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Utter failure of election transparency in Monterey County

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Written by Black Box Voting board member Jim March 

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Full report, including public records requests, in PDF form:
(242 KB)


The June 3rd 2008 election in Monterey County was, in general, an utter failure of election transparency. It was impossible for any observer whether county staff or independent observer to confirm that the election's outcome was proper. There are inadequate controls against both malicious tampering and accidental glitches.

The collapse of transparency was deliberate and systematic, and violated state laws, the certification rules promoted by the California Secretary of State's office and democratic principles in general.

Should these local policies against transparent elections be allowed to stand, elections will remain at risk in this county. Worse, should this elections agency be allowed to get away with observation barriers to the degree documented herein, a precedent will be set allowing other elections offices across the state to misbehave in the same fashion.

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Thus, what happens here in Monterey as a result of this election will affect the security of the November general election and all subsequent elections.


Local citizens involved with SAVElections Monterey County (Valerie Lane and Brian Rothenberger) were subjected to harassment and verbal abuse during previous elections. On May 27th 2008 the abuse was ratcheted up – Mr. Rothenberger was first accused of moving a table that was blocking the observation window when in fact one of the staff had done so at Brian's request, and then Brian was falsely accused of pushing an elections official. Note that while they did make this claim and had the Salinas PD escort Mr. Rothenberger out of the building, they did not charge him with anything, likely because of the videotape recording in that location.

Note that Mr. Rothenberger is a very qualified computer tech local to Monterey who has been helping out the Green Party and SAVElections. He has been pointing out technical deficiencies in this elections agency and has consistently been branded a "troublemaker" by the county elections office. The pattern I saw is that any technically qualified person who looks at that agency will be vilified by them.

Ms. Lane contacted the Pima County Democratic Party asking for their advice on election observation. The Pima County Dems party chair (Vince Rabago) put them in touch with me, and Black Box Voting covered travel expenses to Monterey for the observation process.

We first visited the elections office late Friday May 30th and had a brief and cordial visit. We understood that they were in a busy period, we briefly looked over the elections office and introduced ourselves to Joe Ripley. We introduced me along with my background and the purpose of my visit to Monterey County.

On Saturday May 31st we presented letters from the Monterey Green Party declaring myself and Mr. Rothenberger credentialed election observers pursuant to Election Code 15004 to Linda Tulett (Registar of Voters, head elections official):

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15004. (a) Each qualified political party may employ, and may have present at the central counting place or places, not more than two representatives to check and review the preparation and operation of the tabulating devices, their programming and testing, and have the representatives in attendance at any or all phases of the election.
(b) Any bona fide association of citizens or a media organization may employ, and may have present at the central counting place or places, not more than two representatives to check and review the preparation and operation of the tabulating devices, their programming and testing, and have the representatives in attendance at any or all phases of the election.
(c) The county elections official may limit the total number of representatives employed pursuant to subdivision (b) in attendance to no more than 10 by a manner in which each interested bona fide association of citizens or media organization has an equal opportunity to participate. Any representatives employed and in
attendance pursuant to subdivision (a) shall not be subject to the limit specified in this subdivision.

We also reviewed the county's locally created "observation policy manual" which had no mention of 15004-type observation.


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Bev Harris is executive director of Black Box Voting, Inc. an advocacy group committed to restoring citizen oversight to elections.

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