Monday, September 27, 2004

Do you want to win this election? Stop lost votes!

There are two distinct types of poll watching: (1) get out the votes, and (2) stop lost votes. Simply getting your voters to the polls will not win an election. It is also necessary to organize the oversight needed to make sure that ALL of the votes that you get are accurately counted, and NONE of your opponent’s votes come from errors or fraud.

Errors can be (1) simple mistakes or they can be (2) arbitrary interpretations of potentially ambiguous situations or (3) arbitrary actions taken when there is a choice. An ambiguous signature can be accepted by an election official – if the signature is of a voter who is of the same affiliation as the person making the judgment. The same signature can be rejected if it is for a voter of the opposite party. Rules for voter ID can be strictly or loosely enforced to fit the interests of the judge. And the judge might not even know that this is what they are doing. There are many examples of where these situations come up in an election. Only by keeping your eyes and ears on the election processes can these lost votes be prevented.

The first thing to know is that most County Clerks and their elections manager are seeking a different objective than are the voters and the candidates. They want a smooth election that requires minimum time and effort, and that lays no blame at their feet. They are shielded by the Secretary of state, the Attorney General, and the courts. They hire temporary workers who do exactly as they are told – who exercise NO independent judgment. They also hire and train the judges who also do exactly what they are told and exercise ALMOST NO independent judgment. The officials work to hide problems and bury complaints and complainers. The officials want everything done in secret.

Voters, candidates, and issue committees (at least the honest ones) want en election whose outcome they can trust. This requires that the election be secure, accurate and verifiable. These people want everything done in the open.

Many election contestants are vaguely familiar with the role of the poll watchers who work in the precinct. These watchers are appointed by the contestants and have traditionally served to GET OUT THE VOTE. Voter ID requirements, as well as early, absentee and provisional voting and late voter-registration file updates create a situation inside the precincts where things can go wrong. Votes can be lost or overridden. A knowing set of eyes and ears can challenge and prevent these losses. Even one or two votes at each of hundreds of polling places add up.

Most election contestants are not familiar with the other role of the poll watcher – STOP LOST VOTES. Colorado law has created several mechanisms for independent oversight. All of them should be used to the benefit of the Party and the Candidates and Issue Committees. These mechanisms must be staffed with trained and skilled workers. If the party and/or contestants fail to appoint people to serve, then either (1) the clerk will appoint someone to fill the position (bad) or (2) the position will be left unfilled (bad).

It is possible to prevent the loss of hundreds, perhaps thousands of votes by effective central poll watching. The key positions are canvass board, logic and accuracy test, and centralized-election- processes. A summary of each follows:
  1. Canvass board – appointed by each major political county party. Duties are prescribed by law and are to verify that the number of ballots counted does not exceed the number of ballots cast, and to verify the accuracy of the (count) abstract of votes. The canvass board is in charge of any recount. Canvass members require knowledge of the law, the county election system, and basic auditing techniques. In the case of a recount the members must know (or learn quickly) a lot about the various ballots and the Colorado statutes.
  2. Logic and Accuracy Test – appointed by each major political county party. Create test ballots and calculate the number of votes, under votes, and over votes for each race/candidate. Approve the vote counting system – after verifying that it works correctly. This is tricky and requires technical know-how.
  3. Centralized-election-process poll watchers – these folks are appointed by the county parties and by the individual candidates and issue races. There can be a lot of watchers, and there are awkward rules that must be followed. The clerks will attempt to be difficult. There are many processes that take place in multiple places over a period of about six weeks. Somebody should to be “watching” everything all of the time. Multiple processes can be going on at the same time.

    a. Master ballot preparation
    b. Central ballot control
    c. Voter registration
    d. Absentee voting
    ... i. Absentee ballot application and fulfillment including post office
    ... ii. Absentee ballot qualification including voter ID and signature verification
    ... iii. Absentee ballot poll book administration
    ... iv. Absentee ballot opening, verification of correct ballot, and batching
    e. Early voting
    ... i. Early ballot voter authentication, eligibility verification, and ballot issuance
    ... ii. Early ballot poll book administration
    f. Emergency ballot application and issuance
    g. Provisional voting
    ... i. Provisional ballot qualification including voter eligibility authentication, signature verification, and proper forms completion
    ... ii. Provisional ballot opening, verification of correct ballot, and batching
    ... iii. Provisional ballot poll book administration
    h. Duplication board
    i. Vote interpretation and counting
    ... i. Precinct ballot
    ... ii. Early ballot
    ... iii. Absentee ballot
    ... iv. Provisional ballot
    ... v. Emergency ballot
    ... vi. Duplicated ballot
    j. Consolidated reporting

    Getting out your vote is not enough. You must also work to staff the independent oversight positions with skilled people. Watchers can make sure that every voter you bring to the polls will have their vote accurately counted and that no ineligible votes will override one of your good votes.

    Remember, to overcome an overridden vote requires that you get out TWO votes – your original vote (that was overridden) and the replacement vote you need to win the race.

    Al Kolwicz
    Citizens for Accurate Mail Ballot Election Results
    2867 Tincup Circle
    Boulder, CO 80305