Aiming for the perfect tally
Local grassroots group pushes for election reform

Lora Chamberlain gets the discussion going as the meeting of the Four Corners Election Protection Project gets under way Monday evening. Citing the inadequacies of the current AccuVote scanning machines, the group is working to mandate hand-counted ballots for La Plata County’s official tally instead./Photo by Todd Newcomer.

by Adam Howell

A grass-roots push to make local elections transparent is gaining ground. A local group is working to mandate hand-counted ballots for La Plata County’s official tally instead of using machines to calculate local votes.

An electoral reform group called the Four Corners Election Protection Project is reaffirming voting rights with a campaign to make local elections as open, transparent and observable as possible. Chief project organizer, Dr. Lora Chamberlain, says La Plata County’s current Diebold AccuVote optical scanning ballot-reading

machines are insecure, error prone and more expensive than the more archaic technique of hand-counting the paper ballots. Specifically, Chamberlain says the memory cards in optical scanners can be pre-programmed to miscount votes, as was demonstrated by a Florida election official and the Black Box Voting reform organization to reporters in the infamous “Harri Hursti Hack.”

Project member Brian Brown said that while hand counting is prone to slight human error, the opti-scan machines are legendary for their ability to be hacked, noting how prone software is to errors.

“A simple way of looking at it is that with hand-counted ballots you’d need to have an impossible level of collaboration to significantly alter the results,” Brown said. “Whereas with electronic voting systems, one malfunctioning machine, or one corrupt person could change the results of one or more machines, and that could change the results countywide.”

However, La Plata County Clerk and Recorder Linda Daley countered that local elections are free of fraud. She called the hacking charges erroneous, saying that locally, the cards are locked and sealed into the machines.

“Nobody handles those cards except the people who work in this office that are deputized to do that,” Daley said. “The judges do not handle them, nobody handles them.”

In addition, Daley said the idea of people hacking into the machines from external computers is baseless.

“They’re stand alone, so they’re not on the Internet, they’re not online they’re not through the phone lines, none of that,” Daley said.

While elections in La Plata County have been relatively clean, Chamberlain points to the 2004 presidential election as a massive, widespread, and well organized fraud.

“A paper trail without a hand count is a receipt for your stolen vote,” Chamberlain said.

As a former Democratic campaign organizer from Illinois who also worked with the national Election Protection Coalition, Chamberlain continues to plant seeds of electoral reform. She monitored the last presidential election for the Coalition in 11 swing states and urban trouble spots across the nation. At the time, she investigated the voter disenfranchisement and suppression that occurred in Ohio.

Afterwards, she helped Ohio organize and encourage Congressional hearings on election fraud, which later morphed into intense public scrutiny and criminal indictments against three Board of Election officials involved.

Since major issues nationally have been electronic, Chamberlain’s group has proposed that La Plata County assign four randomly selected election judges at each county precinct in local, state or federal elections who would count ballots. Judges would count them in stacks of 50 or 100, swap stacks with the other two judges, who would count them again, and then verify they had similar tallies before proceeding.

“I will definitely try to make this process as inclusionary as possible,” Chamberlain said. “The only thing I’m democratic about is democracy. If you don’t have a democracy, than you aren’t harvesting the consciousness of the populace.”

As a control against blackmail and other forms of fraud, Chamberlain said she envisions having election judges randomly selected for whatever precinct they would work at on Election Day.

However, Daley said that if the Board of County Commissioners did approve hand counting the ballots, they probably would not be counted at the precincts, but instead would be brought in and counted centrally.

Ideally, if La Plata County were to hand-count its ballots, there would be a representative from each political party there, project member Brown said. And the counting could be done within a reasonable time frame considering the amount of work involved.

“In Canada, they count all of their votes within four hours of the polls closing,” he said. “So there’s no reason why we can’t do the same thing in the U.S.”

Chamberlain concurred saying that with enough election judges and our small local precincts, hand counting could be done within two hours, even during presidential elections.

Yet Daley disagreed, saying that counting votes by hand would take much longer than by machine. Public Information Officer for the Secretary of State Dana Williams also argued that hand counting is too labor intensive, saying that election results would not be available until the following day.

Differences aside, election judges will always be needed to volunteer for upcoming elections, regardless of how votes are counted, Daley said, adding that during elections, judges get paid $100 per day. The process of becoming an election judge requires that you be registered to vote, and are at least 18 years of age. Also, judges must take a three-hour class that’s sponsored by the Clerk and Recorder’s office before each election.

“Actually, we can use students also, if you’re recommended by a teacher at school, you’re over 16 years of age and your grades are good,” Daley said. “It’s easy, all you have to do is volunteer.”

In the meantime, Chamberlain plans to rally people to sign up as election judges for the primaries in August, or at latest for the November election. As a goal, Chamberlain wants to get the Four Corners area fired up and working to secure its own elections.

“We have a patchwork of some secured elections, but we don’t have democracy,” Chamberlain said. “Democracy is what we’ve all agreed on. That is that every citizen in America gets one vote and gets it counted correctly.”



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