Petition calling for public discussion of Humboldt County's plan to purchase $600,000 of Hart InterCivic eScan election equipment. WHEREAS, at the November 18th monthly public meeting of the Humboldt Election Advisory Committee, County Clerk, Recorder and Registrar of Voters Carolyn Crnich announced the Elections Office's plan to stop using the county's Diebold/Premier AccuVote/GEMS elections equipment and replace it with similar Hart InterCivic eScan equipment. And WHEREAS, County Clerk, Recorder and Registrar of Voters Crnich then asked those attending the public meeting to keep this plan secret until at least mid-December, thereby minimizing the opportunity for public discussion of the plan prior to receiving approval for the plan from the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors.The full petition text appears here and at the bottom of this post. Crnich has now tried twice without success to get the matter on the Supes agenda. As I noted on 12/17, her first attempt was for the December 16 Supes meeting, which would have done the deed even before fully revealing the secret at that night's EAC meeting - at which Crnich also said she had hoped to take delivery of nearly 80 new machines the next day in order to get a $28,000 discount offered by Hart if the deal could be completed by year's end. The Humboldt Board of Supervisors met again today without taking this on, leaving us planning for a January 13 agenda item, but taking action now with outreach to media as well as the Supes and various local City Councils, whose members we hope will encourage the Supes to have a public process. Eureka Councilman Larry Glass encouraged such an approach when I spoke with him this past Saturday evening in his Old Town music store. (Also worth noting: Glass recently made news for heroically rescuing a would-be suicide jumper into Humboldt Bay). My 12/17 exclusive landed as the top story on that day's Daily Voting News, compiled by John Gideon of VotersUnite.org. Two days later, BradBlog quoted me heavily and advanced Gideon's observation that Hart InterCivic had withdrawn from the federal certification process. Bostrom's petition puts a fine point on this:
And WHEREAS, the version of the Hart InterCivic eScan equipment the Elections Office is planning to purchase is also an old version of the eScan system, as Hart InterCivic has been unable to receive certification from the California Secretary of State for the most recent and up-to-date version of the eScan system. And WHEREAS, Hart InterCivic has withdrawn from the certification process and is not currently seeking certification for use in California of the most recent and up-to-date version of the eScan system; and consequently, so long as Hart InterCivic remains disengaged from the certification process, it will not be legally possible to apply any software upgrades that may be necessary to prevent future invisible failures of the old version of the eScan systemThe Times-Standard has followed up twice since I broke the story of the proposed switch. In a quote of note in the December 22 article (archive), Crnich says, "This plan that is proposed pre-dates any of the problems that were found to exist in this election." The same article also reports Congressman Mike Thompson sent a letter to "federal elections officials," about his concern over the invisible failure. I wonder if he knew then or even knows now that some votes for him were among those deleted (as Bostrom notes in the petition). I am awaiting a call back from Thompson's office in Eureka. The T-S followed up again on December 29 (archive) reporting Thompson's letter got the attention of Election Assistance Commission Chairwoman Rosemary Rodriguez, who claims her horribly ineffectual board "doesn't have the authority or capacity to launch independent investigations." She does pledge, and seem to want a gold star for, her intention to "disseminate the contents of the Humboldt County report to elections officials from coast to coast [to] prevent similar problems from occurring elsewhere." What a good idea. If only it weren't the repeatedly unfulfilled yet HAVA-mandated purpose for her existence. Also check out the first half of hour three of the December 19 Peter B. Collins show when I called in to discuss all this with PBC, Brad Friedman, and Harvey Wasserman. Happenings in the Humboldt Elections Department have been making national news for a while now. Generally speaking, Crnich has earned lots of fans for her willingness to work with the great team of citizen volunteers that have made the ETP happen. In addition to Bostrom, credit, praise and thanks also rightfully go to Kevin Collins, Mitch Trachtenberg, and Tom Pinto. With such involved interactions and access to Crnich, these guys have gained her trust and confidence, resulting in candid sharing of information. However, Crnich's request for secrecy, and the volunteers' granting of this request, is not the kind of transparency we deserve from our local government, particularly in the context of a so-called Election Transparency Project. Asked to comment on Bostrom's petition, Crnich told me she is "ready to move forward," and the idea of slowing down for a public due diligence process would be a "serious impediment to progress" because it puts needed training on hold. While Crnich calls the lateral move from Diebold to Hart "progress," I see it as a false alternative. I have been unable to reach Collins and Trachtenberg for comment on the petition and secrecy issue, however, Pinto provided the following in an e-mail early this morning:
In my opinion, citizens are being offered a disappointing menu of choices with regards to election systems. I really hope the CA Sec. of State will offer us the option of using an election system that incorporates open source technology. However, that option is not being offered at this time. I think that CC [Carolyn Crnich] has made an acceptable decision to purchase Hart eScan based upon what is being offered by the State and based upon the age and problems of our existing software. I think CC has researched it sufficiently and she expects it to save [Elections Manager] Kelly [Sanders] a HUGE amount of time. I'm glad the Humboldt County Election Transparency Project is in place to the catch poll worker errors and software bugs (regardless of which proprietary system we're using). I hope that more citizen volunteers will participate in the next audit. I think CC has done a first rate job of reaching out to citizens to participate. She has given interested persons, such as the ones who attend the EAC meetings, sufficient opportunity to voice any concerns about the eScan. She has also invited the public to inspect these machines. I respectfully question whether there is sufficient need for creating a formal time period for additional public participation. I also doubt that the conclusion of such a comment period would result in any difference the current plan. However, I do not object to the creation of formal public comment period.I concede that I missed several consecutive EAC meetings at which Hart equipment was apparently discussed and even demonstrated (Crnich even chided me for this when I arrived at the December meeting). However, I do not think that these small and largely undocumented meetings, of a committee with no formal mandate from the county, constitute a sufficient public process. Pinto notes that "interested persons" have been given an opportunity to weigh in, but not enough has been done to make the community at large aware of the proposed switch to Hart, let alone interested. Bostrom's petition at least seeks to bridge this gap, also noting that the contract for the proposed switch to Hart has not even been made public yet. That aspect alone deserves rigorous public scrutiny. I'll have more on this developing story in the days ahead.