I made some troubling discoveries on Election Day when I visited 37 precincts in Oceanside as a roving poll monitor (or as Carol Hilton, my friend and monitoring partner, dubbed us -- "Poll Cats"). So last Friday, I visited the Registrar of Voters office to ask questions and to see for myself how the count was being handled.
I'd started Election Day at 7:00 AM, walking down to my own polling place to vote as soon as the polls opened. My walk and vote were being filmed to use in a video we are creating for the campaign. To my dismay, what was caught on the video is me being told that I couldn't put my ballot through the scanner. Even though I was only the second voter, the scanner was jammed. Instead, I had to put my ballot in the sealed cardboard box that was used for provisional ballots and absentee ballots.
During the 12 hours that Carol and I checked polling places throughout Oceanside, we saw that many of the scanners were jammed. The problem was that the scanners were nested in a cardboard stand assembled by the poll workers. If the poll worker hadn't attached the bull clamp on the cardboard tab behind the scanner, the path for the ballot to fall behind the scanner into the box would get blocked by a cardboard flap and the scanner would jam. Based on what I have learned about the voting process, in my opinion those ballots that had to be placed in the cardboard box actually had more integrity because they were probably scanned at the ROV office.
Why would I trust the scanners at the ROV office more than those at the polling places? Because poll workers had taken scanners and touch screen machines home with them up to two weeks prior to Election Day! I saw a lot of sloppiness about security at the polling places, but this one issue supersedes all of it. According to Mikel Haas, Director of the San Diego Registrar of Voters, over 6,000 temporary poll workers were hired for this past election. There is no way in the world all of these workers could be properly screened to the point that we, the voters, can feel secure about letting them take our voting machines home with them, to be stored for two weeks in a home closet, garage or even the trunk of their car. How easy would it be for anyone to get themselves hired as a poll worker with the intention of providing access to the scanner or touch screen machine to someone capable of "making an adjustment"?
The folks I met working at the polls all seemed honest enough. There were a few didn't seem comfortable about using anything electronic. One little old lady complained that she had to park 3 blocks away and lug the equipment all that way. What if she'd dropped it?
There were supposed to be tamper-proof seals on the back and front of the scanners where they met with the cardboard box, to prevent anyone from reaching into the box to remove ballots that had been scanned. In far too many instances the poll workers had put the wrong seals on, using regular paper seals that would leave no mark behind if they had been removed and reattached. In many cases, because the cardboard boxes were collapsing or the scanners had been jammed, the seals had been removed and re-stuck, showing the telltale metal residue. NO ONE seemed to care about these seals. Even the folks at the ROV said they weren't really that important. My question: Why bother having a tamper-proof seal if no one cares if it's been tampered with? This is just plain sloppy.
I want to be clear about the people at the Registrar of Voters. From my discussions with them I am confident that they are committed to delivering an accurate election but I think they are trying to fit new technology into old ways of doing things. Mikel Haas doesn't have any ideas on how to securely distribute electronic equipment to polling places because, by his own words, the concept of drayage is all new to him. Until he comes up with a solution, I suggest that we have no business using machines in our election process.
Haas and his staff were very willing to answer my questions and show me every step of the process. I called back several times this week with additional questions and they were always cordial and helpful. Overall I am very reassured that the procedures at the ROV facility are reliable, which is why I'd like to see our votes counted and processed at the ROV rather than at the polling places.
How serious is this? Just the perception that our election process is not accurate is enough to demolish our democracy. Even if the scanners that were left unsecured in poll worker's hands were not manipulated, the mere possibility that they COULD have been tampered with is inexcusable and, in my opinion, should invalidate the entire election. The people of San Diego County should be outraged by this breach of security. I call on every candidate on the ballot to voice their objection to this glaring breach in the process and to demand, at the very least, that a more secure distribution and storage process is established before permitting any further elections on electronic machines.
As a candidate, I have been torn about raising the alarm about election integrity. With voter turn-out steadily decreasing, casting doubt on whether or not your vote actually counts hardly seems productive. The mid-term election this November could very well be the most critical our nation has ever faced. So how do we take back control of our election process so we can take back control of our government? How do I empower voters to participate in the process while offering solutions that will restore voting integrity.
I asked Mikel Haas why California doesn't just vote by mail like they do in Oregon since it's so successful there. He said that nearly 45% of the votes cast this election were absentee ballots. Then it struck me - we the voters have the power to switch our election system over to all mail, no matter what the Secretary of State says. We can simply use the absentee ballot option, all of us. It's that simple!
I'm proposing an all out campaign to convince 100% voting by mail in San Diego County. Imagine an Election Day where nobody shows up because everyone has already mailed in their ballot. Imagine those touch-screen machines getting shipped back to Diebold, unused. Imagine not needing all those poll workers and polling locations. Imagine the savings (a 2003 study of Oregon's all-mail elections showed costs were 1/3 to ½ of the amount required for polling place election). Imagine increased voter participation because of the convenience. Imagine being able to monitor vote counting all in one place - the ROV office. Imagine every vote is on paper and can be recounted.
We are not helpless in this. We don't have to be at the mercy of the Secretary of State. We the people can make those Diebold machines disappear, simply by mailing our votes. Let's lose the "absentee ballot" stigma and tell every voter in San Diego County, in California, in the USA: Let's Vote - Just Mail It!
And please join me in signing PDA's petition for a hand count of the paper ballots and paper trails in California's 50th district before recognizing the legitimacy of any announced winner. Go to: http://www.velvetrevolution.us/...
Comments are closed on this story.