August 10, 2010

Madeline Rawley's Response to Richard Charnin's Criticism of Her Article

Dear Mr. Charnin:

I learned about your response to my article in the Coalition for Voting Integrity’s News and Opinion, "Another Threat to Public Scrutiny of the Election Process—the Elimination of Polling Places through Adoption of No-Excuse Absentee Ballots—the First Step to All Mail-In Voting," from a Google alert.

At the moment I do not have the time to respond to all your comments. However, I would like to quickly respond to your question at the end of your response, “Are you for true voting integrity or the status quo?” as it involves my integrity.

1. I AM FOR TRUE BLUE VOTING INTEGRITY: In 2005, learning that the Bucks County Commissioners were planning to implement a new voting system without any citizen input, I joined the newly formed Coalition for Voting Integrity and began researching and informing the commissioners about the insecurity, inaccuracy and unreliability of direct-recording electronic voting machines and the need for voter-marked paper ballots read by precinct-based optical scan machines in order to have a paper record of the voters’ intended votes. The Coalition presented the commissioners with the opinions of respected computer scientists, who said that without paper ballots it was not possible to audit the accuracy of the DRE vote counts or conduct a meaningful audit. However, the commissioners dismissed the warnings from computer scientists we gave them and ordered Danaher DREs. Some of the Danahers were reconditioned machines, possibly from New Mexico, which had replaced them with a voter-marked paper-based system because a study had shown that voters, not knowing how to vote on the Danaher DRE, had mistakenly deselected their presidential votes.

Since then I have continued to try to persuade the commissioners to replace the DREs and helped write a state bill introduced by a state senator that would reimburse counties for the cost of replacing their DREs with voter-marked paper ballots. I also attended the error-riddled examinations of DREs and protested their certification to their examiner, Dr. Shamos, the governor, and the Department of State. I wish that you had googled my name to see only a few of my activities which made it into the newspapers.

As I became more involved, I realized the importance of public scrutiny of every step in the election process, beginning with the superficial pre-election inspection of the DREs through the totally inadequate so-called 2 percent audit that occurs. After a struggle, citizens in Bucks County now are present at all steps of the election process. I have become very aware of the possibilities for chain of custody failures and election official and voter fraud. CVI examined all the ’06 election records and found discrepancies between the number of voters in the polling place and the machine counts in that polling place. We are now in the midst of the process to check the November ’08 records for the same problem.

Where we differ is that I believe the paper ballots need to be marked in the polling place rather than filled out at home and sent through the mail to be processed by central count optical scanners and observed only by county employees in the courthouse.

At a voting integrity conference in Washington, D.C., I spoke with people from Oregon about their system. They, like you, have great faith in it. I believe that it does take faith to believe in a vote-by-mail system since the process is not observed by citizens from the grassroots level on up. A person does just have to have faith that every ballot has been delivered to the correct voter, filled out without intimidation, and counted correctly by the central optical scanners. One also needs faith to believe that there will never be any insiders in a courthouse wishing to tamper with the programming of the optical scanners or the returned ballots in order to see their party’s candidates win.

Incidentally, these people also told me that they needed years to install VBM and that they did not believe it would work in a state like Pennsylvania. Basically what they said was that the culture in Pennsylvania is not as honest as Oregon’s. Somehow I do not believe that all Oregonians are pure and honest or that fraud and intimidation would never occur.

2. I AM NOT FOR THE STATUS QUO. As the above states, I have worked for five years to change the status quo – to replace direct-recording electronic voting machines in my county with a voter-marked paper ballot system. The present state of our state economy makes this less likely at the present time; however, I will persist in this struggle to change the status quo.

Here is a link to the first article I wrote on the problems with DREs and the lack of progress in replacing them. If you had read it before responding, you might have had a better understanding of where I stand on this issue.

Madeline Rawley

August 3, 2010

Another Threat to Public Scrutiny of the Election Process

The Elimination of Polling Places through Adoption of No-Excuse Absentee Ballots—the First Step to All Mail-In Voting

By Madeline Rawley

As reported last month, the German Supreme Court ruled last year that the use of electronic voting machines in elections in Germany was unconstitutional because it violates the constitutional mandate that “all aspects of the election process must be available for public scrutiny.”

Meanwhile, here in Bucks County, we still must vote on these unreliable and unverifiable electronic machines. However, we do have very limited public scrutiny as pollworkers and poll watchers can watch absentee paper ballots counted by hand and observe their tabulation with machine counts in the polling place on election night. This tiny window of public scrutiny could disappear if Pennsylvania ever adopts no-excuse absentee ballots as 27 states have. (It may take a constitutional amendment.) No-excuse absentee ballots seem to be the first step to the elimination of polling places. In two states, Oregon and Washington, there are no polling places. All voters drop off or mail in their ballots.

One example of how a no-excuse absentee ballot voting state may turn into an all mail-in state can be seen in California. In their recent primary, in San Joaquin County, 49% of the voters sent in no-excuse absentee ballots. A county grand jury concluded that there was no longer a need for polling places and issued a call for all mail-in voting. Election officials like no-excuse absentee ballot voting because they don’t like having the public looking over their shoulders and finding pollworkers so they emphasize possible cost savings.

Here in Pennsylvania, well-intentioned groups like Common Cause, the League of Women Voters, and minority and disability organizations are in favor of no-excuse absentee ballots. These groups have not focused on the loss of public scrutiny that results when ballots are mailed in, kept, and counted at the courthouse. They are motivated by their belief that this method of voting will increase voter turnout. Most research studies have shown that voter turnout does not increase substantially; some studies have shown that there is no increase.

Another unfortunate effect of no-excuse absentee ballot voting is that voter fraud and intimidation may occur. In a primary election this year in New Jersey, which has no-excuse absentee voting, 49 unopened and uncounted absentee ballots mysteriously turned up in a closet in the courthouse when a recount in a close election was requested. (This is not unusual.) The recount produced a new winner. An investigation found that the 49 ballots had been delivered by three men. Some contacted voters denied having voted. The on-going investigation with its finding of fraud and intimidation is detailed in these newspaper articles here and here.

In addition to this threat to election integrity, the elimination of polling place voting reduces the sense of community that develops when voters meet pollworkers and other voters from their neighborhood in the polling place. If citizens vote at home and the ballots are handled by anonymous workers and counted by machine in the courthouse, not only is public scrutiny lost and opportunities for fraud increased, but a sense of community disappears.

Voting in public at your neighborhood polling place is needed in our increasingly isolated society where people interact with screens and phone instead of other people. In Pennsylvania today, if a person is not able to come to the polling place due to his or her duty to be elsewhere on election day or a physical disability, he or she can vote by absentee ballot. Allowing everyone to vote by mail is convenient, but is that the value that should take pre-eminence in a democracy when some of our citizens have put their bodies on the line for our democracy? Why can’t voters, in order to preserve the integrity of the election process, express their belief in democracy by going physically to a polling place two days a year?