News Update

Profiles of Two Exemplary Registrars that Support and Have Supported Election Integrity

Lori Grace and Bob Fitrakis, two members of the Institute (TrustVote.org) interviewed two exemplary registrars this June to find out how supporting election transparency and voter trust has worked for them and for the system they are hired to manage. Both indicated that supporting election integrity and voter trust was both fulfilling for them as registrars and was easily able to be supported financially. What they have done in their two counties, Columbus County New York for Virginia Martin and Humboldt County for Carolyn Crnich should be seen as an important example for counties throughout the United States. It is worth noting that both of these registrars are elected rather than appointed. Surveying registrars throughout the United States,

It seems that registrars who are elected are much more responsive to voters. I am hoping that there will be a general movement throughout the United States to have election officials and registrars elected rather than appointed. Virginia is elected by the Democratic party in her area. She is not elected by voters as Carolyn is, but at least she is not accountable to one supervisor as many of these election officials are. I would like to see more election officials accountable and responsive to voters. I would like to see more voters have a more transparent voting system that they can trust. Having that non-hackable system would definitely breed less dissension in our country and more unity. People would actually trust that the politicians that get elected were truly elected by the voters rather than hackers both within or outside of the United States.

Bob writes about Virginia Martin: Virginia Martin, a Columbia County, New York Election Commissioner, wanted to restore voters’ faith in the voting process. So in the 2010 election, Martin did the unthinkable – she had every single vote in her county cast on paper ballots and “hand-counted each and every one.” The reason for her rare and laudable action: “The problem is that electronic voting machines can give incorrect results without warning,” she later wrote in an op-ed article. Martin conceded that it “cost a few thousand dollars more,” but “confidence in the electoral system is fundamental to our sense that it’s a democracy.” Professor Mark Crispin Miller, an expert on election integrity, deemed Martin “a hero of American democracy.”

This spring at the Left Forum in New York City, both Martin and Miller appeared on an election integrity panel. Martin’s presentation focused in detail on her groundbreaking methodology. Martin stresses that Columbia County’s system for hand-counting ballots is dependent on “community participation.”
In order to secure confidence in the system, she has been able to establish “bi-partisan custody” of the ballots. She insists that the “chain of custody” remain transparent throughout the counting process until certification. This transparency includes every part of the voting process from who has access to the voting machines to who takes possession of the voting machine cards, which should be thought of as ballot boxes.
For counties and election officials who find the 100% hand-count too daunting, Martin suggests that they just count certain races 100%. She emphasizes that those races need to be selected randomly, and by that she uses the social science definition: that all races would have an equal chance of being chosen.

Martin suggests that for a bi-partisan, fully transparent hand-counting system to work, the parties must agree ahead of time how to resolve conflicts and counting disputes before votes are certified. And the public must have full access to the hand-counting process, including the ability to observe and examine the forms and tally sheets used in the actual count.

Martin has developed an extensive bi-partisan system to ensure that both major parties will have their eyes on the paper ballots throughout the voting, transporting, and tabulating process. There are four hand counters, two from each major party tally the total first, and then the votes are re-counted by two more election officials from each party.

Martin, of course, cannot understand how any state could count ballots on Direct Recording Electronic machines (DREs) and points to the 2016 election controversy in Pennsylvania when over 85% of ballots were cast on machines with no paper trail. Martin believes that her bi-partisan model of using paper ballots and hand-counting them should be adopted everywhere in the United States. “It just takes a commitment to bi-partisanship and a commitment to democracy,” she stated.

Bob writes about Carolyn Crnich: 

Former Humboldt County Clerk-Recorder Carolyn Crnich caught the attention of Wired magazine in 2008 when she became the first election official to institutionalize “…open source tabulation in election results.”
As Wired explained, Crnich adopted a process where every ballot was “scanned a second time” by a non-proprietary voting machine using open source software. Perhaps more impressive, Wired noted, was the fact that Crnich then had “ballot images posted on the internet for the public to examine and conduct independent recounts.”

Wired went on to explain that “Every ballot image is imprinted with a unique secret number as it’s scanned.”
Crnich, who announced her retirement in 2014, credits Kevin Collins, a Humboldt County fisherman, for bringing the idea to her attention. Collins, of the Humboldt County Election Transparency Project, worked with others such as computer software developer Mitch Trachtenberg. He told Wired magazine that “secret counting” methods did not promote democracy. Recently, former CIA director James Woolsey wrote an op-ed in the New York Times for open source software and no voting machines without a paper ballot be allowed.
Crnich said that adopting open source software made her life easier and much more pleasant. She found that her constituents appreciated her transparency and commitment to democracy. Crnich added that perhaps the highest honor bestowed on her was when two candidates in a hotly contested election agreed that there should be no election challenge because the election results were double-counted, including being run through the open source Trachtenberg system, and certified. “They had so much faith in the Humboldt County system and my practices as an election official that they trusted the result.”

The Trachtenberg system was financed by election integrity activist Lori Grace and is a project of the Institute for American Democracy and Election Integrity. The practices pioneered by Crnich and carried on by her successor Kelly Sanders are worthy of emulation. In Crnich’s opinion, voters should never rely solely on for-profit, proprietary, secret software.

For more about the history of the project and for soon-to-be-published updates please see TrustVote.org

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