Tom Courbat wins another for democracy with AB 813...
By Brad Friedman on 12/9/2013, 6:45pm PT  

I'm in the middle of a number of other things, but I wanted to just offer a quick --- and very belated --- note of congrats to longtime citizen Election Integrity advocate Tom Courbat of Riverside County, CA. (Decidedly not to be confused with Pennsylvania's democracy-hating Gov. Tom Corbett.)

Late in the summer, California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed AB 831, a short and simple bill, brought to the legislature by Courbat and introduced there by a Republican, requiring elections officials in CA counties to publish the "Statement of Vote" --- the official precinct-by-precinct results --- to their websites "in a downloadable spreadsheet format".

While that doesn't seem extraordinary --- and may even come to a surprise to many who might have presumed all elections officials already do that --- it really is an important and helpful bill for those who understand the difficulty and frustration, in many cases, that citizens may sometimes have in trying to oversee election results. Some of you "election geeks", in particular, may appreciate how difficult it can often be to make sense of questionable election results, or to double-check very close races in places where precinct results are not made available at all, or where they are published only in HTML or PDF formats which are not easily imported into a spreadsheet where numbers can be more carefully examined for inconsistencies, irregularities or simply missing votes.

As Courbat noted after the bill was signed, the new CA state law "will make it much easier for candidates and election integrity advocates to rapidly analyze election results for any anomalies."

"Candidates wishing to request a recount have only five days after publication of the Statement of Vote to file for a recount," he noted. "Since recounts can be quite expensive, this capability to analyze sometimes voluminous data can be the deciding factor in a go/no-go decision by a candidate."

As anyone who followed our harrowing detailed coverage this year of Virginia's still-ongoing November 5th Attorney General's race may recall, it was, in fact, exceedingly close citizen scrutiny of precinct-by-precinct results which discovered some 3,000 missing votes from Election Night results. Those "found" votes may well turn out to have made the difference in that state's closest-ever statewide race (which currently has a 165 vote margin as it heads into VA's version of a "recount" just over a week from now)...

It was only thanks to "election geeks" micro-analyzing precinct-by-precinct spreadsheet data in VA that they were able to discover an absentee ballot "precinct" with an inexplicably low percentage of returned absentee ballots as recorded by the officially posted results. That analysis allowed them to realize --- and convince election officials --- that a computer tabulation error had occurred, resulted in thousands of missing votes which officials were then able to go back, re-tally and include in their official results before the expiration of the one-week certification deadline in Virginia.

AB 831 in California will hopefully make it easier, in this state at least, for citizens to carry out similar oversight in the aftermath of elections.

Few appreciate citizen oversight more than Courbat who, I'm proud to say, has become a good friend during my years covering his work on this particular beat. Tom has fought --- and even won --- many good fights on behalf of all voters over the years. I most recently cited his work early this year during the battle to hand-count the results of California's 2012 GMO labeling initiative, Prop 37, which reportedly failed to pass in the state. Courbat's efforts to try and help answer concerns about the accuracy of the reported results in that contest, with a county-by-county post-election hand-count, were halted dead in their tracks in Fresno. There, the County Registrar arbitrarily charged an exorbitant amount of money for the hand-count of ballots that citizens may request (and pay for) in any state race.

The Fresno election official succeeded in pricing out the hand-count beyond the amount that could be afforded by the citizen advocates who had, until then, been able to hand-count ballots at a reasonable cost in other CA counties. (Courbat was unable to find a sponsor in the state legislature this year to introduce a long-overdue bill to standardize the costs of post-election hand counts in CA, but that needs to happen as well --- sooner rather than later, as documented in my exposay on the Fresno/Prop 37 hand-count fiasco.)

I have also cited Tom over the years as a "hero of democracy", given his crucial, tireless and important work on behalf of voters, all of which would be extraordinary on its own merits, but is all the more so given that he has carried it out over the past decade even while undergoing regular chemotherapy treatments every few months --- and occasional near-death illnesses --- during his ongoing fight against cancer tied to the use of Agent Orange from his Vietnam-era military service in South Korea.

For the record, though Courbat is a longtime non-partisan citizen Election Integrity advocate, he is a Democrat by background. Nonetheless, he was more than happy to work with CA Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez, a Republican, after she agreed to introduce, sponsor and help pass his suggested bill. Congrats are due both of them, as well as Melendez' legislative staff. The bill cleared both chambers of the CA state legislature last session without a single "No" vote before being signed by our Democratic Governor late in the summer. It will go into effect as of January, 2014.

Thanks to Courbat and Melendez, the voters of California --- of any, or no party at all --- will now have one more tool to help them try and oversee their own public elections. Once again, Courbat's work should be a model for other Election Integrity advocates both in the state and across the nation.

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