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Eroding The Cornerstone Of Democracy

August 24, 2004

The right of voting for representatives is the primary right by which all other rights are protected. To take away this right is to reduce a man to slavery.

Thomas Paine

Since its inception the Equal Justice Foundation has labored to protect our most basic right:

Free, open, honest elections with a secret ballot.

Working with CAMBER (I'm a registered lobbyist for them), we have time after time provided information, testimony as an expert witness in court and before the legislature, talk shows, and direct participation in establishing standards for voting equipment. We have helped stop Internet voting and mail in elections in efforts to reduce election fraud.

After the presidential election debacle in 2000, Congress stepped in to "fix" election problems by passing the Help America Vote Act (HAVA in PDF format) in 2002. They also provided $3.9 billion in funding so that counties could update their voting equipment.

Billions in federal funding set the voting equipment manufacturers to slobbering and began a feeding frenzy at the federal trough by local election officials. The fact that the manufacturers could sell their GameBoy voting machines, labeled as DRE's to confuse the public, for ten times the actual cost (would you pay $3,000 for a GameBoy?) set their greedy eyeballs to rolling like cherries in a slot machine.

Problems that cropped up were dismissed as "minor." Little things like counties with 19,000 registered voters having 147,000 recorded votes on the DRE voting machines, 15% of the votes being lost, equipment malfunctions wherein 40% of the machines wouldn't even start in a county with 3 million residents, and on ad infinitum and ad nauseam, were dismissed as "glitches" by manufacturers and election officials, and the response was spin doctoring rather than efforts to fix the problems. Of course, none of these multitudinous problems "affected the outcome of any race," (unless you live in Garfield County, Colorado).

There were also "minor" problems like the fact that these GameBoy machines have no way for election judges or poll watchers to verify that votes are accurately counted, and a recount is impossible. Either you trust the DRE and its programmers, or you're an enemy agent (see below).

Security experts who found major problems with DRE's were told they simply didn't know how an election works, aside from the ad hominen attacks on them. Warnings of computer experts by the thousands were dismissed by election officials and voting equipment manufacturers as alarmists, conspiracy nuts, uninformed, etc.

None of these problems were helped by the fact that the manufacturers insisted on keeping their software and hardware secret and the courts would not allow any independent inspection. Nor do any meaningful standards for such voting equipment exist. No method of verifying the count produced by DRE's exists either. Then Diebold's CEO (one of the largest manufacturers) wrote a letter promising to deliver Ohio's electoral votes to Bush. However, citizen's are told to trust elections conducted with these dangerous toys without question!

DRE's are touted as being necessary to help the disabled vote unassisted. But when blind voters have tried them the machines malfunctioned.

DRE's are also supposed to make it easy to provide ballots in multiple languages but that hasn't worked well either. One isn't supposed to ask the more basic question of why, if only American citizens can vote, we have to have ballots in other languages at all?

Election officials and manufacturers continually claim: "Voters love the DRE machines!" My guess is they're smoking something illegal as publications as diverse as the New York Times, Wired Magazine, Playboy, etc. have at least an article a week detailing the problems with electronic voting machines. Certainly the citizens I talk to have a very healthy distrust of electronic vote counting.

So when Boulder County, Colorado, as a result of HAVA, purchased new Hart Intercivic voting machines it was natural for CAMBER to want to test them in a realistic fashion. Al Kolwicz then signed up as the Republican Party representative (the People's Republic of Boulder is largely Democratic) for the mandated logic and accuracy tests of the new voting machines. The result was headlines:


Election watchdog could face charges


© 2004 by Ryan Morgan, Boulder Daily Camera Staff Writer

Officials contend Al Kolwicz hindered election test

August 7, 2004 — An election watchdog could face criminal charges after a confrontation with Boulder County election officials this week.

Boulder County sheriff's deputies are investigating an incident that occurred when Al Kolwicz, a longtime critic of election practices across the state, showed up to observe a test at the county's election headquarters on Thursday.

Election officials have told police that Kolwicz's actions during that test could be construed as hindering an election, sheriff's Capt. Dennis Hopper said.

Hopper didn't specify which law Kolwicz might have broken, but a Colorado statute defines "interference with an election official" as a misdemeanor.

Kolwicz was upset when he learned he could be cited. "I think this is strictly harassment, and has nothing to do with the law," he said.

The dispute boils down to the nature of the test conducted Thursday.

State law requires counties to perform "logic and accuracy" tests on their voting equipment. This week was the first time such a test has been performed on the county's new electronic voting machines, which were purchased earlier this year.

Election officials say the scope of a logic and accuracy test is limited: It's meant to determine whether voting equipment accurately tallies votes and whether it can catch over-voting (when a voter votes for more than one candidate in the same race) and under-voting (when a voter doesn't clearly mark his or her choice).

The ballots Kolwicz filled in went beyond under-voting and over-voting. In what he said was an attempt to replicate real conditions, he circled his answers rather than filling them in. He attached kitchen-table waste to another ballot (to simulate a voter who fills in a mail-in ballot while eating), and he used a pen to cross out a bar code that the equipment uses to keep track of the ballots.

Kolwicz said the test that election officials requested is too limited, and too unlikely to catch the issues that arise when real voters mark their ballots.

"The voter is supposed to fill in a square next to the candidate of their choice. Voters don't always do that," Kolwicz said. "They'll put an 'X' through the square instead of filling it in, or they'll circle a square. The clerk wants us to produce tests that only fill in the square perfectly. The fact that we had done circles and 'X's' was very upsetting to the clerk."

Kolwicz was referring to Linda Salas, the Boulder County Clerk and Recorder, who asked Kolwicz to leave the building Wednesday after seeing the ballots he brought in.

While election officials declined to comment directly, Capt. Hopper said they thought that Kolwicz, by going so far outside the scope of the test, illegally hampered the election.

Lisa Doran, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Secretary of State's Office, said her office adheres to the more limited definition of a logic and accuracy test but will not take a position on whether Kolwicz should be prosecuted.

Sheila Horton, another election watchdog who knows Kolwicz, said county officials will look like they have something to hide if they charge him. "This is nothing more than an attempt to discredit the observers and keep people from asking the questions," she said.


Contact Staff Writer Ryan Morgan at (303) 473-1333 or morganr@dailycamera.com.

The article above was followed up a few days later by an editorial in the Boulder Daily Camera.

Free Al Kolwicz!


County looks silly hassling citizen watchdog

August 11, 2004 — Last we looked, being fastidious — "very attentive to and concerned about accuracy and detail," says the New Oxford American Dictionary — wasn't a crime. But the Boulder County Clerk and Recorder's Office evidently didn't get that memo.

Last Thursday, officials ordered Al Kolwicz, a Republican representative to the elections canvass board, off the premises, and reported him to police for allegedly "interfering" with an election.

Police are mulling charges, but if their obvious lack of enthusiasm is any indication, they're embarrassed to have been dragged into this foolishness.

Kolwicz' alleged "crime"? Being too nitpicky during a "logic and accuracy test" required under state law prior to an election.

The test is supposed to determine whether equipment accurately tallies votes. Kolwicz submitted test ballots that were improperly marked, ballots stained with food, and other irregularities, to see how our as-yet-untested voting system would perform — a real, modern-day Jesse James.

Of course, Kolwicz' real offense is that he's been a burr under the saddle of convenience-obsessed election officials for months, asking hard questions about the new system. To hear state and local officials tell it, citizens should just buzz off and leave elections to the pros: "Just trust us."

But post-Florida, that's not good enough. Citizens should be grateful for people like Kolwicz who demand accountability while the rest of us are snoozing.

Hassling citizen watchdogs is a laughably bad idea. The clerk's office should stop pursuing silly charges against Kolwicz, or risk looking even sillier when the case comes before a judge.

That editorial was then followed by Jon Caldara of Independence Institute in his weekly column for the Boulder Daily Camera outlining not only the dangers in not testing, but pointing out the fact that Boulder County now makes it possible to see how a citizen votes in violation of the Colorado Constitution.

Want to know how I voted? Look it up by Jon Caldara


August 15, 2004 — Government employees have better things to do than spend their valuable time trying to appease the occasional gadfly who starts circling around their offices.

Take for example Boulder busybody Al Kolwicz. For years he has been pestering election officials from Boulder County to the Colorado Secretary of State's office. He's constantly yapping that our voting systems are not secret, verifiable or accurate.

This guy is so annoying that the folks at Boulder County Clerk's office ordered him off their premises during a mandated test of our new voting equipment and tried to have him arrested on August 5, 2004.

But you do have to give Kolwicz credit on just one tiny little point: He's absolutely right.

Our voting systems are not secret or verifiable, and who knows if they're accurate. Kolwicz was tossed out during the accuracy test because he had the gall to fill out the test ballots with the kind of mistakes real voters make.

Boulder County had a relative good voting system for years, with the glaring exception of mail-in ballots, where hundreds went uncounted.

We had those great, old-fashioned punch cards that used that sliding hole puncher. If you read this column, chances are you vote and know exactly what I'm talking about — no hanging chads, easy for manual hand recounts, of which there have been a few.

But after "Florida," Congress ordered counties to get rid of punch-card systems. And, with our own ballot counting machines in need of repair, it was time for Boulder to buy a new, and of course, expensive, system.

I got a taste of that system when I voted in the August 10 th primary. Due to a new law I had to show identification before voting. Even though old movie stubs and laundry tickets can apparently pass for ID, this is a huge step forward for voting integrity.

But was it a secret ballot? If you really want to know how I voted, you can check it out for yourself. For the first time in my life, I turned in a ballot with a serial number on it: 00733454. Anyone with access to the ballots can now go see how I voted.

While our old ballots also had serial numbers, that portion was torn off before the ballot went into the locked box. Not so with the new ballots. To my knowledge, Boulder is the only county in the state that individually marks ballots.

Secret and private ballots are a cornerstone of democracy. It is even spelled out in Article 7, Section 8 of the Colorado Constitution: "no ballots shall be marked in any way whereby the ballot can be identified as the ballot of the person casting it."

Did I mention my ballot was marked with number 00733454? I am now identified as the person who cast it.

The county clerk's response to this issue is, don't worry, the Secretary of State's office says what we're doing is OK, and nobody at the polling place would ever write down your serial number. In other words, we don't need secret ballots in Boulder, you can trust us.

I prefer the old Reagan standard: Trust, but verify.

It is not just election workers that have access to ballot serial numbers; it can be the voters themselves. What better way to prove to your union boss or Halliburton connection that you voted the way they instructed than giving them your ballot number to have some insider check it?

The other big problem with the new system is accuracy. Like those old "Scantron" tests we took in high school, you now need to scribble in the little square with a pen without going outside the lines. (So much for that Boulder "color outside the lines" attitude.)

What if you do go outside the lines, or don't fill it in completely? Well, you just hope the machine guesses how you wanted to vote correctly. We don't know that it will. When Kolwicz tried to challenge the system that way during a test, he was kicked out. How dare he color outside the lines?

If the machine can't guess how you voted, then election officials get to "interpret" how you meant to vote.

Instead of getting hassled by election workers and belittled by officials, Al Kolwicz should be thanked by all voters for his determined, relentless and detailed work to demand that voting be truly secret, accurate and verifiable.

And the county needs to give us a new, Kolwicz-approved paper ballot system.


Jon Caldara is president of the Independence Institute in Golden. He lives in Boulder and may be reached at JonCaldara@yahoo.com.



Boulder County officials were not deterred by public ridicule. A sheriff's office detective made an unannounced visit to Al Kolwicz's home and interviewed him from approximately 5:00 PM until 6:00 PM on Tuesday, August 17 th .

Kolwicz initially thought that the visit was in response to a request sent to the Sheriff a few hours earlier. Kolwicz had asked the Sheriff to advise whether he will be permitted to enter the county clerk's building in order to fulfill his duty on the Canvass Board for the August 10 th primary election.

The detective said that the interview was not related to that request but that the interview was related to charges filed by the Boulder County Attorney.

I am personally appalled that such intimidation would be used against a duly-delegated representative of a major political party simply for attempting to do his duty in the most thorough manner he knows how. These are Stalinist tactics and bring to mind that monster's famous dictum:

Clearly election and homeland security officials in Boulder County will not tolerate any inspection of their voting machines and methods, and they will know how citizens voted. Personally, I can think of little that is more frightening for the future of our nation than such actions and police-state intimidation.

Charles E. Corry, Ph.D., F.G.S.A.



| EJF Home | More newsletters | Get EJF newsletter | Find Help | Join the EJF | Comments? |

Issues The Equal Justice Foundation Deals With

| Civilization | Emerson story | Families, and Marriage | Courts & Civil Liberties |

| Prohibition & War On Drugs | Vote Fraud & Election Issues |