Does Your Vote Matter-Redux?

        By Katy Miessner

        Posted 01/24/2008

Or, An-ar-chy in the counting-room!

 If you are concerned, please get involved!


ADQ might be a disco-queen but on occasion has been known to listen to some punk-rock (no slam dancing or mosh pits, though-yuk!). The Sex Pistols' "Anarchy in the UK" can be this election's motto; just substitute "UK" with "Counting Room." This includes the rooms where the voting machines were, and the rooms where the hand-counts took place. Each had its own version of anarchy.

Last night, January 23, the level of anarchy became even more apparent during a Q&A with the Solano County Registrar of Voters, Ira Rosenthal, and the Assistant Registrar, Lindsey McWilliams. The Solano County Central Committee hosted this Q&A at their monthly meeting.

The Q&A, intended to be general, started off with some general questions but as soon as the first question about the Vallejo Mayoral Election was lobbed, the discussion was all about that. Rosenthal and McWilliams appeared evasive, gave contradictory and/or unclear information and the result was that the entire process is more suspect than ever.


And-whoa-on top of what we already know, a trashed ballot; another vote "found" during a "secret" recount; etc, etc, we discover:

  • Mr. McWilliams stated that "marks" invalidate ballots, including identifying marks, correction marks and signatures (the only signature that is acceptable for an absentee ballot is the one on the mailing envelope).

I argued this point with McWilliams on Tuesday Dec 4th. I basically said the same thing: absentee ballots that have been marked up (and there were plenty, including several that I saw with signatures on them) should be disqualified. But on Dec 4th, McWilliams told me something entirely different; that ballots with marks & signatures are OK, as long as "voter intent" can be determined.

My recount group spotted several ballots that were signed. The group just sort of thought it was quaint or endearing that someone would sign their ballot.

  • Notices to Hiddenbrooke voters contained incorrect information because when they were printed "the flag was checked" and McWilliams "can't explain why." This "flag" apparently when "checked" makes a message print that tells voters that their precinct has been consolidated-and that they should vote by mail.

The Registrar then left it up to one of the Hiddenbrooke Neighborhood Associations to get the word out that there would be a polling place in Hiddenbrooke, because the Hiddenbrooke precinct was not sent the "vote by mail" ballots that normally go with the "flagged" message. McWilliams indicated that sending these would be too expensive. Instead, the association was asked to send an email (hope they weren't recognized as spam!) to residents. The result was that there was much confusion within the Hiddenbrooke community about voting, and because that precinct consisted of a majority of Cloutier supporters, the Registrar's error most likely inordinately impacted Cloutier's campaign.

The Hiddenbrooke polls closed early, and not directly related to this, but McWilliams did say that poll workers don't like working at Hiddenbrooke because the gates close at a certain time. The audience corrected McWilliams: Hiddenbrooke does not even have gates that close.

  • They were asked if observers touched the ballots and McWilliams responded with a resounding no, and that there are no exceptions. Uh-oh: I mentioned to him and the other attendees that a recount election board member passed me a ballot that I wanted to challenge. There wasn't anyone in the room (as there should have been) from the Registrar's Office to say that I shouldn't touch it, but I immediately put it down, thinking that it was very odd that I would even be handed a ballot.

  • They were asked about rules and training and if any materials were handed out. Rosenthal said that there were materials "available on the Secretary of State's web site." Apparently there was no direct training of the observers, at least not me, or the recount election board. This was especially illustrated by the fact that a recount board member handed me a ballot: A big "no-no."

  • Brent Turner from the San Francisco Election Integrity League in response to the many problems with the machines, including display of "cryptic messages" (the registrar's own words) and counting ballots that should not have been counted, described problems with Solano County's voting machines that result from not having "open-source code."

Open-source code describes a machine which has programming that is accessible to anyone in the Registrar's office. The current problem with our machines, manufactured by ES&S (who was recently sued by the State of California) is that their code is their "intellectual property" and what they make their profits from. So the code is closed, that is, only the vendor understands and has access to it. So, when something goes wrong, like cryptic messages or ballots erroneously counted twice, only the vendor can fix it or address it! As the Open Voting Consortium states, the entire voting system must be open to complete public scrutiny with no "trade secrets."

For Solano County specifically, the Registrar has asked ES&S for additional training regarding the "cryptic error message" which won't be scheduled until after the February primary! HELLO? We are going into the most critical primary in California's history: we will actually have quite an influence in both the Democratic and Republican races, and we will be using machines that spit out "cryptic messages." "We're so sorry Mr./Ms. [insert candidate name] that you lost but we can't tell you why because the message was cryptic..."

After the meeting, after hearing all the election blunders, especially with the machine count and the recount, Turner came up with the description "anarchy in the counting-room!"

  • Supervisor Kondylis suggested the idea of creating an Election Advisory Committee, as she did at Tuesday's Board of Supervisor's meeting. It was received like a lead balloon by Rosenthal and McWilliams. They obviously wanted nothing to do with such a committee and only discussed reasons why there should not be one.

  • The idea was then discussed about creating a citizen's group-one that would be created outside of the Board of Supes and/or the Registrar's Office. The Registrar was quite resistant and indicated that the viewing room could only accommodate 8-10 people and any group would have to be limited, and that they already have observers totaling about that amount: reps from various groups including the Democratic Central Committee.

Rosenthal and McWilliams are actually quite incorrect on this point. Turner from the San Francisco Election Integrity League said that the Registrar must accommodate any citizen that requests to observe the vote-counting. After the meeting, we all speculated that within that brand-spanking new County Center, they must have some space somewhere. Maybe in that fabulous and gigantic lobby?

  • Last (but not least!) Pam Keith, Gary Cloutier's campaign manager, invited Messrs. Rosenthal and McWilliams to make contributions to Cloutier's legal expenses...

If you are interested in contributing, or are interested in what happened and how you can help make sure it never happens again, please attend this important meeting hosted by Gary Cloutier:

Election Results Meeting hosted by Gary Cloutier

When: Sunday, January 27, 2008 at 4:00 pm

Where: 733 Tennessee Street, Rick Mariani's photography studio

With the confusion about the election and contest, Cloutier believes it is necessary hold a public meeting to discuss what he knows about the election results and explain the necessity for the contest. Cloutier has sent a letter to every household in Vallejo which voted in the last election, inviting them to attend.

The meeting will be a forum to discuss the election and contest. Supervisor Kondylis will be there as well as possibly a staff member from the Secretary of State's Office