Saturday, December 22, 2007

A Missed Opportunity

Almost a month ago I wrote a post called Time To Check Your Least, in which I said I wasn't going to beat myself up for not writing enough. Since then I've posted more often than in quite some time. This reinforced the notion explained in that post that commitment to the least you can do philosophy will inherently increase what the least can amount to. I have to take this same outlook in considering yesterday's appearance on the Peter B. Collins show as a missed opportunity.

Click here for the full .mp3 archive of the show. Drag the slider of your media player to the start of the third hour and listen to Peter B. and Brad Friedman question Humboldt Registrar of Voters Carolyn Crnich about the so-called Humboldt Transparency Project. I was not given an opportunity to respond or comment on this, but I would have only repeated the concerns I have raised previously, including in this Eureka Reporter OpEd from July 6, 2007.

In summary, the Transparency Project would allow the public to view pictures (scanned images) of all ballots cast to perform a recount in whatever way one chooses. However, a secondary computer count is promoted as the way to go, although this completely defeats the purpose of checking the official, original count done by secret computer programming; and it relies on post-certification auditing which recent history shows will have no chance at overturning an inaccurate outcome. In addition, to do this ballot image recount without a secondary computer count would be entirely unwieldy and impractical, without even the prospect of proper observation or witnessing typically associated with post election hand-counting or manual auditing.

Not getting to respond to that wasn't really the crux of my missed opportunity. After returning from a commercial break, Peter B. prompted an exchange between the Registrar and me. This is where I blew it yesterday. The Registrar questioned the assumption of six seconds to count each contest per ballot. I noted that this is a variable that can be changed by the user of the hand-count forecast tool, but I then veered off into discussing the New Hampshire origins of that data point. What I should have said is that we have been trying for months to get assumptions from the Registrar herself plugged in to the forecast tool so that the community would have the opportunity to judge the Voter Confidence Committee's (VCC) hand-counting proposal based on the Registrar's official assumptions. Immediately after the segment had ended I realized my missed opportunity and e-mailed Peter B. with one last thought...

Peter B. took a call at that point from Jim Lamport, another regular attendee of the Registrar's monthly Election Advisory Committee meetings here in Humboldt. I have no problem with Lamport's defense of the Registrar, especially since I was not attacking her. I do respectfully disagree with Lamport's assessment that computers are ideally suited for vote counting. Since my phone line into the broadcast was already cut off, I was very glad to hear Brad Friedman challenge this position. Upon concluding that call, Peter B. did me a real solid and read the e-mail I submitted, quickly summarizing that the VCC is in search of official numbers from the Registrar precisely so the public can objectively judge our proposal. This was a save, in my view, salvaging to some extent the opportunity I see as missed.

There was another aspect of the discussion I wish I had handled differently. I noted that New Hampshire counts votes by hand in 45% of its polling places and the Registrar replied that this leaves a 55% majority of polling places being counted by optical scanners. Of course this is true, and I explained it as a function of jurisdiction level choice as opposed to being a state mandate. The opportunity I missed was not asking the Registrar whether Humboldt voters have had an opportunity to make the same choice, which of course we have not.

Earlier in the day, several hours prior to the radio show, the Registrar left me a voice message in response to the two messages I had left her in the two days prior. She mentioned that she and Kelly Sanders in the Humboldt Elections Department were busy gathering up all the data the VCC requested last week in an open letter. When these numbers are provided, yesterday's missed window of opportunity will open once again.

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