Friday, January 05, 2007

The Proof Is In The Paper

Neil Samuels, the deputy chairman of the Bucks County Democratic Committee, chairman of the Doylestown Democrats, and a creative director at a Bucks County marketing firm, wrote the following Guest Opinion that appeared today in the Bucks County Courier Times.

David Sanko, Bucks County’s chief operating officer, was at his political worst when he recently referred to pending legislation in Congress that would mandate voting machines that produce voter-verified paper ballots.

In reference to Patrick Murphy’s support for the legislation, which would ensure that recounts of actual paper ballots are available in future political races, Sanko stated, “I’m certain that Congressman-elect Patrick Murphy would not be pushing an unfunded mandate, and, therefore, a tax increase, on the people of Bucks County in his first year in office.”

Strange that Sanko, who has been a longtime political operative for the Republican Party in Bucks County, never saw fit to make such a statement when former congressman Mike Fitzpatrick signed on as one of 221 co-sponsors for the very same bill: House Resolution 550, a bill to amend the Help America Vote Act of 2002 to require a voter-verified permanent paper record or hard copy. Sanko should apologize to Murphy and learn to start working with our next congressman instead of so obviously trying to undermine him before he’s even sworn in.

Sanko, of course, is simply trying to cover himself when the bills come due. With the support of the county commissioners, who ignored the pleas of hundreds of concerned and educated citizens (and a resolution demanding machines with voter verified paper ballots passed by the Bucks County Democratic Committee over a year ago), Sanko advocated purchasing expensive touch screen voting equipment with no paper ballot component.

One of the great ironies is that his preferred candidate, Fitzpatrick, had no opportunity to even conduct a recount following his recent electoral loss since no paper ballots exist for such a challenge in Bucks County.

Not only did Sanko and the commissioners choose a machine they will be forced to upgrade or replace entirely, but their collective ineptitude resulted in Bucks County’s ignominious distinction as the only county in the entire state that failed to make a decision within the legally required timeframe, a failure that might cost taxpayers nearly $1 million in federal grants. The retrofit or repurchase of new equipment will cost further millions.

This was a mistake that many who care deeply about fair elections, including numerous former Republican and Democratic county commissioners, repeatedly warned Sanko and the current commissioners about in numerous public meetings and in writing.

The final point that must be made is to recognize that most people have no complaints about the tactile experience of voting on any of the new machines. That has never been the problem or the issue. What is more important, and what is constantly ignored by Sanko and the commissioners, is the complete absence of any method for rectifying errors in the machines.

Voters must have faith that the votes are counted as they were cast. The current machines can’t perform this simple function. As a result, we cannot have meaningful recounts in Bucks County. In close elections, how will we ever know who really won?

As an example, Chester County recently hand-counted paper ballots to determine which party would control the state House. The two candidates were separated by a mere 23 votes at one point but at least they had physical ballots to review. We have nothing but a machine’s memory chip, which can only regurgitate the same output over and over again with no way to cross check the original input and ascertain whether it was recorded correctly in the first place.

Optical scanner systems can solve all these problems. They cost less to purchase, they cost less to program, to maintain, and to store. They last longer, and more people can vote on them in less time. They were the right choice a year ago and they are still the right choice for Bucks County. Sadly, just like President Bush, our county leaders are incapable of admitting they have made a grievous error and we, the people, will pay the price for years to come.

We taxpayers should be outraged by the incompetence of the commissioners who first missed the deadline to comply with the law, and then allowed this expensive and flawed election equipment to be purchased with our hard-earned money even though they were repeatedly warned not to make such a short-sighted, expensive, and easily preventable mistake.
Samuels is right; we should be outraged. And if you want to contact the Bucks County Commissioners and tell these knuckleheads to stop messing around and purchase 21st-century technology (and they had better not dare imagine that they can blame Patrick Murphy for their own stupidity), click here.

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