Norwalk GAE Hearing

Testimony submitted and posted at GAE site.

Once again I have been procrastinating a bit in writing up the Norwalk GAE Public Hearing held last Thursday. The tone of the hearing was much different than the one in Norwich. This blog has a separate entry with my formal testimony.

In Norwich, for the most part, testimony was given by registrars, advocates, and citizens all criticizing aspects of the voting system, voting process, or suggesting improvements. There was no set time limit on speakers, however, most stayed under five minutes and one was asked to finish up after about that time. I am used to hearings at the Capitol with many speakers and a three minute limit, strictly enforced with the aid of an hour glass.

In Norwalk, I was the fourth speaker. Planning ahead, I prepared five minutes of testimony to fit within a reasonable limit, covering two issues at a very summarized level: The inadequacy of our audits as they were conducted and the inadequacy of our audit law which fails in comparison to recently enacted laws and recommendations of respected groups such as the Brennan Center for Justice. I ended with a request to the committee to invite Lawrence Norden of the Brennan Center to testify.

I was surprised that the committee had no questions for me. I was preceded and followed by several registrars including George Cody, President of the Registrars Of Voters Association Connecticut (ROVAC).

Mr. Cody took 15 to 20 minutes – a reasonable time for a person representing the views of many of the three hundred plus registrars across the state. He indicated that our elections are safe because of the procedures in place and that the random pre and post election testing of memory cards proved there were no problems. Personally I find Mr. Cody to be an easy person to like and to talk with. In this case I was disturbed that he believed and propagated the idea that procedures are working, that the memory card tests were both random, and that the memory card tests were good news for voting integrity.

Another registrar took a full twenty minutes to display all the manuals and devices they use in the polling place. This seemed an excessive amount of time, especially considering all the combined time the registrars used, and considering that when the hearings were announced the GAE said that “We have heard from registrars, now we want to hear from the people”. I was surprised when one of the legislators asked a registrar to describe the purpose of the audits to the committee. The law itself is a bit ambiguous and it would be more useful if we could ask the committee to articulate the purpose of the audits encoded in the law that they wrote just last spring.

The show and tell included a demonstration of a tickets she printed, given to each checked-in voter, traded in to the ballot clerk in exchange for a ballot. The creative idea was to prevent voters being given more that one ballot or avoiding the check-in process. Creativity is great, but it must be tempered with common sense and reasoned critique – how hard would it be to make some extra tickets; for a voter in cahoots with a checker of ballot clerk to take some extras outside; or for some clever citizen to simply duplicate similar tickets with a similar font and color paper? Representative Caruso brought up the issue of uniformity versus creativity. I believe one of the earlier registrars mentioned the virtues of the uniformity of the voting process across the state.

Another registrar mentioned that complying with the privacy requirements would be difficult for some registrars because their polling places were so small. They mentioned a polling place in Hartford that was a school hallway. I concurred with the legislator who said the burden should be on the town to provide acceptable voting places that can meet state standards, rather than voters privacy being sacrificed.

As the evening went on several citizens. advocates, and registrars spoke.

One registrar compared the process and the reliability of the optical scanner to the grocery scanner. I could only think of a paraphrase of and old programmer’s saying “Groceries in, Garbage out”. Denise Weeks later explained to the legislators the major differences between an optical scanner and a checkout scanner – you get a receipt and pay money at the grocery store; no matter what the computer records you can use your receipt to get a refund; no matter what the computer records you pay the price on the item.

When the floor was opened to those that had not signed up to speak, several more advocates and concerned citizens spoke. When one of the registrars spoke a second time, I requested to speak again.

This time I covered several more issues: The lack of random selection in the post-election memory card test; that the tests indicated huge problems with memory cards; that the tests indicated widespread failure to follow procedures on the part of election officials; both were tips of icebergs of memory card problems and failures to follow procedures; that procedures are not the answer since they are not enforceable; and that procedures should be as failsafe as possible. I covered my recommendations for insourcing and independently pretesting all memory cards – I saw many nods from registrars when I spoke to the quality and responsiveness such a system would provide them.

I also spoke to the benefit of counting all the paper in selected districts, all votes counted by machine and all votes counted by hand, not just those counted by machine in the precinct. Centrally located optical scanners used for absentee ballots are just as subject to fraud and error as precinct located scanners. Registrars continuouly make the point that manual counts can be inaccurate, prone to human error. I pointed out that we had just the Presidential Primary with many towns copying ballots and counting them by hand – but these very ballots that the registrars claim could be subject to human counting errors will not be audited – they should be. Lest we forget, memory cards are programmed by people, and subject to human error as well.

Representative Caruso also asked me about the reasons for having independent auditors, which gave me a chance to address that issue in my testimony. (I have a separate blog entry covering my formal testimony submitted after the hearing).

Chris Reid spoke to the necessity of reconciling all the paper ballots and making sure that the number of ballots printed were all accounted for and that the number printed was accurate in the first place. She suggested the possibility of weighing precisely before opening packages of ballots.

A citizen asked for a receipt from the voting machine as it would increase her confidence that it read her ballot correctly. One member of the Committee pointed out why receipts could not be given so that votes could not be purchased or intimidated. Someone suggested the receipt could be given but shredded before leaving the polling place, again there were many nods. Again, Denise Weeks rose to inform of the illusion such a receipt would provide – the machine counts are in the machine, a receipt printed by the machine is not a guarantee of how the machine actually counted the vote. The only guarantee is actually counting the paper retained in the machine, while it is held under an effective chain-of-custody. (In retrospect, I wonder how long nods would continue if the state were to propose municipalities purchase all new voting machines that could provide such a receipt)

Finally, Senator Slossberg invited Deputy Secretary of the State Lesley Mara to speak. Deputy Mara reminded everyone of the random drawing of districts occurring the next morning. She also said Secretary Bysiewicz would be announcing a new Voting Security and Accessibility Board She said that I would likely be happy to know that Lawrence Norden had agreed to be on the board. She also said that they were working on replacing the IVS system for the disabled in time for the November 2009 election – no matter what the replacement I doubt anyone will mis the IVS which has been nothing but a pain and expense to registrars, and very very seldom use by the disabled.

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