Monday, April 25, 2005

On vacation this week

I'll be on vacation for the rest of the week and taking a week off from blogging, returning on May 2. Have a great week!

Friday, April 22, 2005

EAC member, former chairman, resigns

The Associated Press is reporting today that DeForest Soaries has resigned from the Election Assistance Commission. Soaries served as the EAC's first chairman and said that he is resigning in part because the federal government hasn't shown enough of a commitment to election reform.

Erica Werner's AP story includes some pointed remarks by Mr. Soaries. My favorite is the very last comment, where Mr Soaries said, "Someone's got to wake up every morning with the mission of improving federal elections in a way that assures the voting public that they can have confidence in voting."

More excerpts below:


The first chairman of a federal voting agency created after the 2000 election dispute is resigning, saying the government has not shown enough commitment to reform.

DeForest Soaries said in an interview Friday that his resignation would take effect next week.

Though Soaries, 53, said he wanted to spend more time with his family in New Jersey, he added that his decision was prompted in part by what he called a lack of support.

``All four of us had to work without staff, without offices, without resources. I don't think our sense of personal obligation has been matched by a corresponding sense of commitment to real reform from the federal government,'' he said.

Soaries is a Republican former secretary of state of New Jersey who was the White House's pick to join the Election Assistance Commission, created by the Help America Vote Act of 2002 to help states enact voting reforms.

A Baptist minister, Soaries was confirmed by the Senate in December 2003 and elected the independent agency's first chairman by his three fellow commissioners. His term as chairman ended in January 2005 and since then he's stayed on as a commission member.

Soaries and the other commissioners complained from the beginning that the group was underfunded and neglected by the lawmakers who created it.

``It's bad enough to be working under extremely adverse circumstances, but what throws your thinking into an abyss, as it were, is why you would be doing that when, for instance, you have to beg Congress for money as if the commission was your idea,'' Soaries said.

Envisioned as a clearinghouse for election information that would make recommendations about technology and other issues and distribute $2.3 billion to states for voting improvements, the commission initially couldn't afford its own office space. The commissioners were appointed nine months later than envisioned by the Help America Vote Act, and of a $10 million budget authorized for 2004, the panel received $1.2 million.

Soaries said the commission could claim some credit for this past November's relatively smooth election, including recommending ``best practices'' to voting administrators and getting the election reform money to states faster than it otherwise would have gone. The commission has sent about $1.8 billion to states so far.

But yet the commission has failed to preside over the kinds of sweeping reforms some hoped for, with many counties still relying this past November on the same punch-card and lever machines derided after 2000. Soaries said the commission is making progress with improvements, including technical guidelines and centralized voter registration lists, that are supposed to be in place for the 2006 election.

``There is so much more work to do to bring federal elections to the standard I think that the citizens expect, and there doesn't seem to be a corresponding sense of urgency among the policy-makers in Washington,'' Soaries said. ``Nor does there seem to be a national consensus among leaders of the states about what success looks like.''


The commission also has run into opposition from state officials accustomed to running their own elections and wary of federal involvement. Earlier this year, the National Association of Secretaries of State approved a resolution asking Congress to dissolve the Election Assistance Commission after 2006.

But Soaries said that despite his frustration and Congress' lack of engagement, he saw a lasting role for the Election Assistance Commission.

``Someone's got to wake up every morning with the mission of improving federal elections in a way that assures the voting public that they can have confidence in voting,'' he said.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Voting Systems panel to meet tomorrow

Tomorrow the state's Voting Systems and Procedures panel will meet in Sacramento at the Secretary of State's office, 1500 11th Street. This is the first meeting of the VSPP since Bruce McPherson became Secretary of State, and the composition of the panel has changed. The new chair is Undersecretary of State Bill Wood, and we will likely find out tomorrow which panel members are going to be retained and who will be added.

The agenda for tomorrow's meeting includes several Sequoia and Diebold voting system components up for certification, including Diebold's new "Accuview" voter verified paper audit trail feature. I saw this feature demonstrated recently at the Secretary of State's office, and it operates similar to Sequoia's printer, storing the voter verified paper records in a reel-to-reel fashion. When I asked the representative for the vendor how Diebold envisions election officials using the stored paper to perform the manual count required to verify the accuracy of the voting software, he replied that their customers might instead print out electronic ballot images and use those to perform the manual count.

Since this process does nothing to help verify the accuracy of the voting equipment software, it will be important to ensure that the procedures the VSPP adopts to accompany the new paper trail equipment stipulate that the voter verified paper records be used to perform the manual count. Already there is legislation moving in the Capitol to clarify this in the law (see AB 1636/Umberg and SB 370/Bowen).

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Sacramento Bee story on changes in the Secretary of State's office

Today's Sacramento Bee features a story about Alameda County Registrar Brad Clark's appointment in the Secretary of State's office, which is described as "a move intended to improve relations with county officials who soured on former Secretary of State Kevin Shelley."

More excerpts below:


Clark, 52, will become the assistant secretary of state for elections later this month, a position created to allow Clark to serve as a political appointee. In hiring Clark, McPherson displaced longtime state elections chief John Mott-Smith, who oversaw California's elections for 12 years under four different secretaries of state.

Mott-Smith has worked at the secretary of state's office for 21 years. He said Wednesday he is weighing his options, declining further comment.


"I think I'll be able to facilitate communication with the counties," Clark said. "Sometimes, the state is going to have to do something the counties don't agree with, but I think I'll be able to communicate why we have to do it in a less threatening way."

Some registrars also disagreed with Shelley over his insistence that electronic voting machines have a paper trail. State legislators last year passed a law requiring that safeguard despite objections from county officials. McPherson, then a Republican state senator, was a co-author of the paper trail bill.

While Clark opposed a paper trail requirement as Alameda County registrar, he said he will enforce the new law as a state official.

"I really think the debate over this has been in the Legislature. The Legislature has made this the law, and we'll obey the law," Clark said.

Clark served in the secretary of state's office from 1982 to 1987 as an elections analyst, during which time he worked with Mott-Smith. Clark insisted that registrars last year never had a problem with Mott-Smith, but rather had a "big problem" with Shelley.

Yolo County Clerk-Recorder Freddie Oakley called Mott-Smith's removal a mistake.

"He gave 20 years of loyal service to a number of secretaries of state," Oakley said. "He was the definition of a nonpartisan, intelligent, diplomatic peacemaker. ... He literally held the local elections community together under Kevin Shelley, and I'm stunned that his reward is to be felled in this fashion."

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

News release announcing Brad Clark's appointment

Here is the news release announcing Brad Clark's appointment today. He has been appointed to the position of Assistant Secretary of State for Elections, to oversee the office's elections operations. Mr. Clark is in charge of putting together an elections management team, including hiring a new division chief to replace John Mott-Smith.

Changes at the Secretary of State's office

On Monday, Bill Wood was named undersecretary of state as well as chair of the Voting Systems and Procedures panel, which is in charge of reviewing and certifying California voting equipment. There is also news that John Mott-Smith, longtime head of the Secretary of State's election division, is leaving his position and Brad Clark, registrar of voters for Alameda County will replace him.

Excerpts from today's Oakland Tribune story:


Clark, a former state elections analyst and 12-year registrar viewed as a dean among local elections officials, served on McPherson's transition team.


Clark persuaded Alameda County to pay $12 million and become the first major urban jurisdiction on the West Coast to buy touch-screen voting machines from Diebold Election Systems Inc.

At least three elections in 2003 and 2004 were marred by technical difficulties including incorrect vote tallies and breakdowns in voting machinery.

Clark chastised Diebold representatives for those failings, and he privately criticized Diebold CEO Wally O'Dell for writing a fund-raising letter to Ohio Republicans that promised to "deliver Ohio's electoral votes" to the Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign.

But critics of electronic voting nonetheless have questioned Clark's independence from Diebold and his continued faith in paperless electronic voting.

Clark often has said new mandates, now written into state law, for e-voting machines to produce a paper record that voters can double-check for accuracy are a bad idea.

McPherson, on the other hand, repeatedly has voiced support for the so-called voter-verified paper trail.

"I hope that once Mr. Clark is chief of the elections division he will work to implement the voter verified paper record requirement as mandated by California law and convince other registrars to stop resisting this much needed reform," said e-voting critic Kim Alexander, president of the Davis-based California Voter Foundation.

Friday, April 8, 2005

New CVF report on California voter participation barriers and incentives

I haven't had much of an opportunity to blog in recent weeks, as we've been busy finishing up a new report we just released about the survey CVF conducted last summer examining the barriers and incentives for voter participation in California. The 170-page report is available in print and online, both in HTML and in PDF formats. Please see CVF's news release for report highlights.