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Humboldt Registrar Explains Opposition to Hand-Counting Paper Ballots

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Originally blogged at We Do Not Consent

In my recent report on Peter B. Collins' live Eureka broadcast, I mentioned that Humboldt Registrar of Voters Carolyn Crnich had phoned in unexpectedly during the final few minutes of the show. I didn't go into any detail about her comments but they are worthy of note. First, to hear the full show, click here. To hear just the excerpt with the Registrar, click here. The entire third hour features Brad Friedman from, as well as Aryay Kalaki and me. You can drag your media player's slider 2/3 of the way if you want to queue that up.

Now, here are the Registrar's words that I think didn't sit right with people. Peter B. asked Carolyn to comment on the Voter Confidence Committee proposal for hand-counting paper ballots:
CC: "Frankly, having 800 people handle our live ballots is not an appealing idea to me."

PBC: "Because..."

CC: "Do you not think that opens a door to fraud, too? 800 people handing live paper ballots? I'm not saying its the wrong thing to do. I'm saying I think it is an excellent audit tool for the way we count ballots now or, or in the future on some other equipment perhaps but..."

PBC: "I would argue that in a group situation, the group would basically police itself. So you're not putting individuals in a room with ballots that they could tamper with, you're putting a group to count them"

CC: "Yes, and I don't know that group and you don't either, and, and, do you see my concern?"
The process of hand counting has checks and double checks built into it. Four people have to agree on everything and additional citizens may be observing. There is less trust required with hand-counting than with trade-secret proprietary software.

That's just for starters. Notice how she says "opens a door to fraud, too?" She is acknowledging the manifest weaknesses in the security of electronic vote tabulation and attempting to say hand-counting would be at least as bad. I'll have to go looking around, but I know there are studies comparing "attack vectors," points within a vote counting system that may be vulnerable to tampering (perhaps my best researcher friend Rady Ananda will post a link in the WDNC comments?). It would be embarrassing to think anyone believes hand-counting has more security holes than any existing electronic vote counting system.

Now think of how community members likely feel, being told by a public official in a small rural community where people actually know each other, that counters would somehow be untrustworthy strangers as opposed to respected neighbors. This is bordering on incitement. In fact, it did move VCC members Ruth Hoke and George Hurlburt to submit the following letter published in Wednesday's Eureka Reporter, online as of two hours ago.

County has the human power to hand-count ballots

Dear Editor,

Registrar of Voters Carolyn Crnich astonished the audience of Peter B. Collins' live radio broadcast from the Eureka Theater Friday evening by stating on the air that she would not trust 800 (registered voters) to count live ballots. This was during a conversation with Mr. Collins, well-known election integrity journalist Brad Friedman and Dave Berman of the local group Voter Confidence Committee. VCC members are gathering signatures to show there is enough human power to hand-count all ballots during Humboldt County elections.

Having met with Ms. Crnich on several occasions, our impression is that she is honorable and dedicated in her profession; therefore, we'd like to assume she made an off-the-cuff comment without forethought. But if the statement does reflect her real view, we must respond.

First, why would the ballots be more valuable or important than the voters who created them? Keep in mind that hand-counters must be registered voters. When we were hand-counters after the 2006 election, we both thought the security measures were reassuring and counters were competent and diligent.

Consider our judicial system, which uses ordinary citizens as jurors. They are expected to possess and exercise good judgment, not just an ability to count. The system has served us well for more than 200 years. Why is Ms. Crnich so resistant to counting by citizens? Does she think there aren't enough people in the county who can count or follow directions? Or does she hold the belief that more technology is always better?

We hope she will call Peter B. Collins' show on Dec. 14, as she promised, and address these issues in depth.

Ruth Hoke
George Hurlburt


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Dave Berman, C.Ht. has extensive training and experience in Hypnosis, Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) and Life Coaching. He is also a Certified Laughter Yoga Leader, Ivy League graduate (B.S. in Communication from Cornell University), and a (more...)

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