Sunday, August 22, 2004

Sun may never shine on new election system

REPORT: Canvass Day-1 -- August 20, 2004
Al Kolwicz, GOP member

It was very disheartening Friday to experience Boulder County’s heavy-handed methods in action. The sun may never shine on the work of this canvass board.

Colorado law requires that a canvass board be appointed to verify election results before they are made final. Republican and Democratic county parties appoint members to the board.

The board is required to verify that the number of ballots counted do not exceed the number of ballots cast and that all votes are counted correctly.

Friday’s first meeting of the canvass board was very disturbing. “The process is not open, it is being micro-managed by ill-prepared government personnel, it is being used to cover-up rather than identify defects, and it has gotten started on the wrong foot,” says Kolwicz.

Rather than starting with a system and task overview, members have been buried under a mountain of detail. It appears that there will be no attempt to professionally verify that the votes were correctly counted. This looks bad for November’s presidential election.

Process is not open - press muzzled like a dog

Investigative reporter, William Wagener, was barred from recording the canvass board meetings. Sheila Horton, an official candidate watcher, was barred from making an audio tape of the proceeding.

Jim Burrus, county press manager, told Wagener and Horton that they must not record the proceeding because it would violate Boulder County policy. When asked for a copy of the policy, Burrus said, “It is an unwritten policy”.

Obviously such a policy does not exist. On election night, Paul Aiken, a Boulder Camera photographer took photographs in the room where ballots were being processed. One of these photos was published on page 4A of the August 11th edition.

In addition, a HART InterCivic employee took many photographs in the room where ballots were being processed. The HART employee was not at all supervised.

Information kept secret - important and reasonable GOP request denied

The work of the canvass board is handicapped because the Clerk prohibits the board from resolving fundamental questions relating to the canvass.

Officials have prepared none of the documentation needed to facilitate the canvass. The Republican representative was denied his written request that agreement be reached on the following key items.

1. Rules that will govern the canvass.

2. Identification of all materials that will be available for the canvass.

3. Description of the methodology that will be used to complete the canvass.

As a consequence, a full day has passed and there are no rules, no list of materials, and no agreed-to methodology for completing the canvass. A valuable day has been lost.

Board being manipulated - time being squandered

The clerk has asserted itself to be in control of the board and has prohibited the canvass board from making independent judgments. Members are forced to look only at what the Clerk allows them to see. They work as two person teams, and not as a board. The board is not permitted to formulate their own, independent, canvassing and decision-making strategy.

The clerk has refused to provide the board with what it needs to perform its tasks. By forcing members to focus on tiny details, the board is blocked from gaining the perspective needed to perform its legal tasks.

By controlling the sequence in which election materials are reviewed, the clerk is keeping the board away from areas where uncertainty and error are most likely to exist.

Board members have not been provided with a complete inventory of materials. New material is identified by the clerk when and only if the clerk decides to disclose it.

Intimidation influencing canvass results

A uniformed sheriff’s deputy is present during the proceeding. Police have not been present in the past, and there is no explanation for police presence – but it is definitely intimidating.

Staff has seized control of the board, and use the subtle threat of the police to back them up. No statute or election rule has been presented to show that the clerk is operating within legal bounds.

In fact, since it is the clerk’s work that is being evaluated, it is highly inappropriate for the Clerk to control the board. To be accepted by the people as fair and open, the legally appointed representatives must be in charge of the canvass.

Some elections personnel are intimidating by being rude, abusive, and uncooperative. Simple requests are met with a “just sit down, shut up, and do what I tell you” response. The police presence and the absence of a video record add to the sense of threat.

There are no procedures for governing the canvass, so members do not know their rights. Staff says and does whatever they want to silence canvass board members and keep them pre-occupied.

Clerk’s personnel are not qualified

Verifying the results of a complex system is a highly sophisticated task requiring specialized knowledge and skills. It appears that none of the clerk’s personnel have been trained or have experience in these skills. They do not understand what is needed for the success of the canvass. Instead of working to identify defects, they instead are working to explain-away the defects.

The quality of the canvass is being severely compromised by the limited comprehension of the clerk’s personnel. This, coupled with the domineering posture they have assumed, will result in a violation of the charter of the board -- to verify that the number of ballots counted do not exceed the number of ballots cast and that all votes are counted correctly.


Insiders should relinquish control of the process to the legally appointed overseers.

And finally …

The conflict between the people and the Clerk is so simple. She wants to maintain control over a system that she does not fully understand. She wants to make her life easier by going through the motions of verification, but not perform the required tasks.

We, the canvass board and the watchdogs, understand the long history of why checks and balances have been built into the best practices of elections and the cost in public trust if these checks and balances are ignored.

The new systems that are being put into place all over this country have no history. The tests that are being run are ad hoc and really don’t test much at all. We are being asked to trust machines and procedures blindly.

Fair elections are too precious. We must not allow those who wish to hide the truth about our election system to silence the insightful.