It appears from comments that I need to explain our interest and involvement in Salida’s election. Q & A format might help.
How did Citizen Center get interested in Salida’s local election?
In 2012 Citizen Center sued the Secretary of State and six counties for running elections with traceable barcodes on ballots. Chaffee was among them, and had caused me to begin investigating when Chaffee Clerk Reno sued me in 2011 after I requested to see any anonymous voted ballot in 2011. She claimed that locating an anonymous ballot was not easy. That led to my investigating traceability of ballots, and founding Citizen Center to bring action to enforce Coloradans’ right to a secret ballot. In the November election, Chaffee stopped using its traceable barcoding on ballots.
What has that got to do with Salida?
We knew that Reno would likely be asked to run 2013 local elections and we were watching to see whether she would return to using traceable barcoded ballots, as we wanted to challenge that in court if needed. When we heard that a local election was approaching, we contacted Reno to inquire about the ballots. We learned that city officials would run the election. We inquired, thinking they might be using Chaffee’s equipment and traceable barcodes. Instead, we learned that they were using the same flawed system that Saguache County just got burned using.
Citizen Center also has several members in the area, and we began to hear from them about some of their concerns. Why has Citizen Center been nosing into our election uninvited?
Government officials never “invite” watchdogs to get involved! Watchdogs respond to problems they suspect and observe. Once we heard that ES&S had leased this equipment to Salida, that piqued our interest beyond a casual interest. ES&S has sold and leased overpriced, inappropriate, uncertified equipment to a number of unsuspecting cities and counties in Colorado.
Beginning with the purchase of uncertified ES&S equipment for $54,000, Saguache flawed elections have cost Colorado taxpayers probably $500,000 or more in direct and indirect costs of dealing with the fallout from the use of the improper ES&S election system, and helped lead to the recall of the Saguache clerk. After mothballing the $54,000 uncertified machine, ES&S leased Saguache two M100’s exactly like the two they leased Salida. We objected to the lack of full-system certification and the resulting lack of audit trail of the M100’s.
Why should the choice of machine be of concern to the public? Why not just let the officials decide?
Saguache is the perfect example. Last week, the Secretary of State investigated and found that indeed the M100 audit trail in the Saguache 2012 election was non-existent and had caused errors in the official results. They had to make unofficial corrections last week that were discovered too late to become official. The use of a certified system (or a hand count) would have prevented the now uncorrectable errors. (No one is accusing the Saguache officials of fraud. It is all likely human error trying to use a system not fit for that use.)
Voting systems are complex and it is imperative to follow all the security and system rules laid out by state law and the Secretary of State or errors easily creep into the results. Local officials cannot be expected to be experts in assembling these systems. ES&S knew it was selling shortcuts and the city officials likely did not know that. That is why Citizen Center started squawking and investigating.
The Center Post Dispatch archives can be searched for dozens of articles that relate to the problems with the ES&S machines and overcharges during the past two years in Saguache. (ES&S sold Saguache a $54,000 machine that was not certified for use, when a $600 repair to the old system was all that was needed.)
Did Citizen Center believe that election fraud was likely in Salida?
Certainly not! We believe that the problem is with hurriedly choosing complex equipment and failing to see the risks involved, and failing to see the necessity of full-election transparency and citizen oversight. It took a while for the officials to see the point, but I feel confident that they now want to avoid the risk of machine malfunction and have embraced the fully verifiable hand count and citizen oversight.
It is possible that local officials were getting outdated advice from other Colorado clerks who have not acknowledged that Colorado laws and practices require everything be done in full sunshine with watchers looking on. Now that Salida officials have further studied the law and best practices, I believe that they are committed to a very transparent process.
Can we get our money back from ES&S?
We believe that it is easily demonstrated that ES&S overcharged for all goods and services and broke several laws and election rules in leasing the equipment. ES&S should refund Salida almost everything they paid and apologize in the process. If they fail to do so, I’ll be happy to help document the improper charges and give that to city officials to claim against ES&S.
We should make clear that the M100 is not a bad machine. It is just not suited for using on a stand-alone basis to count YOUR votes. (Just like you can’t shouldn’t drive a car with two wheels, even if they are great wheels.)
Did you threaten to sue the city over this?
No! This is something that was apparently fabricated by Mr. Hanlon, the attorney representing the city. My personal speculation is that Hanlon knew that the city would have to change course on the equipment and process they had selected and he used fabricated threats from me as his excuse to save face. If that is what happened, that was completely unnecessary, when the facts would have suited much better. Just say, “we selected the wrong vendor and equipment. We are going to hand count. We will work to get our money back.”
Is the hand count likely to take a long time and be inaccurate?
It all depends on how well it is planned and staffed. There is no reason for it to take more than six to eight hours if well planned. Hand counts can be disastrous and inaccurate if the election official does not employ a planned system that uses good forms, good process and interim checks and balances. Just like bank tellers have a system for counting currency, willy-nilly counting will not work for ballots.
We have urged the city to recruit plenty of judges to work in teams with authorized watchers looking on. (Please volunteer if you can.) We have also sent along some experienced hand counters’ suggestions on various methods of hand counting that should make the process relatively painless. Based on initial conversations with Dara MacDonald, it seems that she is considering various alternatives and wanting to choose the best one for this election.
What is this “Watcher Workshop” about on Monday?
Although we’ve been asked to do this many times in other communities this is the first time our schedule has worked out to train watchers before the counting is in full swing. Because many county and city clerks have long fought citizen oversight by both political parties, issue committee and candidates, few citizens know their rights and how to politely exercise them. Nor do watchers understand their responsibilities and the limitations on their activities.
Anyone interested in elections of any type in Colorado (state, county, city, school board, fire district, etc.) is welcome. The information is not applicable only to the Salida election.
We will do some role-playing so that watchers know what to do when they have questions or get blocked from access to observation they require.
All are welcome at 5:30 p.m. Mon., Jan.14 at the Farmer’s Insurance Building, 7405 Hwy 50, Salida.
Why are watchers necessary? Don’t you trust the judges?
Having been an election judge and a watcher many times, I know how easy it is to make mistakes or be given inaccurate information. Watchers serve as a check-and-balance on the judges’ work. Watchers serve the needed purpose of being the eyes and ears of the candidates and the public in the counting room.
Saguache provides a recent example. During the recent November election, apparently judges made numerous clerical errors when tallying the official results from the M100’s. There were no watchers checking their work or observing them. The official results are inaccurate. It is very likely merely human error, but still, the results are wrong, which no one wants to happen in Salida.
When watchers from opposing positions are all in the room and agree on the process and numbers, the public gains great confidence in the outcome. When watchers are prevented from such access, (as was originally planned in Salida), voters question the results due to a lack of transparency. Salida officials have now assured us that watchers will have full access to witness and verify the counting.
Remember — Elections belong to the people, not the government!
Marilyn Marks, Citizen Center www.TheCitizenCenter.org