As the story from the July 1 st edition of the Colorado Springs Gazette below points out, on Thursday, June 30 th , the El Paso County Commission (Colorado) rejected a petition by the county clerk to reconsider the commission's ruling on May 9 th that the November election be held in traditional polling places. The county clerk claimed hardship and cost savings as justification for requesting a mail in election instead.
Note that Mr. Swanson publishes only the politically correct view and ignores the real story of the struggle for honest elections. As the Gazette has become ever more simply a propaganda arm of government, its credibility and popularity has continued to decline. Coincidentally, after the hearing on Thursday I had to go to Wal-Mart where they were trying to give away copies of the Gazette with no takers that I saw.
One of the reasons the El Paso County Clerk is in trouble is that the HAVA-mandated statewide voter registration database, contracted out to Accenture, is severely behind schedule (at least six months although two years to never is probably more accurate). HAVA requires this database to be operational by January 1, 2006. Mr. Balink stated it won't make it. In a state where the $200+ million welfare database went "operational" last September, and still isn't functioning, and the DMV CSTARS program is also off the tracks, we have a general train wreck with regard to databases in this state. The impact on the county clerk is horrendous. But far be it from the press to say anything about incompetence and mismanagement in state government (note that I am not referring to Mr. Balink or his staff here. He is on the wrong end of the state government problems). And of course the voters wouldn't be interested in knowing that our Secretary of State, Donetta Davidson, doesn't have a safe, secure, or accurate voter registration database. I did find out that the HAVA-compliance director, Drew Durham, has left and that the Sec. of State has now contracted ($$$$) with a company to review the problems with Accenture and why the voter registration database isn't getting done. And of course, Sec. of State Donetta Davidson's and Accenture's record on purges from voter registration databases is a dark one, but the public wouldn't be interested in that, now would they Mr. Swanson?
The implementation of legislation pushed by our Sec. of State's Blue Ribbon Commission of the Unqualified, SB05-206, is causing numerous problems for the county clerk's office. Among those are the fact that Rep. Madden's and Sen. Gordon's bill SB05-198 requiring, of all things, a tangible paper record of all votes cast and an audit to ensure election accuracy were rolled into SB05-206. Incidentally, all reports are that what voting machine vendors consider a paper record is a far cry from what you and I might consider a human-readable record of our ballot. Reportedly, the paper roll produced by Sequoia is only readable by Sequoia. And lets not even talk about Diebold's version. The good news is that ES&S AutoMark system for paper ballots has now been federally certified.
What standards there are for voting computers suggest that the machines should last for ten years (how many 10 year old computers have you seen lately?). El Paso County's Diebold servers are now six years old and the deputy county clerk testified that they are incompatible with the new software and hardware (one would never suspect that Diebold might have done that deliberately) and must be replaced for a trivial amount of ~$100,000. My suggestion that before we do any further upgrades, or purchase additional e-vote equipment, we should do a cost/benefit analysis for electronic voting went over like the proverbial lead balloon.
The hearing on these issues began on Monday, June 27 th , and after Mr. Balink and his staff finished testifying about the problems they face, and there is no question his problems are real, it was my turn to rise in opposition.
Now I would like to make it clear that I have a great deal of respect for Mr. Balink and his staff. I have stated repeatedly that the El Paso County Clerk's office runs the best and smoothest elections of any county I'm aware of in Colorado. So my comments and concerns are honest differences, and in many cases Mr. Balink and I are in agreement, particularly with regard to the need for honesty and integrity in elections.
That cost savings, if any, in a mail in election were realized by not mailing ballots to "inactive" voters. Thus, effectively, one third of the registered voters in El Paso County would be disenfranchised if the commission approved a mail in election.
That it is well established that a mail in election, combined with mail in voter registration forms, is the method of choice for those wishing to commit election fraud. Why make it easy to commit election fraud by holding a mail in election?
That the integrity and honesty of elections has historically depended on their being run in the main by citizens. Numerous precedents exist as to why government employees and their contractors, e.g., Diebold, should not operate polling places or have primary responsibility for counting ballots, as they would in a mail in election.
I brought up the question of whether there are ongoing problems with integrity and honesty of elections in El Paso County. I had previously reminded the commissioners that one of Commissioner Clark's election was now used as a type example of how to hack the vote on Diebold voting equipment.
If one looks at page 154 of the Statement of Votes Cast (PDF 3 MB) for the November 2004 election it is plain that 324 total votes were counted but only 249 ballots were cast. On page 162 of that same document, 462 votes were counted even though there were only 362 registered voters in the precinct. My question was then: How can this happen and why doesn't the Diebold software flag it? The answer, as Commissioner Williams pointed out, is that, in these director's races, voters were instructed to vote for two candidates in the first instance and for three candidates in the second instance. However, neither in the Election Summary Report or the Statement of Votes Cast was that noted although that should have been done. Without such notation in the record it is virtually impossible to audit an election. I might also note that on page 8 of the Statement of Votes Cast (PDF 3 MB) that for precinct 378 there were 71 registered voters but 175 cards (ballots) cast and the Diebold software faithfully records a turnout of 246.48%. Is there no error checking at all in Diebold software?
During his testimony on Monday, Mr. Balink had presented a map of how Colorado counties were planning to vote this November, e.g. voting centers, mail in elections, with precinct voting being in a distinct minority (~20% if I remember correctly). During the recess the Denver Post had published an article pointing out that Denver County was switching back to precinct voting and had such little faith in their election commission that they are attempting to eliminate it. I also pointed out that a major reason that Boulder County was doing a mail in election was that the Hart Intercivic voting equipment they had purchased was incapable of processing ballots fast enough to handle a precinct election, as had been demonstrated in November 2004.
I also stated that the citizens of El Paso County would be much safer if Mr. Balink would stop experimenting with elections, e.g., voting centers, and purchasing unreliable (the Diebold Accu-Vote tabulator in my precinct, 306, didn't work in the November 2004 election) and unauditable voting equipment and concentrate instead on such fundamentals as insuring the number of votes counted does not exceed the number of ballots cast.
During the recess Al Kolwicz had forwarded me a letter from Mr. Balink dated March 10, 2003, strongly supporting the abolition of mail in elections and I put that before the commissioners as well. In follow up Mr. Balink stated he still agreed with his statements in that letter.
I also repeated what I've said many times before: You can have an honest election, or you can have a mail in election, but you can't have both at the same time. And with that I asked the commissioners to deny Mr. Balink's request to hold a mail in election this year, or any subsequent year.
On Monday there had been only one other citizen to testify. He testified Thursday after I finished in favor of a mail in election on general principles and based on his experience dealing with his friends and neighbors during many years as an election judge.
However, Mr. Balink and his staff had evidently been busy during the recess and lined up three more witnesses. One was the USPS state director for government mailings from Denver who described security and handling procedures the post office follows when ballots are mailed. Commissioner Bruce had had several problems with the post office handling of election materials, including ballots, so that witness was probably not a plus for the county clerk's side. School district 11 had two witnesses who testified in favor of mail in elections because they felt they got better results at less cost than in precinct elections. My impression is that they didn't help or hurt the county clerk's position.
Then the deputy clerk and the election director stood and attempted to refute my statements. I remember the deputy clerk going on about how reliable Diebold is, and how the equipment is tested by an Independent Testing Authority (the ITA is hired by Diebold and only tests what Diebold asks them to test, which did not include security features, and upgrades and bug fixes are usually not tested by the ITA before being released) and certified by NASED (the last certificate we have for the Diebold voting equipment is from 1996 when it was installed on a UNIX box. It is now on Windows NT.).
Mr. Balink graciously acknowledged my sincere efforts and that, even though we often differed, citizen reviews were essential. I did not attempt any rebuttal as I thought it unnecessary based on the commissioners comments.
Election officials asked for an all-mail election to relieve pressure on employees who are facing waves of new state and federal regulations, plus relocating three warehouses and moving an election office out of the Widefield area. An all-mail election would cost the county about $100,000 less than one at polling places.
Balink asked the commissioners for an additional $109,600 to hire temporary staff and pay additional overtime to cover the workload until the end of the year. He said he also needs $97,500 to buy new computer servers and printers that tabulate votes.