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

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