Enormous Victory as Dogged Citizen Advocacy Finally Pays Off!
Committee Also Recommends Security Audit of Registrar's Office in First County in America to Move to Touch-Screen Voting Systems...
By Tom Courbat on 7/13/2007, 2:46pm PT  

Guest Blogged by Tom Courbat of SAVE R VOTE

ED NOTE: Courbat and his band of intrepid Election Integrity advocates are owed a huge debt of thanks and enormous congratulations for their effort. This recommendation, and indeed the creation of the "Blue Ribbon" commission itself, only came about due to the dogged, week-in, week-out, year-in, year-out persistence of Tom and the Riverside County advocates of SAVE R VOTE. We're happy to run his first-hand, guest blog contribution on this tremendous victory, as Courbat's group and efforts serve as a role model for citizens in every county in the nation. --- BF

Dump the DREs and Minimize Additional Outlays To Go To Paper Ballots

Next Tuesday, July 17, 2007, the Riverside County, California Board of Supervisors’ hand-picked “Blue Ribbon” Elections Review Committee will present the Board with recommendations to “Move as quickly as possible to a hybrid voting system…on paper ballots…counted by optical scanners.”

For Riverside County, the first in America to move to touch-screen electronic voting systems, the importance of their findings cannot be overstated.

With the exception of omitting the words “Digital Imaging” from the term “optical scanners” (aka “DIOS”), this is exactly the recommendation made to the committee by Finnish Computer Voting expert Harri Hursti to the Elections Review Committee in Palm Desert, CA, on March 30th of this year. Hursti came to Riverside after Supervisor Jeff Stone laid down a "1000 to 1" challenge, as covered in detail by The BRAD BLOG, that we'd be unable to manipulate the county's Sequoia touch-screen voting system. Hursti was happy to take up the challenge, but Stone demurred.

(It should also be noted that Stone and the Board of Supervisors failed to respond to requests to allow Mr. Hursti to address them and answer any questions they might have --- even after he flew 17 hours to testify before them and the "Blue Ribbon" committee.)

The committee's findings also match the recommendations made by SAVE R VOTE (Secure Accurate Verifiable Elections Require Voter Observation of Touchscreen Equipment) to both the "Blue Ribbon" Elections Review Committee (ERC) and the Board Of Supervisors (BoS) earlier this year.

The ERC reports that “…factors should minimize the additional capital outlay necessary to transition to a hybrid system.” The question now becomes: will the BoS reject the recommendations of their own hand-picked committee, who spent thousands of hours laboring over evidence contained in reports, interviews, presentations by expert witnesses, City Clerks, citizens' opinions, news articles, DVDs, conference calls, and SAVE R VOTE members? The full report can be found here.

Who Is On the Elections Review Committee (ERC)?

The "blue ribbon" ERC committee, again, hand-picked by the BoS, consists of a former County Supervisor, Kay Ceniceros; two former judges, Rob Taylor and Jim Ward; retired Press Enterprise newspaper editor and publisher Marcia McQuern; and an independent businesswoman who also serves as the president of a local chamber of commerce, Lynn Baldi. On April 24, Rob Taylor told the BoS in an interim report that, due to such a diversity of opinion, the committee might be submitting “five minority reports.” By July 11th, however, the entire committee issued a unanimous series of 17 recommendations.

Supervisor Stone 'Surprised' By Commission Findings...

Supervisor Jeff Stone expressed surprise over the results of the report, having apparently thought everything in the Riverside system was fine as it was, as he has reiterated time after time from the dais. SAVE R VOTE wonders if he will now re-examine the depth of his allegiance to a system he swears by, after this report from such a well-respected panel.

County Executive Officer and Registrar of Voters Rejected Same Recommendation When Made by SAVE R VOTE

In fact, it should be noted that at least nine of the seventeen recommendations were previously presented to the Board of Supervisors by the SAVE R VOTE group over the last two years, yet have been consistently rejected by the BoS, the County Executive Officer, Larry Parrish, and Registrar of Voters (ROV) Barbara Dunmore.

SAVE R VOTE Reactions

Members of the SAVE R VOTE coordinating council, including Jerry Ewig, Tom Courbat, Maxine Ewig, and Paul Jacobs, expressed elation with most of the 17-points recommended by the ERC.

“This certainly puts the matter of election integrity on a much higher playing field with the recommendation of this esteemed committee,” said Paul Jacobs, weekly columnist in the local paper, The Californian. “I know now what my next week’s column is going to be about,” he said.

Jerry and Maxine Ewig expressed elation when they learned of the news. They are the founders of what was formerly Democracy For America–Temecula Valley, now known as Citizens For Democracy (CFD). CFD and its predecessor have served as an incubator for SAVE R VOTE, providing invaluable guidance, leadership, and personal financial assistance to keep alive the SAVE R VOTE project to protect Riverside County elections.

Maxine Ewig directs most of the recruiting and training of the 100+ volunteers who shoulder the essential field work of monitoring polls, recounts, Logic and Accuracy testing, Absentee Ballot processing, and central tabulator activities at every election since 2005. Jerry Ewig provides much wisdom and direction for the embryonic SAVE R VOTE group to the point that the group is nearly ready to take to its own wings. But that is a story for another time.

Highlights of the 17-point recommendations include:

  • Moving quickly away from DREs and into a paper ballot system with optical scanners [SAVE R VOTE recommends Digital Imaging Optical Scanners for maximum security].
  • PROMINENT posting of signs telling voters PAPER BALLOTS are available at every precinct [contrary to broken promises from the ROV to do so in the past three elections].
  • Keeping voting machines behind locked doors at polling places until polls open [previous elections saw machines sitting by open doors in school entrances]
  • Comply with Secretary of State requirements for timely appointment of an Election Observer Panel (EOP) and maintaining the same members for at least two years [currently the ROV appoints whenever she chooses to, dismisses whenever she chooses to, and resists EOP efforts to actually observe the election process].
  • Drawing random precincts to be audited as close to the time of the audit as possible [last election the ROV pre-selected precincts nearly two weeks before beginning the self-audit].
  • Post precinct results at each and every precinct as required by law [in two of the last three elections, the ROV refused first to post at ANY precincts, then refused to post at schools and resident polling places. This arrogance came after receiving a letter from the Secretary of State informing her she HAD to comply with the state law in that regard].
  • Provide a forum for public input on election issues “hosted by the Registrar of Voters at least annually.” [Between the June primary and the November 2006 general election, the ROV refused to meet with the Election Observer Panel except once when she introduced her staff and left the meeting after 3½ minutes. Does this sound like a cooperative ROV working with the citizens who employ her?]
  • Consider hiring a consultant to review the ROV security procedures. [SAVE R VOTE recommended an independent professional consultant be hired to audit and make recommendations regarding ALL operations of the ROV and a separate financial audit be performed to determine the appropriateness of the nearly $35 million spent on equipment, software and maintenance and supplies associated with the e-voting boondoggle.].

Aggressive Observers

The report observed that “aggressive observers” “…refused instructions to leave secure areas and not interfere with election workers.” This was the first time SAVE R VOTE was aware of this allegation, and we will be seeking specifics to assist in clarifying who and what constitutes “aggressive observers” in the eyes of the commission. In our opinion, voters' insistence that their rights of observation be honored, as codified in the CA State Elections Code, should not be considered “aggressive.” We don’t think the ROV should play “cat and mouse” with the observers (and at least one observing cat seems to agree).

SECURITY, SECURITY, SECURITY

The committee's report made only oblique reference to actual security issues with the machines, despite having been presented ample video and audio evidence from SAVE R VOTE. The committee did suggest, in their 17th recommendation, that a security audit be conducted. SAVE R VOTE has noted serious security gaps in the ROV office for years, and we believe that if the BoS fails to commission the recommended audit, they will be in a very awkward position to explain their lack of action come election time.

The committee also recommended that the ROV “(s)everely restrict physical access to the tabulating room, as allowed by Election Code 15204.” SAVE R VOTE has repeatedly requested access to the central tabulator room to observe error messages on input machines or scanners. From the vantage point allowed observers, almost nothing can be seen of how our votes are being counted.

Note that "physical access to the central tabulator room" is already denied: observers are sequestered outside the counting room such that the screens cannot be read by the naked eye. Unless this writer is misreading the committee’s recommendation, they apparently believe observers need not actually be able to observe anything when monitoring the counting of THEIR OWN votes. If a voting cartridge with 500 votes returns a “Fatal Error – Unable To Process” message, observers cannot see and thus will never know that 500 votes may have just been deleted. The ROV refuses to provide the audit logs of actions that would show such an event. It would seem that the ROV’s security priorities are not on the side of the voters.

“Harassment” of ROV personnel

An especially disturbing observation from the panel was “some … have harassed Registrar of Voters Office personnel, and wasted both the committee’s and the Board of Supervisors' time with repetitive presentations.” This alleged “harassment” is a serious allegation and the report stated it as a fact, not as a complaint reported from a third party.

It will be incumbent upon the Riverside Co. Registrar, Barbara Dunmore, who by virtue of her position MUST have witnessed such alleged “harassment,” to come forth with specifics --- if, in fact, any such incident actually occurred.

Repeating Until SOMEONE Listens!

As to the charge of wasting the Board’s time with repetitive presentations, it is SAVE R VOTE's position that it is the the right of every citizen, for whom each of the Board members work, to make presentations to the Board on any topic at any time.

Under the “Brown Act” in California, the county Board of Supervisors is required to set a reasonable time for each individual to make his/her presentation. The so-called "repetition" of presentations by members of SAVE R VOTE seems to have had the desired effect, with strong recommendations for change, from an independent review panel --- one arguably convened only due to the "repetition" of presentations by SAVE R VOTE --- for the first time since election integrity/security advocates became active in Riverside Co. in 2003.

False Savings

The report clearly states that the alleged "savings" of $600,000 per year in taxpayer dollars, projected by both prior ROV Mischelle Townsend and her successor ROV Barbara Dunmore by going to e-voting, has never been realized. In point of fact, the result is just the opposite: “Evidence presented to the committee indicates an increase, not a decrease, in costs per voter since acquisition of the touch-screen system.” [emphasis added]

The commission's finding corroborates previous reports prepared for the BoS by SAVE R VOTE, from published county budgets, showing costs increasing from $4.7 million/year before e-voting to a whopping $17 million in the year just ended. Now, that’s a long way from ANY savings, but then, perhaps they measure savings differently from how they report them officially.

E-Voting Machine Error Rates

The panel's report also states that the county's Sequoia voting systems registered a 3% error rate, although SAVE R VOTE has not been able to verify how that number was determined, or its accuracy. But then, we have been told by former Riverside Co. ROV Mischelle Townsend that "electronic touch-screen ballots are 100% accurate" and current ROV Ms. Dunmore has maintained the same position.

Voter Confidence Lost

It just isn’t there. In fact, the report states: “Instead of the promised increase in voter confidence, just the opposite occurred. The lack of transparency, the reports of errors in other touch-screen machines…and opinions by experts in the field of election security, have raised serious questions about the security of the touch-screen systems.”

The Future of Election Integrity in Riverside County

Much progress has been made in the last two years. The ERC report is groundbreaking, and should serve as a serious wake-up call to the Board of Supervisors and outgoing County Executive Officer Larry Parrish. The top-to-bottom review, due from California Secretary of State Debra Bowen later this month, will provide critical insight into the very real security issues related to electronic voting statewide.

The Election Integrity/Security Community in Riverside County continues to grow and become a force for true election transparency in Riverside County. SAVE R VOTE will work to ensure that transparency stays in Riverside County.

Because until SAVE R VOTE came along, what happened in Riverside County, stayed in Riverside County.

Our deepest appreciation goes to Brad Friedman of The BRAD BLOG for continually bringing light into darkness.