January 23, 2008 - Panel observes voting process
Paper: Monterey County Herald, The (CA)
Title: Panel observes voting process
Date: January 23, 2008
Author: JIM JOHNSON
A state-mandated panel charged with making the local voting process more transparent met for the first time Tuesday at the Monterey County Elections Department office. Representatives from political parties, voters' rights groups and the county showed up for an orientation and to observe pre-election activities, said Monterey County Registrar of Voters Linda Tulett.
The panel was formed to comply with one of the guidelines issued by California Secretary of State Debra Bowen as part of her conditional recertification of the touch-screen voting machines.
She decertified the machines last summer after conducting a top-to-bottom review that she said indicated the machines were vulnerable to tampering.
For the Feb. 5 primary, Monterey County will use all paper, machine-counted ballots, with the exception of one touch-screen voting machine per precinct for disabled voters to meet federal voting requirements. Voters who are not disabled can choose to use the machines.
The panel includes representatives from the local Democratic, Republican and Green parties, the League of Women Voters Salinas Valley, the American Association of University Women, Assemblywoman Anna Caballero's office, ACLU Monterey County, anti-electronic voting group SAVElections and the county information technology department. Some of the panelists also serve as poll worker/voter representatives on the panel.
Notable by their absence were representatives from the NAACP, the League of United Latin American Citizens and the county's civil grand jury, though Tulett said they were invited to participate.
Tulett said organizations can still join the panel for the Feb. 5 presidential primary or subsequent elections in June or November, and there are no attendance requirements.
Panelists will be allowed to observe the elections department's voting procedures from start to finish, including pre-election testing and security methods, election day poll watching and results reporting, and post-election verification.
Tulett said she will issue a schedule of observation activities for the panel soon.
Tulett said she hopes the panel's work will help educate the public, assuaging fears about the local voting process, and allow for public feedback through the panelists, who will offer improvement suggestions after finishing their observations. She said she hopes that public education through the panel's efforts will result in more voter involvement and higher voter turnout.
Stephanie Loose, a veteran pollworker and elections volunteer representing the League of Women Voters, noted the panel's diversity and compared its charge to that of a civil grand jury.
"It's just another layer of people semi-officially looking at the elections process," Loose said. "It doesn't hurt, but it probably does slow down the election department."
Loose is a supporter of the local elections process, having worked on previous elections. But she said she probably won't be able to spend much time on the panel because of her tax business.
Vinz Koller, county Democratic Party chairman, said the panel is a more formal way to enhance "voter confidence" in the elections process by providing more understanding of its complexities. He said legitimate questions have been raised about the voting procedures.
"Voter confidence is so critical to elections," Koller said.
Katherine Dolbec, county Republican Party executive director, called the panel's membership "eclectic" and indicated she's most interested in the pre-election testing of touch-screen voting machines.
Testing for accuracy
On Tuesday, panelists observed logic and accuracy testing, and safety procedures involving the county's touch-screen voting machines, as well as ballot address and signature verification methods.
But SAVElections' George Riley suggested the panel's work will only scratch the surface of the real issue — the touch-screen machines' integrity. Riley complimented what he'd seen of the county elections department's security procedures. But he said as long as touch-screen machine manufacturers continue to keep information about the internal electronic systems secret by claiming it is proprietary, there will be an element of perceived "vulnerability" by many people.
"Secrecy is the heart of public corruption," Riley said. "Elections are big-dollar events, and there's enough dollars in elections that you can't tell me it won't find the soft spot in the system."
Monterey County uses AVC Edge II touch-screen machines manufactured by Sequoia Voting Systems.
Civil grand jury liaison Elizabeth Fuentez said the grand jury won't be able to respond until it convenes later this month.
Officials from the local chapters of the NAACP and LULAC didn't return The Herald's phone calls.
County election observer panel
Vinz Koller, Monterey County Democratic Central Committee
Stephanie Loose, League of Women Voters Salinas Valley
Liz Nolan, League of Women Voters Salinas Valley
George Riley, SAVElections
Kathy Dolbec, Monterey County Republican Party
Michael Gross, county information technology department
Ruthann Duboce, American Association of University Women
Nancy Pratt, Monterey County Green Party
Aline Sanchez, Assemblywoman Anna Caballero's office
Katrina Ognyanovich, ACLU Monterey County
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Record Number: 14530391
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