Election experts file public records requests; Pre-marked ballots reported in two 'at least' THREE towns...
By Brad Friedman on 1/19/2010, 12:22pm PT  

[UPDATED SEVERAL TIMES with more info on the curious/disturbing issue of ballots reported as being handed out as pre-marked for Scott Brown. Allegations now of five different reports from "at least" three different jurisdictions. See bottom of article for continuing updates...]

Haven't heard too much from on the ground in Massachusetts this morning yet (happily), but that's not much of a surprise. The real questions come later, as we will all wonder whether or not the "results," whatever they are, as reported by Diebold and never counted by actual humans, have anything to do with the way voters actually voted.

In the meantime today, a group of election integrity experts, after having posted an "Orange Alert" yesterday about the serious e-voting concerns in today's election, have sent an open letter to Sec. of State Bill Galvin, along with a public records request [PDF], calling for the retention of all election materials, such as voted, spoiled, and unvoted ballots, as well as all of the easily-tampered-with memory cards and electronic databases, etc., to ensure they are all secured and available for inspection by the public after the close of polls.

Election integrity advocates Susan Pynchon, Shelia Parks, and John Brakey also put the entire sorry matter in stark terms, demonstrating how simple this all could have been in a very short piece at OpEd News asking why MA didn't simply just determine to count the ballots, by hand, in front of everyone at the polling place, especially given that it was a single race on the ballot with just three people on it...

Regardless of who wins, the opposing party will be flinging accusations of machine failures, uncounted votes, and fraud. There is only one race on this ballot. It would be easy to divide the ballots in each precinct into three separate piles and simply count the number of votes received by each candidate.

This is not going to happen, however. A simple measure --- hand-counting the votes as a check on the machines on election night, before there are questions about chain-of-custody of the ballots --- will not be done. The second question one has to ask is, "Why not?"

As to the ballots themselves, Greg Sargent at The Plum Line reports an odd situation: Two different voters, from two different towns, have both informed him that they were handed ballots that had Scott Brown's bubble already inked in when they went to vote. Here's the report from the second voter Sargent heard from...

A second voter — Julia Volynskaya, a 34-year-old social worker from Brighton — is now reporting the same experience.

“I was handed a ballot and when I went to fill it out I saw that the bubble next to Brown’s name was already filled in,” Volynskaya, who voted today in Brighton. Election workers, she added, promised her they “were going to look into how this happened.”

The two reports are too anecdotal at this point to make too much of them just yet, but it seems worth noting for the moment. May come in handy later.

[UPDATED as more reports of pre-marked ballots have come in! Please see additional follow-ups now below.]

Are you hearing, reading, seeing other points of concern today? Let us know in comments. Links are always welcome...

P.S. Have done a flurry of radio appearances to discuss all of this, last night and early early this morning. Appearances from Mike Malloy, Stephanie Miller, and Nicole Sandler's shows are now archived online if you'd like to give them a listen, right here...

P.P.S. Might I also recommend, request, that all you folks on Twitter (we can be followed here), Retweet the following as far and as loud as you can:

TheBradBlog Please RT to candidates in MA Senate race! "DO NOT CONCEDE UNTIL ALL VOTES ARE ACTUALLY *COUNTED* BY HUMAN BEINGS!" http://tr.im/KTCQ

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UPDATE 4:03pm PT: Coakley Campaign Manager Kevin Conroy issued the following "ALERT!" on the campaign website, and via email about an hour ago concerning the reports of ballots being handed to voters pre-marked for Brown, as mentioned above...

We've received several independent and disturbing reports of voters across the state being handed ballots that are already marked in favor of Scott Brown. This is obviously a serious violation, and our legal team is taking immediate steps to protect the integrity of this election.

We do not yet know why this is happening, but you and everyone you know needs to be aware of the situation so that you can carefully inspect your ballot. If a vote has already been marked, you must return the ballot to the elections official, demand a clean ballot, and call our Voter Protection Hotline at 617-351-6866.

The campaign followed it up with a presser led by election attorney Marc Elias. If that name sounds familiar, he's the attorney who led Sen. Al Franken's successful 8-month election contest with former Sen. Norm Coleman in MN last year. Read into that what you will, but Elias did an excellent job (by Democratic election attorney standards anyway) on Franken's behalf last year, so these guys look prepared to play hardball if necessary.

Let's just hope that keeps them AND/OR Scott Brown from prematurely conceding before the votes of the people of Massachusetts are actually counted!

UPDATE 4:21pm PT: The Coakley campaign is alleging that they've now received five reports of pre-marked ballots from "at least" three different jurisdictions. From Boston's ABC affiliate coverage of the Coakley/Elias presser:

"We have received reports of five ballots --- spanning three jurisdictions," Elias said.

Elias said the voters caught the errors and brought the ballots to back to the poll workers.

"This is obviously a serious violation, and our legal team is taking immediate steps to protect the integrity of this election," campaign manager Kevin Conroy said. "We do not yet know why this is happening, but you and everyone you know needs to be aware of the situation so that you can carefully inspect your ballot."

For their part, Scott Brown's campaign attorney Daniel B. Winslow is quoting as rejecting the reports as some sort of political dirty trick. "In fact, news reports point out that today's accusation was a pre-dated, in the bag political attack."

It's unclear from the ABC affiliate's report which "news reports" Winslow is referencing...

UPDATE 5:28pm PT: Here's the video of the Coakley presser:


Trying to look further into this. Will update further if necessary...

UPDATE 5:37pm PT: Thanks to BRAD BLOG commenter Lottakatz for flagging this point from the Boston ABC News affiliate's report on the allegedly pre-marked ballots [emphasis added]...

In addition to the incidents in Brighton and Cambridge, voters at the Centerville Elementary School in Beverly said they also received ballots that were already marked for Brown. The city clerk's office said a poll worker inadvertently handed out ballots that were already cast.

That's a curious explanation for the problem. Why would poll workers have any access to "already cast" ballots? Those should be "locked up" inside the precinct's optical-scan system.

Had the poll workers, or clerk's office said they had no idea how a ballot ended up as being pre-marked, the notion that it was a dirty trick by Democrats, as Brown's campaign has been suggesting, might have made more sense. But if the ABC report above holds --- that "a poll worker ... handed out ballots that were already cast" --- then further questions will need to be answered on these points, I'd suspect.

[CORRECTION: We had earlier referenced the report from Boston ABC affiliate WCVB as a report from Boston Globe. We've corrected that error in the report above.]

One more thought: Elias seemed to downplay the number of reports the campaign was getting on this in his presser, when he confirmed reports from five voters in "at least" three different jurisdictions.