Thursday, February 14, 2008

Redwood ACLU Calls For Hand-Counting Paper Ballots

Thursday, February 14, 2008

PRESS RELEASE

For Immediate Release

Redwood ACLU Calls For Sweeping Reform Of Local Elections

At the regular monthly meeting of the Redwood Chapter, ACLU Board of Directors, local civil rights leaders adopted a comprehensive policy on local election reform after months of deliberation and consultation with other election reform advocates.

This new policy, while consistent with standing policies of the state and national American Civil Liberties Union, goes into detail in dealing with local election conditions, including most notably the proposed replacement of electronic vote-counting systems with precinct-based hand-counting of paper ballots "as the most verifiable method available" to local election officials.

"Other modern democracies around the world use hand-counted paper ballots and still achieve accurate results in a speedy and transparent manner," said Redwood ACLU boardmember Jack Munsee. "There's just no way to eliminate the justifiable mistrust we have in secret, privatized and error-prone electronic vote-counting systems, especially when a hand-counting system would keep our local dollars in Humboldt County and our local elections in the hands of the people."

Additionally, the Redwood ACLU addresses the complete failure of the unconstitutional, unworkable and unenforceable Measure T in having any meaningful effect on the power of big money to skew the electoral playing field. Instead, a "reasonable cap" on contributions is proposed, as is the case for federal elections, in order to ensure First Amendment protections while still addressing the need for campaign finance reform.

"Two years ago I proposed the real deal in campaign finance reform, which is a reasonable cap on the size of individual contributions to candidates. Instead, under Measure T we've seen only more growth in the flood of special interest dollars clogging our local elections," said Redwood ACLU vice chair Greg Allen. "I'm very grateful that my colleagues in the civil liberties community are on board with a reform which can really bring people together behind the concept of fairness."

Also addressed in the policy are issues as diverse as disabled accessibility, the need to include polling places in underserved precincts, and a vote of confidence in the new Humboldt Transparency Project, which provides independent citizen groups with the opportunity to conduct their own re-count of local elections.

"We awarded Carolyn Crnich and the Election Advisory Committee with our highest honor, the Patriot Award, last year because of their commitment to reforming local election conditions," said Redwood ACLU boardmember Maria Hershey. "We hope that this next round of reform will be received with the spirit with which it was issued, as a call to further our mutual aspirations for elections we can all believe in."

For more information, contact Redwood ACLU vice chair Greg Allen at 825-0826, or visit our website at redwoodaclu.blogspot.com.

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Redwood ACLU Policy On Local Election Reform

Adopted on January 17, 2008

The local, state and national ACLU has long recognized efforts to protect fair representation in government. Following the policies of the national American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Northern California, the Redwood Chapter affirms the relationship between the rights of citizens and the opportunity to cast a meaningful and effective vote.

We appreciate the good work of Humboldt County Clerk/Recorder Carolyn Crnich and the Election Advisory Committee to increase vote-counting transparency and encourage electoral reform, which led to their 2007 Patriot Award selection in October. However, our local Board expresses deep concern with local election conditions, some of which were referred to in the recent Voter Confidence Committee report.

Therefore, the Redwood Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union calls upon election officials to consider the following reforms:

- The County must eliminate the inaccurate, secret, privatized and error-prone electronic vote-counting systems in favor of the precinct level hand-counting of paper ballots as the most verifiable method available at this time.

- The County should set as a priority the right to cast a secret ballot, in an accessible polling place, with the option but not requirement to vote by mail. All efforts must be made to ensure the secret ballot so that no ballot may be traced to or associated with any individual. Greater effort should be made to identify potential polling places and bring them into compliance with disabled access requirements.

- Voided ballots should be immediately shredded by the individual voter to avoid vote-tampering, and voters must also be provided with the traditional curtain system of voting booth to ensure voter privacy.

- Hotlines, whether by land line or by cellular or Voice Over Internet Protocol system, should be maintained between each and every polling place and the central Elections Office during elections.

- The lack of a comprehensive system of voting methods enabling the use of Ranked Choice Voting is an impediment to electoral reform and acts to compromise the ability of many groups to share in the exercise of political power as well as to reduce the diversity of representation. This denial or dilution of political representation violates the constitutional principles of political fairness and equal protection.

- The shipment of ballot boxes from local police or sheriff's stations to County Elections via transportation supervised by only one county employee does not provide sufficient security against tampering, theft or loss. Ballots should never be in the possession of only one person at a time.

- Poll workers and elections office staff must have improved training to better serve voters and reduce the incidences where voters are dissuaded or prevented from casting a ballot. Election systems must be run simply and conveniently with poll workers and staff behaving in a consistent and reliable manner. The time for training provided to poll workers should be expanded, to include more "hands on" experiential training in simulated election situations and the provision of electronic training materials workers can review outside of training sessions.

- Requirements to maintain "politically balanced" (i.e. politically diverse) precinct-level poll worker boards should be vigorously enforced, regardless of the residency of any particular active poll worker or potential poll worker; as a partial solution, enhanced recruitment efforts, particularly towards young people, may be expanded and county officials could consider more adequate compensation for poll workers.

- Poll workers and elections office staff should be specifically reminded of the legal right of any voter to observe any and all stages of the election process. However, prohibitions on "crowding" polling places with politically-motivated agents of any campaign should be better enforced to protect polling place accessibility, including the publication of guidelines for election observers.

- The pilot program initiated by Crnich and the EAC, known as the Humboldt Transparency Project, should be expeditiously implemented to allow for vote totals to be reliably and independently audited to verify accuracy. However, such verification measures should be put into place to allow for review of ballots prior to the certification of a particular election. Voting systems must be subject to rigorous verification.

- The failure of the unconstitutional, unworkable and unenforceable Measure T to curb the flood of big money in local elections must be addressed by campaign finance reforms which preserve the right of free speech while providing as level a playing field as possible. Just as in federal elections, a reasonable cap on the size of individual donations to local candidacies should be enacted.

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