Paper Trails, Town Meetings, and a hidden pun! (CA-50)

I really should have posted this earlier, but better late than never. Tonight saw the first half of a two-night series of town hall meetings discussing election violations in CA-50′s recent special election. Sure, this isn’t the Liberal San Diego, but we’re all Californians with something to lose when it comes to this stuff.

If you voted that night and are a veteran eSlate jockey like myself and thousands of other Orange County voters, you probably noticed a new feature on those fancy boxes. The poll worker might also have gone out of their way to point it out and explain it to you. You may have had a sense of accomplishment- a feeling that perhaps this was only the first step toward ultimate democratic justice and fairness. I can’t say I blame you for this, as a paper record of our votes is definitely a step in the right direction.

Allow me to recount my experience. On June 6, I voted on one of these machines in the early afternoon and spent hours down at the Registrar of Voters (past 2am, oh my!) watching the results being tabulated. Brett Rowley, a communications representative, gave me a tour of the warehouse, compilation cage & count room. (I’d call him “the” communications “director” if I could find him listed or trusted my memory.) An army of workers unloaded trucks, sorted absentee votes to the counters and the electronic precinct controllers to the unwrappers. A smaller crew handled that unwrapping (the initial collection of voting data cards from each machine), and an even smaller group handled the final steps of counting (steps which were “observable” through a window, though without an eagle eye good luck reading what’s happening on the flatscreen monitors six feet away). Eventually, someone would emerge and walk 10 feet with an update for the website.

Notice anything missing from that story? Exactly! No mention of those paper trails!

California Law states in Section 15360 of the Elections Code the following:

15360.  During the official canvass of every election in which a
voting system is used, the official conducting the election shall
conduct a public manual tally of the ballots tabulated by those
devices cast in 1 percent of the precincts chosen at random by the
elections official.  If 1 percent of the precincts should be less
than one whole precinct, the tally shall be conducted in one precinct
chosen at random by the elections official.
In addition to the 1 percent count, the elections official shall,
for each race not included in the initial group of precincts, count
one additional precinct.  The manual tally shall apply only to the
race not previously counted.
Additional precincts for the manual tally may be selected at the
discretion of the elections official.

Interesting. I didn’t see that happen on election night, but maybe I just missed it. It’s not in the official Statement of Votes, nor have I seen mention of it in the local press. This is slightly terrifying for me – what’s the point of a paper record if no one looks at it? Even if the 1% recount was done (which I will be calling to verify), why isn’t it a 100% count? Election after election, we’re pushing the dangerous precedent of fast results further and further.

I can’t be the only one who prefers accuracy over speed, can I? California law doesn’t go far enough – too much is left in the hands of those running elections at various levels. It’s not specific enough as to who is in charge of what exactly. Who does the recounts? The state? The counties? Anyone who happens to know should feel free to enlighten me with that info as well as your source for it.

  1 comment for “Paper Trails, Town Meetings, and a hidden pun! (CA-50)

  1. Willard Joder
    May 17, 2007 at 9:29 am

    As you guessed, the manual tally is a check against the machine count. The tally is not just election night but extends anywhere from two to four weeks after the actual election. All of the vote, including hand delivered mail ballots and provisionals, are counted and then the manual tally of select precincts.

    Why not manually recount the entire election? What would be the purpose of using machines to count the vote if we turned around and did a hand count? The manual tally is a team of four persons counting one precinct at a time. One person reads the vote record, a second records the vote on a special tally form and two others observe the process. The tally board is comprised of voters, private citizens, as in “we the people.” It is a very labor intensive process and so very slow.

    Once the tally and manual counts are completed the official numbers are submitted to the appropriate jurisdiction and become the official vote count, SOV. This process has been in place for at least two decades. Because you just found out about it does not mean there is some sort of conspiracy.

    You went to a great deal of trouble to “uncover” a piece of the election code. It is too bad you didn’t do just a modicum of research on the Internet to get all the facts. Better yet, have you ever worked in a polling place or volunteer to work at your local city clerk or county registrar’s office during an election? It would be better to volunteer and actually be part of the process than whine about what you were too intellectually lazy to fully research.

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