MN Post Election Audit Summit (day 2)

October 27th, 2007 Bowen Keynote via DVD Today, I’m continuing my liveblogging of the Post Election Audit Summit in Minneapolis, MN. Debra Bowen (California Secretary of State) gave this morning’s keynote (picture at right). More below the fold…


Debra Bowen gave this morning’s keynote talking about the interaction between this summer’s Top-To-Bottom Review and her Post Election Audit Standards Working Group. She went as far as to say, “My ultimate goal is to move California to an adjustible sample model.” She repeated her assertion that she rejects the notion that we should not make changes to our voting system because we’ve already made certain purchasing decisions. She said, no matter what we end up doing, we need to have meaningful post election audits. We need to have cooperation between every constituency involved.

Panel 7: Principles of Great Post Election Audits — Putting It All Together

John McCarthy of The Verified Voting Foundation lead this panel to try and bring us back to the 50,000 ft. perspective.

Pam Smith (Verified Voting Foundation) spent her time talking about transparency and one theme that has come up: “What good is transparency if no one is there to watch?” This is similar to the Zen tree falling koan (“Does a tree make a sound if no one is there when it falls?”). This was an interesting theme throughout the conference in that election officials said that it doesn’t make sense to place all these increased audit burdens and public observation requirements (transparency) if no one shows up. I need to think about this a bit more… but Pam had a good way of putting in perspective, “The converse of that complaint is what if someone really wants the opportunity to observe but they can’t. They need to have the opportunity.”

Candice Hoke (CSU Law School) talked about changing how we all think about election anomalies. Activists need to understand that all mistakes don’t equal fraud. Election officials need to have the confidence to be public about their mistakes.

Larry Norden (Brennan Center for Justice at NYU) talked about where the emphasis needs to lie in all of this. There’s been a lot of literature on the theory of audits in the recent past. He talked about Doug Jones’ idea of hot vs. cold audits (hot = before certification (you could change the results), cold = after certification) and that he felt there was something promising there. Most States won’t be conducting audits and even the ones that do, this is a new thing for them. We can’t expect things to go perfectly. Larry said that he is a fan of the idea of using pilots to run audits and associated procedures, systems, personnel through the motions and smooth out wrinkles. The key to improving audits is collecting better data about audits and sharing that information in a standardized form. We also need to work together with this data to improved things… and election officials need to communicate to understand what works and what does not.

Panel 8: Action Steps — The Road Map — Building Consensus — Overcoming Obstacles

Dan McCrea moderated this panel of mostly government officials to talk about the political dimension.

Cisco McSorley (State Senator, New Mexico) talked about passing New Mexico’s paper trail bill and how they made that happen. The turning point came when they got the Secretary of State and Governor on board and then it shot through. Now, as political winds have changed, the new Secretary of State is not as much on board. The hard part is getting past this tipping point and then keeping things true to the intent of reform and not having it swept up.

Renee Steinhagen (New Jersey Appleseed Public Interest Law Center) talked about her situation in New Jersey. She claims that election officials feel “protected” by having paperless DREs. Two counties had VVPAT bills passed. She deals with things larger than just auditing in her reform activities; for example, registration matching, etc. The bill at the state level to get paper trails for their DREs includes an audit provision. The bill has been a tough negotiation. The key has been working with election officials and speaking visually… not with statistics, but visual graphs that show problems, solutions, etc.

Susan Gill (Supervisor of Elections, Citrus County, Florida) mentioned she’s the rules committee chair for the association of local election supervisors. She pushed them to work on an audit bill for 2008. The goal was to put “meat on the bones” of their new audit law, which is a page and a half. She started to feel like Alice in Wonderland, falling into a big black hole. There was no rhyme or reason amongst states and what they were doing. Large counties have really difficult problems. Money, etc. hasn’t been the problems… the question has been how are we going to do this to make it a meaningful, valid audit. They are going to have to sort early votes (~15,000) and absentees (~20,000) into precincts. They’re going to have to do it differently to meet the “meaningful” goal. A serious complication is that we have to be very security-minded while also being very transparent… it’s a fine line to walk. Elections will be fair, honest, not perfect elections.

Bill Hilty (State Representative, Minnesota) one thing that hasn’t received a lot of attention here are “system” issues. We’re blessed in Minnesota in that we started with a paper trail, audits and security provisions such as making sure elections systems aren’t connected to the internet. We need to understand thoroughly the elections system from the perspective of the administrators but also the legislative picture. In the legislature, committee chairs will focus on particular issues and parties will have caucus leads on specific issues. Elections are not a high-priority issue in the legislature. That may be a bad thing but not necessarily in terms of getting things done. When I started getting into the issue, it was easy to get things done because no one was paying attention. It’s not like raising taxes. In terms of legislation, you need to be patient; the very first audit bill that we passed, I squeezed through a committee conference. The only way I could get them to accept it was to put a sunset to have the bill expire. The next session, I was able to amend to get rid of the sunset provision and no one objected. Change should be in bite-size chunks; one you have something in place, it’s a lot easier to change things and fix them… rather than to do everything at once.

Dan McCrea mentioned that Jenny Flanagan (Executive Director, Common Cause, Colorado) couldn’t be here so he took the opportunity to say a few words. Talked about activists needing to calm down and election officials need to open up.

That’s it for the summit… it was a great experience all around and I learned quite a bit… hopefully, it will increase election official collaboration even more with academics and the type of activists that do not bite.


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