Brad Questions McPherson Communications Director on KRXA's Peter B. Collins Show
By Brad Friedman on 11/28/2005, 6:07pm PT  

Just finished a rather remarkable hour on our good friend Peter B. Collins' radio show on KRXA out of Monterey, CA.

Peter was able to bring Nghia Nguyen Demovic, a spokesperson from the CA Sec. of State's office, on air the last few minutes of the hour to try and clarify some of the last minute tomfoolery that seems to be going on concerning the impending decision about whether or not to re-certify Diebold Electronic Touch-Screen Voting Machines in the state of California.

Demovic dodged and danced, and generally evaded such probing questions as what the response from the community was at a public hearing held last week in Sacramento where input was sought concerning the decision about whether or not to allow Diebold back into the state after a major test over the summer revealed that some 20% of Diebold's AccuVote TSx voting machines failed to operate properly.

As previously reported on BRAD BLOG, the Republican SoS Bruce McPherson --- remarkably, and nearly inexplicably --- seems to be leaning towards allowing their faulty machines back into the state as the Help America Vote Act's January 1, 2006 deadline for such acquisitions rapidly approaches.

Though Demovic admitted on-air that she was at the meeting in question, and though it's been reported publicly that the Anti-Diebold folks far outnumbered the Pro-Diebold forces, she wouldn't even admit that much! Here's the The Stockton Record on the meeting last Monday, for example:

County Registrar of Voters Deborah Hench was the only person to support Diebold's TSx equipment out of more than 50 who spoke to a panel of Secretary of State Bruce McPherson's staff.

Nonetheless, Demovic refused to confirm that information for some reason.

So it was a public meeting, on the public record, that she attended in her capacity as a tax-payer salaried "Communications Director" for our own Secretary of State, yet she refused to give the audience of a California radio station accurate information about what is occurring in our own state capital concerning our own electoral system.

Is "What the fuck?" appropriate to ask here? Or might it be more appropriate to wonder why she hasn't yet been hired to take Scottie McClellan's place in the Bush Administration?

Listen to the segment yourself [MP3]. The clip linked here is just the short 8 minute phonecall with Peter and myself questioning Demovic.

Once again we'll remind you that SoS McPherson's office has asked for public comment about all of this and whether or not you feel they should recertify Diebold Electronic Touch-Screen Voting Machines in California. (Whether they give a damn about such comments is another question). To submit a comment, visit http://www.ss.ca.gov/elections/elections_vs.htm, call (916) 653-6814 or email votingsystemcomment@ss.ca.gov.

And remember, as California goes...so goes the rest of the country!

UPDATE: Demovic also stated during the interview that a full list of those who were invited to participate in the conference was on the SoS website and in response to my question of whether Voting Rights and Election Reform groups were invited she said that yes, they were invited, and yes, they were all listed on the SoS website. Well, here's the website for the event, and unless I'm missing it, I don't see either the list of invited groups (other than speakers, who all seem to be largely from the Electronic Voting companies or Secretaries of State), nor do I see any Voting Rights or Election Reform organizations on the agenda.

UPDATE: The complete text transcript of the coversation now follows...

PETER B. COLLINS: It's the Peter B. Collins show and Brad Friedman, from BradBlog.com, is with us. We're joined now by Nghia Nguyen Demovic, who is a press spokesperson for Secretary of State, Bruce McPherson. Nghia, welcome to the program today, thanks for calling back.

NGHIA NGUYEN DEMOVIC: Thank you, my pleasure.

PETER: Yes, first of all can we talk about the comment line. It is open today, is it open today only?

NGHIA: The summit?

PETER: No, the comment line. The phone number at 916-657-2166. Are you aware of it?

NGHIA: Um, the voting systems?

PETER: Yes.

NGHIA: Yes.

PETER: You are aware of it. Now….

NGHIA: Yes and also your viewers, your listeners can also send in their comments to the Secretary of State via email as well…

PETER: Okay.

NGHIA: …or through our website at www.ss.ca.gov.

PETER: Okay. Nghia, why is the comment line open for such a brief window of time?

NGHIA: The public comment is open for a week after the public hearing.

PETER: Which was last Monday.

NGHIA: Which…correct and it's an opportunity for folks who were not able to attend the actual hearing in Sacramento, to send the Secretary comments.

PETER: Okay.

BRAD FRIEDMAN: Could I ask a quick….

PETER: Go ahead Brad, sure.

BRAD: Why is it only for a week, considering that the week, I think you guys were closed on Thursday and Friday, were you not?

NGHIA: That's why we've opened it up on, folks can send us emails or um, through the website as well. Or through letters.

BRAD: And let's say that you get uh 50 or so folks who don't want those Diebold machines in there, for every 1 who does. Is that going to have an affect on his decision and how will it affect that decision?

NGHIA: Secretary McPherson will thoroughly review all the comments that were given, and will be given, to his office before he certifies any system.

BRAD: And because I understand at the meeting - were you at that meeting last Monday?

NGHIA: Yes.

BRAD: And could you give us an idea of the comments that you all received at that meeting, concerning these Diebold machines?

NGHIA: Our staff is still gathering comments at the meeting. At that meeting we had folks who spoke against the system, as well as for the system. We had activists there, we had concerned citizens, as well as Registrars of Voters there as well.

BRAD: Did the numbers for one side or the other, outweigh on either side?

[pause]

PETER: Did you hear the question, Nghia?

NGHIA: I think there were a lot of folks who expressed their opinion and the Secretary will be more than happy to… I mean he will review all the comments made. But what I came on to talk about is, today and tomorrow, the Secretary has convened a voting system's testing summit of 23 states, to talk about successful best practices blueprint for the testing of voting systems. We have representatives from the Federal Elections Commission here, we also have scientist's academics, and activists, to talk about their best practices and their recommendations for a testing system.

BRAD: Do you have voting rights and election reform groups involved in that summit?

NGHIA: We, the folks, we have invited and have solicited input from as many folks as we could possibly think of. After today, we will also have, we will make the report and the recommendations public. In February, the Secretary will host a public meeting on the summit's recommendation as well.

BRAD: Could you give me an idea of who some of those folks from the election reform community and voting rights activists are that will be attending the summit?

NGHIA: Some - the agenda has always been posted on our website and the folks have been confirmed. Everything has been public and has been posted on our website as well.

BRAD: The names of the folks who are attending, the organizations who are attending, are posted on the website?

NGHIA: Correct.

BRAD: Okay, that's great. And once again, we didn't get to it, you said you were there and so maybe you could let us know as a communications person, at that meeting, was any one side represented more than any other side in regard – because we're trying to get an idea of how the public feels about, you know, Diebold coming back into California. There have been reports that the folks against Diebold, far outnumbered and it wasn't even close, those who support Diebold. Can you confirm that for us?

NGHIA: Well we have viewpoints from all sides and like I said, the Secretary will review all the comments that were given to him.

PETER: Alright, Nghia, we'll chalk that up as an evasion, and we understand that you don't want to answer that question. Why was the Voting System Panel disbanded?

NGHIA: It's the same system that, the same panel that has always been there. We had our Elections Counsel there, we had our Assistant Secretary of Constituent Affairs and Legislative Affairs there, we had our Chief Assistant Secretary there, we had our elections um…

PETER: Right, but there was a panel that included people outside of the Secretary of State's Office and they were not invited to the last few sessions. So has that panel been disbanded, Nghia?

NGHIA: The name of the panel has been changed. However, the makeup is the same and the…

PETER: Why did you change the name? Just to confuse us?

NGHIA: Absolutely not. It's, the process is still the same and the Secretary wants to make sure that – part of the reason why he's holding this public hearing is to get, is to present the staff report and the consultants' report, hear public comments about it, so that he can review all of the above.

PETER: Okay, I understand. Nghia, could you just pass along to Mr. McPherson, that he is invited to come on our program for an hour, at his convenience. We would like to talk to him about these issues, about the process that is underway, regarding electronic voting machines and we'd like to hear from him directly about the criteria that he will use to evaluate Diebold's machines, in particular, against the looming deadline for certification at the end of December. So could you pass along that invitation to him?

NGHIA: Absolutely and the invitation that was given to us, um, by your producer, is that it was either the Secretary, or if he wasn't available, which he isn't because he's at the summit right now, all day today and tomorrow, is that one of a, one, a representative can come on as well.

PETER: Yes, and we appreciate that. I'd like to speak to Mr. McPherson. We're on the air every weekday from 3 to 6 p.m., so when his schedule permits, please see if we can make that work.

NGHIA: Well thank you very much.

PETER: Alright, thank you very much. That's Nghia Nguyen Demovic, from the Secretary of State's Office. We have one minute remaining, Brad, do you want to sum up?

BRAD: Uh, yeah, boy I would have liked to have asked her with the minute that we had left there, asked her about that hack test and how that got reported.

PETER: Yeah, sorry.

BRAD: But yeah, it was interesting the way she, as you pointed out, evaded the question. I don't know why it's so difficult for her to simply say, well yeah, there was about 30 folks who spoke against it and 2 folks who spoke in favor of it.

PETER: Right.

BRAD: Might give us an idea of the type of reporting we're going to get out of that Secretary of State's Office, I'm afraid.

PETER: Well my sense is she's in over her head and she is being heavily managed from above.

BRAD: It certainly sounds like it. Real quick, I don't know if we have time, oh shoot I don't have it in front of me. I wanted to give out, maybe you could in the next hour, give out that number again for the Secretary of State's Office.

PETER: I've got it right here, Brad, thanks a lot for joining us today, we'll talk again soon. That's Brad Friedman, from bradblog.com. The number is 916-657-2166.

BRAD: Thanks, Peter.