The December 19 broadcast of Voice of the Voters, airing on Philadelphia’s Renaissance Radio Station, WNJC1360, and on the web WWW.WNJC1360DOTCOM was jam packed with both expert guests, and fast paced interrogations. Well, interrogation may be a strong word, but lets call them as we see them, host Mary Ann Gould was attempting to discover the truth. Which is no easy task when interviewing a professional career politician.
Mary Ann’s questions were directed to Ohio Secretary of State, Jennifer Brunner. Ms. Brunner has a deep professional history beginning as an elections attorney, she was a board of elections member in Franklin County, legal counsel in the office of the Secretary of State, a judge in the court of common pleas, and now Secretary of State. She is obviously on here way up the political ladder, thus it is important to consider this when interpreting her responses to pointed questions.
The questioning began with Mary Ann asking about the three most critical findings contained in the Evaluation and Validation of Election Related Equipment, EVEREST voting systems review. Don’t you just love acronyms?! Secretary Brunner revealed that (1) she was disappointed that the security software and servers was not as comprehensive as that found in the states communications systems or in the banking industry; (2) she was also disappointed that the previous administration had not adequately documented the systems; (3) and she noted that the performance is lacking and that the machines will physically wear out sooner than hoped. Secretary Brunner also added that the testing of internal operations and controls was a concern and again mentioned the absence of adequate documentation.
When asked if she found any of the findings to be genuinely shocking, Secretary Brunner was candid when she stated, “I had hoped to see some bright spots, it was extremely disappointing that none of the systems functioned well”. However, in her next breath she couched her response when asked if she agreed that software based electronic voting machines were fatally flawed when she said, “ I would agree that security was lacking….that’s troubling”. Evidently, seeing the obvious is more difficult when holding high elected office, because down here in the trenches the truth is as clear as a vote on a paper ballot.
It should be pointed out that Secretary Brunner is in her own right a positive adjunct to the voting integrity movement. She, along with her staff took a laundry list of election concerns to election officials and then used the feedback to help create the structure of EVEREST. The study is full of recommendations which Secretary Brunner was quick to point out are not cast in stone, “These are just recommendations…we want the people to be able to express their views and concerns”.
The conversation moved onto the topic of Ohio’s creation of Vote Centers, where precinct results are transported to the center for counting, which brought up very strong concerns about how results would be chaperoned while in transit. Secretary Brunner revealed that “memory cards transfer tabulated counts to the server…they can be lost in the process..they have been lost”. The chain of custody issue was answered by Secretary Brunner in a fashion that became repetitive in that she said that, “procedures would be in place to guarantee the security of the results”. Procedures was a frequent and disappointing response to questions requiring more precise answers, which is tantamount to saying, trust us!
The Vote Centers are to also serve as convenience stations for voters to use paper ballots, absentee ballots and maybe even electronic early voting, “We’re recommending a vote center that would accommodate voting needs 10-15 days prior to an election” said Secretary Brunner. Yeah, but what about those provisional ballots that seem to never make it into the final count? If we are going to show such concern for the front side of the election, why do we not show equal concern for the back side?
The idea of counting votes at the precinct prior to their transport to the Voter Center as a means of providing a check was actually received favorably by Secretary Brunner, “That may be a good idea”. No Secretary Brunner, it is an Excellent idea! It is a MUST! However, it was also encouraging to hear that she believes that “paper ballots facilitate reconciliation”. Yeah, now we are closer to being on the right track! But, don’t get your hopes to too soon folks, she also said that the “last thing she wanted to do is to rush into a solution that will create more problems”. I am probably being picky here, but if it creates problems it ain’t a solution. “It will take time to develop “procedures” for auditing” was a statement that came near the end of the interview. While thoughtful prudence often produces the fastest pace to a positive end goal, in the case of rapidly accommodating the 2008 election by utilizing paper ballots, prudence feels to be a blatant stalling “procedure“. Courageous proactive thinking is the need, and it is here that I again remind the reader that Secretary Brunner is a career politician.
Mary Ann drew upon her background in quality and systems improvement and managing change when she asked of Secretary Brunner, “would you be open to a 100% hand count until the system is back under control”? Secretary Brunner made the statement of the night when she said, “can’t tell at this point, but if the goal is to have an accurate vote count we would have to take a look at what’s involved and go from there”. Let me take a breath here….okay “if the goal is to have an accurate vote count”? Are you kidding me?! For her to then follow up with what is in essence a statement that says we will have to do a study and write a paper….well…that kind of thinking kind of leaves a feller speechless, almost.
Listening to the rest of the interview was difficult after the last revelation, however, she poured gasoline on the fire by endorsing voting by mail as “a way for voters to test a new system”…I can’t wait to see the “procedures” that will provide a chain of custody for THATsystem of voting! “The last thing that I ever want is that the voters have no confidence in the system”! Hmmm, maybe she did not get the memo that the interview was on Voice of the Voters!
The interview went on to talk about optical scans where Secretary Brunner said, “The limitations of some of the machines are frequently a function of the engineering”. Nah, ya think? I was beginning to feel sympathy for Ohio’s Secretary of State, but then she said that as a way to avoid cherry picking precincts in the auditing process that they were, “looking at more “sophisticated” ways to randomize audits”. How about drawing numbers from a hat. That won’t cost much, and can be done faster than an optical scanner can give contradictory results! Well, okay...almost as fast.
Secretary Brunner ended the interview by encouraging voters to utilize the state websites for both communicating with elected officials and to learn about the voting process. It was at the end that she admitted that while hearings may take place at the state legislative level, the “counties will not likely hold meetings”. I can almost hear Dana Carvey saying “Well, isn’t that special”.
Clearly, Ohioans have a long hard road ahead of them to attain voting integrity. Secretary Brunner has demonstrated a willingness to move as California’s Secretary of State Bowen has done with that states Top to Bottom study, but only time will reveal if Secretary Brunner will place the integrity of the vote above that of her own career aspirations. It takes courage to truly lead, however anyone can be a bureaucrat.
Following Secretary Brunner was computer security expert Dr. Daniel Lopresti. Mr. Lopresti’s academic credentials are formidable having attained a Ph.D in computer science from this nations single most impressive university, Princeton. He has served on the faculty of Lehigh University since 2003. It is because of his expertise in how computers interpret imagery that his testimony is vitally important when arguing against voting into cyber space.
Mary Ann Gould opened the conversation with , “How secure is central counting”? Professor Lopresti said that research has shown that computers have a hard time interpreting printed or hand written information, “computers make mistakes interpreting paper ballots”. Now I know that readers that have knowledge of optical character recognition may suggest that computers do a wonderful job or reading the printed word. I would agree that for the purpose of reading a book to a blind person using OCR and a synthetic voice that computers are doing grand work, and it is of little importance if it makes a mistake or two when reading a book for the purpose of entertainment. It is however another thing altogether when the computer is to read the sacred word of an American voter. In that area, there is no room for compromise.