised VCR before the City Council before July.
My friend Emily, who has also done a considerable amount to promote the VCR, traveled from Santa Cruz to speak at Tuesday's meeting in Palo Alto. She posted these comments on Democratic Underground:
Our agenda item wasn't over until nearly 11:00 p.m., not because they spent hours debating it but because it got pulled from the "consent agenda" (the list of things that get approved without discussion) and put at the end of the regular agenda.

Most of the nine council members were in support of the idea of the council making a statement about the importance of verifiable elections, but nearly all felt the VCR was too broad. They sent it back to the Human Relations Commission, which had drafted the VCR based on Arcata and Berkeley versions but also added some of their own ideas, for major revision.

Notably, Council Member Peter Drekmeier, an election integrity activist before he ran for the P.A. City Council, expressed support for the VCR as it stood.

It looks like they would pass a much narrower version, which I suspect the HRC will agree to draft, though I don't know anything about the politics of that commission.
I want to make a trip down to the Bay Area to promote the VCR and my new book, We Do Not Consent. I need help setting up speaking gigs in San Francisco, Palo Alto and Santa Cruz. If you can help with logistics, please write me: Meanwhile, copies of the book are getting out and I am hopeful to get more media presence soon.

I have an article coming out any day now in Green Focus, the quarterly newspaper published by the Green Party of CA. Like several previous articles I've written for the Humboldt Advocate (.pdf), Arcata Eye, and Eureka Times-Standard, this new essay emphasizes election reform as a tactic toward peaceful revolution (.pdf) rather than its own end goal. I confess that I am still struggling to help others see this as the elephant in the room. With bogus elections and no right to privacy or speech or due process, the inescapable conclusion must be that peaceful revolution is necessary, NOW!

One small but encouraging sign emerged last Thursday at the monthly meeting of the Humboldt County Election Advisory Committee. Clerk/Recorder and Registrar of Voters Carolyn Crnich announced that Secretary of State Bruce McPherson had forbidden Humboldt and other counties from using Vote-PAD, the non-electronic paper ballot assistive voting device. Humboldt had recently committed to a "pilot program," making a good faith effort to comply with the disabled voter provisions of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA). Many aspects of this McPherson decree are maddening, so bear with me as I build up to the encouraging sign. According to section 19211 of the CA Election Code, McPherson should not be able to block Humboldt's experiment with Vote-PAD:
The governing board, without formally adopting a system that it might lawfully adopt, may provide for its experimental use at an election in one or more precincts. Its use at the election is as valid for all purposes as if it were lawfully adopted.
Crnich said she cited this section of the Code and simply met with further insistence that the devices not be used, thus ensuring Humboldt's non-compliance with HAVA. So should we be out of compliance and offer disabled voters the benefit of Vote-PAD and the ability to vote privately and independently, or should we remain non-compliant and disenfranchise disabled voters?

At this point, Humboldt County Supervisor Jimmy Smith expressed his frustration with "state and federal mandates" that interfere with the local government's ability to make decisions. I validated him, noting how refreshing it is to hear this acknowledged. It is common and obvious, I said, and rather than wind up in a non-compliant position by default, we should be more purposeful in resisting and rejecting this outside control over our local decision making. This argument is straight from Blueprint For Peaceful Revolution and watching Smith nod encouragingly struck me as a very good sign.

* * *

Update: 5/11/06 11pm

The following are not official minutes, and reflect only the first hand observations of GuvWurld correspondent Emily Levy.

Palo Alto City Council Meeting 5/8/06

Council Members (all present): Bern Beecham, Peter Drekmeier, Ladoris H. Cordell, Yoriko Kishimoto (vice mayor), Judy Kleinberg (mayor), Larry Klein, Jack Morton, Dena Mossar, John Barton.

As soon as Shauna Wilson’s presentation concluded, Beecham moved to deny the request to approve the VCR. This was immediately seconded (by Mossar, I think).

Beecham said that the VCR calls for the city to “follow above guidelines,” and it’s unclear how they’d do that, and that the “therefores” don’t make sense. He expressed concern about costs to the City if election day became a national holiday.

Mossar said that despite her awareness of concerns about elections this resolution is troublesome. She would support a council letter to registrar with concerns about elections, but not this resolution.

Drekmeier talked about exit poll discrepancy and other election problems. Hey said that they key point of the resolution is voter-verified paper ballots, which he stated is a bipartisan issue. He noted that what the HRC was requesting was for the city attorney to draft a resolution, and supported that.

Klein said resolution needs more work and that it sounds like a canned resolution from some group or other. That deeper analysis needs to be done. He said that the part about supporting clean money laws is too vague. He questions the part about national standards because California often does things better than national standards. He said that VVPB “may or may not be the way to go.” He said the HRC should have consulted with county supervisors. He said equal time provisions weren’t voluntary but were imposed by the FCC and that internet communication makes the equal time provisions less important. Regarding preferential voting and proportional representation he said this would be a “dramatic change in the political system” and can’t be dealt with in this way (the resolution).

Shauna did get to respond to him briefly. She said the resolution is not canned, but was based on resolutions from Arcata and Berkeley combined with other research. She said the clean money part was left vague because at the time the HRC passed the VCR it was unclear what would happen with the clean money bill in the state legislature, that it’s now AB530 and is currently in the State Senate elections committee. She said the HRC contacted the county which is taking some action regarding VVPAT but not on open source. Regarding the national holiday she said it could be taken out. She said proportional representation “would be nice.” About equal time she noted that the airwaves belong to the people and people have a right to access information via the airwaves.

Kishimoto said she would welcome a cleaner, more focused resolution regarding a verifiable voting system.

Barton echoed Kishimoto and expressed concern about the money to pay employees for a national holiday. He said #8 and *1 need further thought. He said on p. 1 “not the last whereas but the two above it” have something in them that is not supported by fact and require further evidence.

Drekmeier encourages HRC to come back and address the feedback and said he supports VCR as is.

Cordell suggested the resolution be pulled tonight but return to HRC for reworking.

Attorney said it couldn’t be pulled but could be tabled.

Morton moved to refer it back to the HRC. Kishimoto seconded and notes that a new version should focus on voter security and assurance elements.

Kleinberg noted that it’s awful how low voter turnout is and that people wouldn’t necessarily use a voting holiday to vote. She asked how the HRC can inspire more people to vote in Palo Alto.

The motion to send the VCR back to the HRC for revision passed 8-1. Beecham voted no.

respectfully submitted by Emily Levy



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