Tuesday, October 10, 2006

An Unlikely Watchdog

The importance of a paper backup for any votes cast with electronic machines cannot be overstated as we know, and though federal legislation to mandate this should have been passed ages ago, the fact that this has not taken place fits in perfectly with the heinous Repug legacy of endemic cronyism and incompetence.

But this is an issue just for “good government” types, right?

(And as you can read here, three Democratic senators tried to pass emergency legislation on this a couple of weeks ago, but of course they were outnumbered.)

I mean, the Repugs can’t seriously address that since electronic machines can be hacked as it is, and they need that option as a last resort since they’ve done such a disastrous job, and if all else fails, “fixing” the results in their favor is a handy option.

Well, here in Bucks County, PA, we’re going to receive electronic machines in a few weeks, and it’s no surprise that there is controversy about this. What is a surprise, as far as I’m concerned, is the fact that the drumbeat to ensure safe voting, as well as addressing a host of other issues surrounding the machines, is being played loud and clear by none other than Andrew Warren.

Yes, that would be the same Andy Warren who was trounced by Patrick Murphy in the Democratic Primary last May, in case you were wondering. And Warren made his case in this Guest Opinion that the Courier Times printed a week ago.

Chapter VII of Lewis Carroll’s book “Alice in Wonderland” is entitled “A Mad Tea Party.” The setting is a tea party where nothing is as it seems: questions receive no answers; the simple is complex; and the obvious is obscured.

It occurs to me that in Bucks County the Hatter and other “Mad Tea Party” attendees have been placed in charge of the county’s new voting machine contract.

Make no mistake. There will be an election Nov. 7. All eligible voters are urged to vote. There may be enough voting machines available. They may, in all likelihood, function well enough for an election to be conducted. So what’s the problem?

The problem, quite simply, is that the $5 million contract that brought the “new” voting machines to Bucks County reads more like the menu at the Hatter’s Mad Tea Party than a legal document.

How many machines will Bucks County receive for $5 million? Attachment “B” of the contract references 650 machines; attachment “E” of the very same contract references 800 machines. When those who signed the contract are asked which number is correct, one is told “Neither; The County will receive 700-some machines.” No specific number is forthcoming!

At no fewer than three locations does the contract specify “new: voting machines.” Only upon direct questioning is one told that at some time by some unnamed individual on some unknown written document were some roughly 375-plus “new” machines replaced by “reconditioned” machines.

Wouldn’t any individual consumer be righteously outraged if after contracting to purchase a “new” computer or a “new” automobile – upon delivery was told that “reconditioned” equipment had been substituted for his expected “new” purchase?

Should consumers be any less outraged when what is at stake is a “public” purchase as opposed to a “private” purchase?

When asked, “What is the difference in cost between the agreed-upon “new” machines and the delivered reconditioned machines?,” the answer from those responsible for the purchase was, “We don’t know.”

Perhaps I’m becoming too exorcised (sic) with this issue. After all, what is at stake is not something really important like contracting for a personal computer or a new car!

What is at issue is only a contract that could affect the sanctity of the vote for thousands of Bucks Countians!

A public forum needs to be convened as soon as possible. The attendees should be those who signed the contract in question, interested Bucks County voters, and representatives of the public media.

The purpose of the forum would be for clear and concise questions to receive accurate and definitive answers. And “Alice In Wonderland” could once again be relegated to a whimsical bedtime story.
And in a similar vein, this letter to the editor appeared in the Courier Times on 10/4, the day after Warren’s column…

I’m having trouble understanding the debate over electronic voting in Bucks County. I’m having trouble understanding why there is a debate at all.

Polls show that an overwhelming percentage of Pennsylvania voters want a backup record of their vote on voter-verified paper ballots. We provide independent, auditable paper records of every other important transaction in our daily lives. The machines purchased by the county are notorious for breaking down and for losing votes.

This week, SB1299 and HB2910, bills that would allow the voters of Pennsylvania the choice of voting on paper in November, have been introduced in the Pennsylvania legislature. This is excellent news. Implementation of the bills would not present an insurmountable challenge to the state election workers and would provide a secure and recountable option to the citizens who make the time to have their voices heard on Election Day.

I’m calling my state legislators today to ask that SB1299 and HB2910 get passed immediately so that voter-verified paper ballots are available for use in time for the November election. I encourage my fellow citizens to do the same.

Craig Zelin
Lower Makefield
Great advice from Craig Zelin on that one - sorry I didn't get the word out earlier on those two bills.

Yes, we know Andy Warren ran a positively cartoonish Democratic primary campaign a few months ago against Patrick Murphy, and I think he's way too snarky here to the point where it gets in the way of what he's trying to say (perhaps a laughable criticism coming from me, but so be it), but still I think he should be commended here for trying to ensure the integrity of our votes.

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