Thursday, March 27, 2008

Voters choose paper ballots over voting machines

Dear Ms. Kim,

I am concerned that your story in today’s Rocky Mountain News might mislead voters and election officials. Voters enthused about mail option

The phrases “Coloradans are responding so enthusiastically” and “voters who want to only vote by mail “ strongly suggest that voters want to use the “permanent absentee” method of voting. Increased usage does not necessarily mean that voters want or prefer the method. In fact, there are several other explanations for the increased usage of the method.
  1. Preference for paper ballots -- Where paper ballots in precinct polling locations is not an option, we have for years now recommended that voters obtain and hand deliver an absentee ballot. This is how voters can vote a paper ballot on Election Day, even when the county does not offer paper ballots in precinct polling locations. (We explain to voters that hand delivery does not guarantee that votes will be counted, but the risk is less than the risk when using electronic vote recording equipment.)

  2. Unauthorized promotion -- County clerks have been aggressively promoting the use of “permanent absentee” status. I have personally observed a clerk employee persuade a new registrant to choose this method. I have a photo of a sign in the clerk’s office promoting the method. The clerk’s are mailing unauthorized propaganda to voters that encourages voters to use the “permanent absentee” method.

    The propaganda completely ignores the risks associated with “permanent absentee” voting, and therefore misleads the voters. It is very difficult for election system reformers to overcome the unauthorized use of thousands and thousands of dollars of public funds that are being used to promote this voting method and to silence the questions raised by reformers. When the clerks want to do something, they find the money. And they want to make their own lives easier and less accountable.

  3. Unaccountable clerks -- County clerks are not accountable for the error and fraud that results from this unauthorized propaganda effort. Lacking effective oversight, clerks have nothing to lose by promoting this unsafe method. “Permanent absentee” is different than “absentee” voting. With absentee voting, a voter submits an application for a ballot. This application applies only to the current election. It is pretty likely that the voter is alive, receiving mail at the address indicated on the application, and intends to vote in the current election. The county verifies that the application is valid, and fulfills the request. With “permanent absentee” voting, there is no application for the current election. Whether the voter is alive or has moved or is absent from their residence or does not intend to vote in the current election has no bearing. A ballot is mailed to the “permanent absentee” address. Many of these ballots will be fraudulently voted and counted.
It is important to distinguish between voters who want a paper ballot and voters who actually understand and want to use the “permanent absentee” method.

Al Kolwicz
Colorado Voter Group
2867 Tincup Circle
Boulder, CO 80305

Saturday, March 22, 2008

SPEAKOUT: Colorado’s county clerks do not know best

SPEAKOUT: Colorado’s county clerks do not know best
By Al Kolwicz

Despite assurances to the contrary, Colorado county clerks do not know best. Their job has changed. It used to be an administrative job, overseeing people, procedures, and paper. It is now a systems manager job, overseeing the design, purchase, testing and operation of complex computerized election systems.

Not many county clerks are qualified to do the job they have chosen. Not surprisingly, clerks abdicate responsibilities to equipment suppliers who claim to know what’s best. Clerks have an unhealthy dependency on these suppliers. The supplier’s agenda is not the electorate’s agenda.

Clerks shun accountability and public debate. They hold secret meetings. They withhold data needed to detect election errors and fraud. They block public participation in election planning and oversight. To promote their agenda, clerks use public resources to lobby against the interests of the electorate, and they make misleading statements that disparage watchdogs and give false assurances to voters.

Most county clerks give convenience and cost their top priority. Many claim that voter confidence tops their list. But voter confidence is not based on convenience and cost. Voter confidence is earned when an election is transparent, each process is independently verified, and every problem is publicly disclosed. Clerks may know what is best for clerks; but clerks don’t do what is best for the electorate.

In his recent SPEAKOUT: Colorado’s county clerks know best, Secretary of State Coffman puts words into the mouth of election system activists and practices revisionist history. He says that clerks know best, but he does not support this assertion.

Mr. Coffman says that the “ultimate goal” of so-called voter activists “is to prohibit the use of all electronic voting devices”. This is not true, and it has never been true. Election system activists want election systems that are transparent and verifiable. The systems certified by the Secretary of State are neither.

Mr. Coffman says that the court ordered re-certification was only about documentation. This is not true. The court decision was about standards and competence. The new standards are weak and the re-certification team largely ignored them. All of the equipment failed to meet these weak and selectively tested standards. Ignoring problems does not make them go away.

We agree with Mr. Coffman when he originally said “I have more confidence in having votes cast on paper ballots at the polls rather than relying exclusively on electronic voting machines or in voting by mail.” (SOS News, 12/26/07).

We disagree with Mr. Coffman when he now says, “The legislature and the Governor should defer to Colorado’s county clerks …” (SPEAKOUT, 3/12/08). Colorado county clerks do not share the electorate’s agenda, they refuse to be accountable, and they resist transparent and verifiable systems.

Election system activists do not know everything about election law, but they do know some. And, they know a great deal about computers, software and systems. It is time for Colorado’s clerks to acknowledge their limitations and to work toward a transparent and verifiable election system.

People should trust their clerk, but independently verify their elections.

Al Kolwicz, for Colorado Voter Group

Monday, March 10, 2008

Election system auditing - whither?

This note is not intended to offend the fine people working on election system auditing. I hope that it will be viewed positively, and spur folks to meet its challenge.

Before getting too committed to a post election audit scheme, I suggest that we take a step back and think about what the audit is supposed to accomplish -- precisely.

Lots of folks are getting enthusiastic about potential mechanisms – the solutions. But I have not seen an adequate statement of requirements for what the election system audit is committing to accomplish. And exactly how will we know when it has succeeded, or failed?

Election system auditing is a technical/analytical/ almost mathematical problem. This is not the way I see it being approached. Sure, people are using statistics and arithmetic, but I see no postulate leading to proof.

Election system auditing is being discussed as though every ballot is like every other ballot. This is not a correct assumption. The ballot style, including its precinct, makes ballots fall into a number of non-identical sets. Something true of one ballot may be untrue for ballots of a different style/precinct.

Election system audit designers seem to not differentiate between the various methods of voting – precinct-paper, precinct-electronic, early-paper, early-electronic, absentee, provisional, and emergency. These are non-identical methods. Results from a sample in one set do not necessarily carry over to another set.

Election auditor designers seem to not differentiate between the individual units of voting equipment used to record and count ballots and votes. Just because a ballot is successfully processed on one unit does not mean that it would be processed correctly on a different unit of the same type. Each individual unit is uniquely customized for each election. No two units are identical. What is true of one unit is not necessarily true of any other unit.

And, election audit designers seem to ignore completely the processes that do not involve voting equipment, yet represent enormous opportunities for error and fraud. The voter eligibility system, the ballot issuing mechanisms, ballot production, mailing, return mail processing, signature verification, batch integrity, etc. Every one of these represents a potential threat.

In a nutshell, I hope that people wanting to be election system audit experts will first develop widespread agreement on the exact requirements for the audit and how it will be verified that the audit meets these requirements. Only then does it make sense to propose a solution.

Finally, there are data flows that make auditing possible, and data flows that do not. None of the election systems certified for use in Colorado have an auditable data flow. Consequently, all of the work being done on audit today is destined to be discarded once a more rigorous data flow model is adopted.

It is time to establish the precise requirements for election system auditing.

Al Kolwicz
Colorado Voter Group
2867 Tincup Circle
Boulder, CO 80305