Courant article on Merrill/Blumenthal press conference raises concerns.

In today’s Hartford Courant a report on yesterday’s press conference: Absentee ballot process smooth so far Blumenthal wants more election funding <read>

First a note of caution. I have been misquoted by the press, so perhaps some of that applies here.  Here are the disturbing quotes:

Gabe Rosenberg, a spokesman for Merrill, said the $45 million in additional funding would go toward new voting machines, new tabulators, more ballot boxes, voter education and enhanced cybersecurity. He said the funds, if distributed promptly, could ease a potentially chaotic Election Day in November.“It’s going to take along time to count because we don’t have high-speed ballot counters,” Rosenberg said. “That’s something we could buy with that kind of money.”…

As for the security of the new ballot boxes, Merrill said the receptacles were no less secure than a typical mailbox.“Just think of this as a mailbox,” she said. “The usual way you send back your ballot for 100 years is you send it back in the mail. This is just a fancy mailbox, and it’s here for a reason, because many town halls are still not open for business all the time.”

A crisis in nothing to waste, yet spending $45 million between now and November seems a bit excessive, especially when everything is complicated by COVID-19.

  • The first concern is that evaluating and procuring new voting machines is very expensive and time consuming to do well, a long deliberate process. When Connecticut chose the AccuVoteOS machines in use now, the process took abut a year, with several machines evaluated by the UConn Voter Center, followed by public feedback and focus groups of voters, those with disabilities, officials, and technical experts. Even then  Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz made a poor choice. To her credit, quickly changed for the better. Followed by close to a year of education of officials and voters along with pilot use in 25 towns. Not something to do in haste.
  • We do not need high speed scanners. Its a myth that our current scanners significantly slow absentee vote counting. I have led central count absentee vote processing five times. I  also led a polling place where a scanner broke and we had to read 1,500 ballots into another scanner – that was done intermittently in less that two hours while voters continued to scan their votes into that same scanner. Scanning is a small part of absentee processing, perhaps 10%. In Glastonbury. in November 2016. we had less than 20,000 votes for President, 90+% counted in six polling place scanners. If we used six scanners for absentee counting, with a reasonable plan, they could count all the votes in a few hours, overlapped with the other aspects of processing absentees. Glastonbury has at least two scanners already dedicated to absentee counting.  Secretary of the State Merrill has already purchased a reserve supply of AccuVoteOS scanners. Used AccuVoteOS scanners are available at about $40 at auction sites and dealers.
  • Its a big deal to purchase and test high speed scanners. We can’t use just any scanner. We need a high speed scanner made for vote counting.  Not just any vote counting, but compatible with ballots used by our AccuVoteOS.  It would help if they did not require separate programming from the AccuVoteOS scanners and did well with folded or creased ballots.
  • We do not currently audit absentee ballot scanners. Unless that is addressed, this August and November only the scanners in polling places will be subject to audit. Inadequate with uniform scanners, yet all but useless if a different model is used for absentees and counts the majority of ballots in the election.
  • These new ballot boxes are vulnerable and will be targets. Once again, if they are safe from attack, let us see the tests. Other states use them and keep them under video surveillance.

As I have said before, in this crisis I support expanded mail-in voting. Yet we cannot abandon common sense.

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