Editorial: Understand all the Symptoms, Explore the Options, Then Act

Background: Reacting to one symptom at a time

The problems in Bridgeport stem directly from a series of errors and faults. The specific details will likely come out in calmer times. They include a combination of:

  • Ordering an unjustifiably low number of ballots based on past history
  • No review of that order in the light of Obama’s visit and the predicted closeness of the election
  • Lack of awareness in polls and/or city hall of the pending lack of ballots
  • Lack of timely reaction to the pending and actual lack of ballots
  • Lack of detailed standards for handling pending and actual lack of ballots

Solutions also revolve around ballot printing.  The obvious solutions to the “ballot printing” problem:

  • Legislating enough ballots for all voters plus some spares
  • Not leaving ballot printing to the judgment of local officials
  • Legislating a minimum based on a formula based on past similar elections
  • Formal procedures to initiate, obtain, and protect emergency ballots
  • State funding of ballot printing

Editorials and legislators are already reacting and taking sides e.g. <Editorial NH Register> <AP: Lawmakers will try to fix ballot problems>. We point out that printing 100% of ballots would average on the order of $500,000 a year over printing enough for expected voters plus a generous margin, while post-election audits average on the order of $120,000 per year.

We are seeing several even more wide ranging reactions triggered by the problem with ballots. They include changing from optical scan to more risky, unproven, and expensive solutions: Touch Screens (DREs) are expensive, lead to long lines, unauditable, risky, and expensive.  Internet voting is unproven, expensive, unauditable, risky and expensive. Others include making the Secretary of the State an appointed official.

Editorial:  Understand All The Symptoms, Explore Options, Then Act

Ballot printing is only one weakness in the current system. Other major weaknesses include, but are no means limited to:

  • Inadequate ballot security and chain of custody
  • Lack of standards and uniformity in all aspects of election management, especially ballot security, post-election audits, and recanvasses.
  • Inaccurate, unreliable, non-transparent accumulation of vote totals for certification which also are critical to determine recanvass levels, and ballot access for third parties
  • Inadequate training of and for election officials at all levels
  • Lack of oversight and inspection of compliance in all areas including, election management, ballot security, post-election audits, and vote accounting
  • Ambiguous, incomplete, hard to comprehend manuals, procedures and directives
  • Our laws have not been fully updated to reflect optical scanning and paper ballots. Overall there is ambiguity between the roles and responsibilities of the Secretary of the State, Elections Enforcement, and the 339 registrars of voters

After the 2007 election, in early 2008 the General  Administration  and Elections Committee of the Legislature held five public hearings, one in each of our Congressional districts to understand issues with the first optical scan election. Yet little has changed. Perhaps it is time for more hearings covering a range of issues surrounding voting in Connecticut – not just in every district but also multiple hearings focused on various areas of election management.

It is critical to understand the entire scope of issues and inadequacies in all aspects of the election process; then review all the options, look for local best practices in Connecticut and explore what other states do well; then and only then develop a comprehensive cure. This is the common sense way to proceed, unfortunately it is hard work from start through implementation.

Otherwise we are destined to react to one problem at a time, with one expensive, disruptive band-aid after another – following a series of unnecessary election controversies.

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