Thursday, July 13, 2006

Humboldt Holds Special Meeting of Election Advisory Committee

Humboldt Registrar of Voters Carolyn Crnich convened a special meeting of the citizens' Election Advisory Committee (EAC) Thursday night, advising us that CA Secretary of State Bruce McPherson is squeezing her for a three-option plan to comply with the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), due on his desk by Monday. Compliance with HAVA is primarily about making voting methods available for disabled people to cast their ballots privately and independently. The problem is McPherson seems intent on forcing the least best systems upon us.

In March, Diana Smith came to Humboldt County on behalf of Vote-PAD, a non-electronic ballot marking device. Smith made a presentation at a regular meeting of the EAC (first Thursday of each month, conference room A at the County Courthouse). As I wrote in the GuvWurld Blog at the time, the demo was well received. Initially Crnich was prepared to purchase a full complement of Vote-PAD kits for a weighty $200k, though this was later downgraded to a pilot project costing just $3730. In May McPherson put the kibosh on the deal by forcing Vote-PAD to submit to the formal certification process. Next week, on July 19 and 20, disabled voters are invited to participate in a test of Vote-PAD in Sacramento. For details see the press release.

So Crnich was already committed to the best means of HAVA compliance and now she has to submit a plan where her top choice is in limbo, at best. Crnich expressed concern Thursday night that the person in charge of reviewing voting systems in consideration for certification, Bruce McDonnald, is "way negative on Vote-PAD."

With clear consensus from the EAC, Crnich intends to keep Vote-PAD as the top preference when submitting her plan on Monday. The group discussed options for the backup slots though nothing really stirred a lot of enthusiasm. AutoMark, an electronic ballot marking device that stores no information, was generally unobjectionable to the EAC and will likely be Plan B.

However, while some CA counties do have a hybrid AutoMark/Diebold system, AutoMark can only be purchased from Diebold competitor ES&S. There is no guarantee ES&S will be able to accommodate Humboldt's full needs or even the few machines necessary to claim minimal HAVA compliance. Further, Crnich shared anecdotal evidence from San Luis Obispo where just 11 voters out of 152,000
used the AutoMark in June's primary, and two of the eleven ballots failed to print the back side.

It is unclear if Crnich will include a Plan C. Diebold's TSx was discussed but there was uniform resistance to giving it any real consideration. I reminded Crnich how eager I was to give her credit when she previously reported to the Board of Supervisors (.pdf) that she would rather be non-compliant with HAVA than buy touch screen machines from Diebold. I also asked if it was true she had signed an affidavit saying she wouldn't use the DREs in order to be dismissed from the VoterAction.org lawsuit. She affirmed but suggested loose wording didn't really make that a dead end. Fortunately it doesn't seem like anybody involved wants to take that path anyway.

Being required to submit three possibilities but finding a lack of viable options is the latest in a series of situations where Crnich has found herself in an untenable position. In the spirit of past exchanges, but using new words, I asked how far she will be pushed before pushing back?

Supervisor Jimmy Smith attended part of the meeting and was present at this point. I reminded him of our previous discussion on unfunded mandates, where he had brought up the point in frustration. Then I said that compelling our choice of voting systems takes the idea of unfunded mandates to a new level that transcends money. I believe people really do understand the point I'm making but prefer a conservative response. Smith said flat out that he would expect punishment for non-compliance. In particular, as a hypothetical example of why I might think twice about being so aggressive, Crnich put forth a scenario where funds for the airport might be denied as retribution.

That certainly is a threat. But I didn't need a hypothetical to see what is at stake. I'm starting to realize that the difference between the view that drives me to proactively resist, and the cautious outlook that inspires the more conservative reactions, is about whether we have anything left to lose.

An argument could be made that the airport is real and so hypothetically losing funds could just as easily be real. But to me this is a red herring because whether we get the funds or not we still have much bigger issues that won't be affected either way, such as the lost presumption of innocence, illegal spying, free speech zones, and all the other things to which we say WE DO NOT CONSENT.

This is the same rationale for considering election reform NOT as the end goal but instead as a tactic toward peaceful revolution. It really makes me wonder, if here and now is not the time and place to push back, then where and when? I have written about drawing a line in the sand on many occasions. Even people not yet ready to draw their line must know where it belongs. Otherwise it is a formula that enables unlimited abuse. And when this occurs unwittingly as the result of what appears to be the best efforts of local leaders, well I can't help but recall the Manchurian Nation.

At this point, Crnich is getting the benefit of the doubt. If she sees her way fit to submit only two options in her plan for HAVA compliance, then that could constitute a tiny line in the sand. It is not the degree of push back I'd like to see but it is something, not nothing. She is also getting high marks these days for the Humboldt Transparency Project. I last wrote about that here. We spent the second half of Thursday's meeting discussing next steps for this project but I will have to recount that in part two of this report sometime this weekend.

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Posted by Dave Berman - 11:44 PM | Permalink
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Check it out people! Now Michael Smith wants to shut you all down if you even mention his bloody name! We can look forward to swift action from our District Attorney to protect his poor beleagured Oregon-based supporter from the big bad bloggers and their terrorist free speech. Glenn Simmons would be proud.

Michael Smith Threatens Humboldt Blogosphere

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous @ Jul 17, 2006, 2:24:00 PM
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