Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Colorado's non-transparent and unverifiable election system won't cut it in '12

July 14, 2011                      

Mr. John Hickenlooper, Governor
Ms. Dianne Ray, Auditor
Mr. John Suthers, Attorney General
Mr. Walker Stapleton, Treasurer
Mr. Scott Gessler, Secretary of state
Mr. Scott Doyle, President of Colorado County Clerks Association
Mr. Brandon Shaffer, President of the Senate
Mr. Frank McNulty, Speaker of the House 

Dear Honorable Colorado Officials: 

We see dark clouds gathering over Colorado’s election systems.  Officials are not fulfilling their positions of public trust and are compromising the very foundation of our government – free and open elections. 

Time after time Colorado election officials have refused to produce for public analysis the data needed to detect election error and fraud.  Officials responsible for enforcement ignore, provide cover, explain away, or outright excuse material errors and violations committed by themselves, other officials, and vendors.

Inadvertently sometimes, but other times purposefully, public officials circumvent and weaken election statutes and rules, increase the likelihood of election error and fraud, and make it more and more difficult for the public to verify that the election outcomes are correct.  Also, rulemaking and complaint processing procedures have been established that are self-serving and altogether unfair to the public.

This letter intends to draw your personal attention to Colorado’s defective election systems.  We seek your leadership in setting a high priority agenda to devise and implement immediate and long term remedies.  As a key official you can speak out in behalf of the public and draw attention to the problems.  And you can recruit talent suitable to the task of addressing these problems.

This is urgent.  With the highly contested 2012 election season already underway, it is vital that changes needed to protect the integrity of this election be devised, implemented and enforced.  The stakes are high.  Emotions are high.  There is a risk that a “win whatever it takes attitude” will encourage voter intimidation, vote selling, voter impersonation and other inappropriate activity.

Most of you have successfully navigated the election system so you are likely to be “generally satisfied” with the process.   We, who have studied this system in detail for many years, are “strongly not satisfied”.

We are a multi-partisan group.  We do not collaborate on election contests.  Instead, we collaborate on oversight and improvement of the election process itself. 

We have served as canvass board members, election judges, and poll watchers.  We are highly knowledgeable active participants in: election rulemaking, election lawmaking, best election practices development, election complaint processing, post-election audit, election and open records litigation, and election system certification and testing.  As a group, we have considerable technical and election expertise.

 After more than a decade of work, we have observed a disturbing increase in the likelihood of a major election problem and a simultaneous decrease in the rights of citizens to verify election processes and results.  If enough people do not trust election outcomes, there is no telling what might happen.

Unless current trends are reversed, we anticipate a massive loss of public confidence in election results and government officials.

The upcoming 2012 General Election is expected to be vigorously fought and highly emotional.  Some see this election determining the fate of our nation.  The stakes are exceptionally high.  Requiring your immediate attention are at least the following issues:

1.       Restrictions on private meetings of officials (electronic and/or in-person) when public business is discussed as required by the Colorado Open Meetings law C.R.S. § 24-6-401 & 402.

2.       Disallowing the use of public funds for private meetings, lobbying, and promotion.

3.       Appointment of truly independent (non-conflict of interest) and technically competent bodies to create election rules and to judge election complaints.

4.       Appointment of truly independent (non-conflict of interest) bodies with the technical competence to monitor, report, and enforce government and public compliance with election statutes and rules.

5.       Establish, measure, and enforce compliance with precise, quantifiable standards for all election processes including , but not limited to:

ü  “timely public access to all election records and processes with the exception of the identity of which voter cast which ballot”,

ü  “strict compliance with the “anonymity” intent of Colorado Constitution Article VII, Section 8”,

ü   “enforceable standard for assessing substantial compliance’’,

ü  and, publicly-verifiable voting system certification, canvass, recount, audit, test, identity verification, eligibility verification, ballot control, voter intent, poll watching, open records, and records retention.

When your contestant wins you accept the results.  But what if they lose and you don’t believe it?  
What better remedy than transparent election systems will enable the public to actually verify for themselves that election processes and results are fair and accurate?  And research potential system improvements?

The voters of Colorado desperately need your help.  We must not allow Colorado to be embarrassed in front of the nation by displaying on television our inferior non-transparent and unverifiable election systems. 

Can we count on you to adopt a high priority agenda to devise and implement immediate and long term remedies?  We would like to meet with you to provide details and to discuss potential solutions.

Al Kolwicz
for, Colorado Voter Group

This letter was published in the July 22, 2011 edition of the Colorado Statesman.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

2012 National Election Fiasco in Colorado?

The 2012 elections are big news, but the media are not reporting Colorado's potential role in a national election fiasco.

Those who understand election equipment and procedures warn that Colorado elections cannot withstand close scrutiny. We call for changes to prevent humiliation if the national press attempts to verify Colorado's election returns.

If Colorado were an "emerging democracy," the Carter Center would reject calls to monitor our elections because we fail to meet their minimum transparency standards.

If a national contest is decided by Colorado's vote, as Bush/Gore was by Florida, press everywhere will severely criticize the "Wild West" elections in some Colorado counties.

Surely the most mistake-ridden election in recent Colorado history has received little attention, although it is Colorado's "canary in the coal mine" of elections. A statewide grand jury report declared that numerous irregularities are routine in Colorado and therefore not subject to legal remedies. Many problematic election activities not viewed as blatantly fraudulent are deemed "substantially compliant" and therefore free from enforcement.

Do the following examples from Saguache County's November 2010 election for governor, senator and local races satisfy you as "good enough for government work"?

After a bipartisan citizens' canvass board refused to certify election results due to irregularities, the clerk unilaterally issued a certificate of election renewing her own job.

Improperly purchased, uncertified, untested and unsecured voting equipment failed the post-election audit, yet its tabulations were deemed "official." A canvass board's reasonable attempt to hand count was blocked by the secretary of state, in favor of the suspect machine counts.

Surveillance videos of equipment operations were deleted after a reporter filed a Colorado Open Records Act request.

The election night results showed that two incumbents lost. The clerk then conducted an unsanctioned new tabulation three days later that returned the incumbents to power.

The clerk destroyed most election night paper records and refuses to release electronic copies of election data, claiming they are a manufacturer's proprietary records.

Secretary of state staff initially boasted that they verified the new revised tabulation. But, when shown they weren't present to verify the tabulations, they claimed that a new count had not actually occurred, despite proof to the contrary.

The clerk mailed unsolicited ballots to selected voters for a controversial tax measure. At least four ineligible voters were permitted to vote on the tax increase. The measure unofficially passed by one vote, although the canvas board would not confirm the questionable tabulation. Taxes were increased despite the obvious uncertainty.

When the secretary of state ordered a ballot review, the clerk refused. He then sued her and the court has yet to issue a decision. The clerk continues to refuse access by public, press and secretary of state to the records required to verify or contest the election.

The public and the press investigated the uncertain Bush/Gore ballot tallies. That will not happen in most Colorado counties where election officials are closing doors to citizen oversight.

Transparency advocates are waiting for the Court of Appeals to decide if Colorado's law on public access to anonymous ballots is as open as in other states. In the meantime, egregious election irregularities are officially "substantially compliant" in Colorado.

Contact your state officials and demand that they abandon subpar standards and shore up Colorado's election code. The nation's voters expect nothing less of Colorado.

Marilyn Marks, Unaffiliated, Aspen
Harvie Branscomb, Democrat, Carbondale
Al Kolwicz, Republican, Boulder

Submitted to the Denver Post for publication in the July 24, 2011 edition.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Trust, but verify

The Colorado County Clerks Association wants elections to be trusted but not publicly verified.

Exploiting a controversy surrounding Saguache County election records, the Association argued its case in a March 25th Denver Post guest editorial.

Disturbingly, most of the Association’s arguments are false and misleading – see “Protect the integrity of voters' ballots”.

The Association asserts that Secretary of State Scott Gessler has proposed an “unprecedented … review of ballots.” This is not true. The Secretary carried out a similar review after the November 2003 election in Garfield County. And in August 2010 election integrity advocates physically inspected and obtained photocopies of El Paso County election records (including ballots).

The Association repeatedly, and falsely, asserts that ballots are “private”. This assertion has no basis in law or in logic. Voters privately mark their ballots but once cast the ballots are anonymous and public.

There must be no way for anybody, including government officials and the voter themselves, to prove who cast which ballot.

Once cast, the anonymous ballots are required to be publicly, not privately, interpreted and counted to determine the election results.

The clerk’s Association claims that ballots are “sacred”. What does this even mean?

The Association asserts that ballots are “secretly cast”. That is false and the opposite of what the law requires. If ballots were secretly cast, there would be no way to prevent ineligible ballots.

The Association falsely asserts that Mr. Gessler would allow “cast ballots” to be transported anywhere. What has been discussed is that Saguache election officials provide suitable space for a team to carefully and openly inspect the election records.

Surely the clerks know that record custodians are required to facilitate public inspection of public records and to provide copies of these records?

Finally, the Association asserts that it is Colorado’s official keeper of election integrity. In fact, nothing can be further from the truth.

The Colorado County Clerks Association is a secret private group that circumvents Colorado’s Sunshine Laws, uses paid lobbyists, refuses public observers at their meetings, may be diverting public resources to their own needs, and develops government policy behind closed doors with no opportunity for public debate.

Mr. Gessler appears to be standing up for the rights of the public to verify public elections. If so, we applaud his efforts.

March 17, 2011
Gessler sues for access to Saguache ballots

March 17, 2011
Editorial: Saguache review is valid

March 25, 2011
Guest Commentary: Protect the integrity of voters' ballots

March 26, 2011
Carroll: Counting ballots in the dark

March 30, 2011
Guest Commentary: Gessler standing up for the public on ballots

March 31, 2011
Trust, but verify.
Center Post-Dispatch

April 1, 2011
Trust, but verify – County Clerks Association, please take note