Sunday, July 01, 2007

VCC Report Covered in Sunday Eureka Reporter

Online within the past hour or so, Sunday's Eureka Reporter has an article on the recently released Voter Confidence Committee Report on Election Conditions in Humboldt County (.pdf).

As in the past, I would say again that elections beat writer Rebecca S. Bender presents a fair piece with quotes from the VCC press release and one item straight out of the report, balanced with quotes from Registrar of Voters Carolyn Crnich. Bender does err in referring to the 20-page report as a 30-page report, but I suspect this will be quickly forgotten.

Of greater consequence, Crnich questions the relevance of some of the references in the timeline portion of the report. True, not everything in this section refers to equipment used in Humboldt. However, this series of brief paragraphs does include detailed information about the history of machine failures in Humboldt County, the results of hack tests on the same type of equipment used here, results of a statewide audit that found Humboldt was using uncertified software, the determination by the Department of Homeland Security that our central tabulator program, GEMS, is a threat to national security, and the finding that requisite independent testing of our equipment was not done.

You might argue we had enough with just those bits of info. But we felt it was important to place all of this against the backdrop of what was happening nationally, revealing that machines by other manufacturers were also failing or found to be highly vulnerable to tampering, that some elections counted by optical scanners were overturned by hand-counts, and that official reports by the GAO and Congressional committees found that votes had been lost and miscounted. This context is not irrelevant since we want readers to understand why the VCC would take a systemic approach to viewing and improving election conditions. No more secret vote counting!

In the Reporter article, Crnich attempts to marginalize the recommendations in the report by saying that the Humboldt Transparency Project makes most of them moot. With due respect to the Registrar, this is disingenuous. The Transparency Project allows for images of all ballots to appear on CDs so that any community member can do a recount and compare with the official results. The biggest problem with the implementation of this is that the CDs won't be available until after the election has been certified.

It is vital to get it right on election night because the prospects of later getting election results changed are prohibitively small. Just look at the various challenges to questionable Congressional results from last November. The VCC report even points out that Crnich is at greater risk by allowing the post-certification audits than she would we be if such review were possible before certification. The VCC does not oppose the Transparency Project but we do have some reservations about how it is to be deployed.

The Reporter article accurately quotes from the report: "The Transparency Project and hand counting are not mutually exclusive. The Transparency Project would be a welcome backup method of verification for hand counting, but it cannot make any secret vote-counting machines acceptable."

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