Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Norco Elections Committee Wants Answers From AVS

The coming storm, our first serious winter weather, posed no obstacle to Northampton County's citizens' election committee yesterday. Russ Shade, Jack Bradt and Greta Browne conducted their fourth meeting in as many weeks. This determined group appears to be coming to a consensus that our electronic touchscreen voting system is inferior. But embattled voter registrar Deborah DePaul has at least one defender - committee member Jack Bradt. During yesterday's meeting, Bradt told DePaul, "Your office should be commended, not condemned, for the work you did."

Problems with Advanced Voting Solutions

Did you know Northampton County is one of only three counties in Pennsylvania that use touchscreen machines supplied by Advanced Voting Solutions? Or that Pennsylvania is one of only three states that have contracts with AVS? Or that AVS' WINVote system was never certified by the National Association of State Elections Directors (NASED)?

These are just a few of the things Dr. Alan Brau told the committee yesterday. Dr. Brau, a local physician, insists these touchscreen machines are unreliable and advocates a voter-verified paper trail. Nearly a year ago, he was spurned by the Department of State when he asked for re-examination of the WINVote system. He is part of a nonpartisan group that has challenged the state's certification in Commonwealth Court.

When asked about his motivation, Dr. Brau simply responded. "I'm a citizen. I'm a voter."

In addition to general concerns about the lack of a paper trail, Dr. Brau is concerned about the specific WINVote system. He reiterated BlackBox voting's allegation that AVS pulled a bait and switch. After getting its hardware certified, AVS is accused of shipping a cheaper internal hardware system, manufactured in China.

Amazingly, AVS has yet to answer these very serious charges. If these accusations are baseless, AVS should say so, and publicly. But it has sent no representative to answer these charges.

Committee co-chair Russ Shade believes these allegations "need to be explored. We need confidence that these machines are properly certified." Committee member Jack Bradt agreed, and went one step farther. He believes the entire system is inadequate, most significantly because there is no paper trail. An optical scanning system, which combines modern technology with a paper trail, might be our future. "If we have to go to another system because the state misled us, someone's going to have to pay for that."

Bradt Defends Embattled Elections Office


Director of Administration John Conklin explained the steps he's taking to make sure our next election goes off better than the previous two. His goal is to ensure that unofficial results are available by midnight. He plans to have a manual backup ready.

At this point, Jack Bradt came to the voting registrar's defense. He's run a successful business that underwent automation. And last night, he blamed that automation for elections office problems. "I do not see a need for changes in the office. They've done a very good job."

I respect Bradt. Perhaps he's right. But I don't believe the automation has a damn thing to do with the problems in that office. It's a mess. And its leadership is inadequate.

For example, look at an email that Dr. Brau sent to Elections Chair Walt Garvin on December 3.

"I have tried to go through official channels, but Deb DePaul has been an effective stone wall in her role as registrar. ... I could not notify Deb DePaul since she blocks emails from me."

Does this sound like a responsive registrar to you? I forwarded this email to DePaul for a response. Nada. (Oops. I'm speaking Spanish.)

Or how about this? Ross Nunamaker at NewsOverCoffee puts together a nonpartisan "resident to candidate" forum, asks the registrar to drop by, and gets this.

"You did not state a date and I have numerous business and personal commitment but if somehow I am available I would try to attend. Within my office I have a fairly new staff and do not have any one else here within the office that would be beneficial."

Ross provided the date but heard nothing. Nada. (Oops, there I go again). And when Ross stopped in to pick up materials, here's what he noticed.

"It was clear to me that the office is on pins and needles when the request for a petition to a non-candidate requires the head of the office to be excused from a meeting with a representative of the company with the voting machines in light of those issues."

And so the battle rages.
Update:The Morning Call has a more objective account of yesterday's meeting.

16 comments:

Billy Givens said...

Like "polar bears," the two-legged kind, diving headlong into icy lakes and seas, careful only not to collide with floating chunks of ice, capable of inflicting permanent paralysis and not just the temporary freezing-up of the body inflicted by the chill - I'll take the plunge with the first comment by linking Advanced Voting Systems and Northampton County computer-services provider Affiliated Computer Services of Houston, Texas.

You know ACS, Bernie. That's the company that fired their employees Jeff Britland and Karen Brandau for reporting to County Controller John Schimmel, County Finance Director Jean Mateff, and District Attorney John M. Morganelli hacking of the county's computer system, a federal offense that these and other officials covered up.

Britland and Brandau brought lawsuits. Brandau's eventually was dismissed and Britland's settled.

I'll throw into this mix one other electronic black box, called in the world a hacking a "Red Box," involving Ed "Bernie S" Cummings, tried in the mid-1990's in the Northampton Court of Common Pleas with Judge Jack Panella presiding, following "Bernie S's" arrest away down in Haverford Township near Philly for the mere possession of such a device and without probable cause.

A U.S. Secret Service agent, like those who recently visited Bethlehem letter-writer Dan Tilli, testified against "Bernie S," a frequent contributor to WBAI-FM Radio New York, in a trial conducted in the setting of a circus, complete with sensationalized reporting by the local news media.

The media, and Judge Panella, characterized "Bernie S" as a "wise-guy."

Billy Givens said...

Bernie,

Following my ice-breaking first comment, I went to The Morning Call on-line and was shocked to read reporter Tracey Jordan's article re the City of Easton's consideration of a $4.6 million swaption.

As you may know, I spoke against swaptions at Northampton County Council meetings. In fact, I succeeded a half-dozen times in persuading county council not to refinance $67 million of the county's 2001 $1111 million megabond for Government Center expansion, including prison "improvements," and "economic development."

Finally, however, in desperation, council was forced to refund in order to "balance" the county's 2005 budget and pressure from Fiscal Affairs Director Jean Mateff and her chief accountant, Doran Hamann.

Swaptions, also known as "derivatives," bankrupted Orange County, California, and financier Warren Buffet has likened them to fiscal WMDs.

Billy Givens said...

Bernie,

You have a higher regard for Jack Bradt than I do. In the campaign for Northampton County executive in the general election of 1989, two years after I moved to Easton from Warren County, the nominees, Democrat Jerry Seyfried and Republican Jack Bradt held a debate in the Lutheran Church on March Street in Easton's College Hill neighborhood.

I was surprised that the audience could not address questions to the candidates vocally, but in writing, on pieces of paper passed to a moderator.

My question was why Lafayette College, like many responsible colleges and universities, did not pay an in-lieu-of property tax, or PILOT, to its host, Easton, and two other taxing jurisdictions, the Easton Area School District and Northampton County.

After pondering my question for several long moments, Bradt, and Seyfried, both announced that they would entertain no questions regarding Lafayette College.

My question that evening placed me squarely on the s... list of Lafayette College and many of my Lafayettephile neighbors in the blue-blooded, Brahmin-inhabited, silk-stocking neighborhood of College Hill.

And that's where I still find myself to this day, not only in the College Hill neighborhood, but also in the other four neighborhoods of a socially, economically, and politically Balkanized city.

LVDem said...

I wonder if Conkin is perhaps a bit hasty on trying to get the unofficial results out by midnight. Why do results need to get out so quickly? I'd rather have the most accurate unofficial results possible than something like we saw this year. I don't care if it's 2 AM before I see the first numbers. Get it right, not fast.

You know who wants the numbers fast: reporters, bloggers, candidates, party insiders/candidate insiders. The general public can probably wait 2 or 3 days.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Well, LVDEm, In years pat, the results were out far sooner. Technology is supposed to make us better, not worse. And I heard plenty of nonpoliticians make statements about that. If elections run anything like the previous two, I think DePaul os toast.

Billy Givens said...

The City of Easton, commonly characterized as consisting of four neighborhoods, does in fact comprise five: South Side, College Hill, Downtown, West Ward, and the rump of this mythical, mutated beast of a municipality, Dutchtown-Gallows Hill - the African-American and Hispanic neighborhood destroyed by destroyed by President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society urbanization of the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Northampton County expansion incursions and archtectural intrusions, and the Weed 'n' Seed pogrom of Easton Economic Development Corporation Executive Director, my former Parker Avenue neighbor Christine Cleaver.

LVDem said...

I understand that speed has been the norm, but am I the only one who is cool with a slower process if it's more accurate?

Bernie O'Hare said...

Billy, I donm't know how someone can look at your first comment and not appreciate the artistic way in which you use words.

Bernie O'Hare said...

LVDem,The delay in tabulating unofficial results has certainly been a giant step backwards for NC, just another way in which we show we're special. And the disparity between unofficial and official is downright shocking. As Greendog noted in his well-detailed posts, there was practically no disparity in other counties, but Northampton had some very disturbing differences. Unofficial showed that Dertinger won the congressional seat by 127. Official showed he lost by over 3,000. So we had as big delay and still didn't get it right.

Technology is supposed to be our friend, not out enemy. I see no reason why we shouldn't expect to be just asd proficient as, say, Lehigh County.

Those long delays in tabulation undermine confidence in the electoral porcess.

Billy Given said...

What we are witnessing in the "Lehigh Valley" is criminal conduct - and treason.

Billy Givens said...

Northampton County and its seat Easton are in the "back-to-the-future" junk-bond peddling of Michael Milken and Ivan Boesky who bequeathed us the S&L scandals of Neil Bush and the "Keating Five," and now the flim-flam swaptions of Michael Sedley, Elmer Hainel, Raymond James, Merrill Lynch, and Blank Rome.

Billy Givens said...

Bernie,

Blame my OT (off-topic) comments onthe prolificness of your blog; e.g., your Abe Lincoln post, with so many postings between it and the one on which I comment, is by now so stale I'm concerned that few, if any, of your fans - except for ones like me - would even remember or bother to re-read them.

Moreover, I'm hoping that this comment is still close enough to Abe's birthday as to make it not OT.

Anyhoo, what I want to say is that by emancipating the slaves under the 13th Amendment, Lincoln made them the whole persons of God's creation, thus restoring the one-third torn from them under our Constitution's Godless "Three-Fifths Compromise."

Tragically, Lincoln did not live to see ratification of the 14th Amendment giving former slaves the right to vote.

This is by way of explaining my animus, in part, toward Northampton County Executive John Stoffa.

What he did in purchasing touch-screen balloting machines sans auditable paper trails has the effect of impeding the progression of universal manhood (and womanhood) suffrage that began in our country with Lincoln's freeing of the slaves.

Anonymous said...

I went to the Elections Office today at 3:00 p.m. to pick up petitions. Guess what? THEY WERE CLOSED!! How can a government office be closed on a Wednesday afternoon? The County Government policy is that offices are open. The Courthouse is open. Their employees are working! What makes the Elections Office special? They are unresponsive. This is outragious!

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anon, I followed up on your complaint. Apparently, only 3 people showed up today bc of the bad weather. And DePaul did close the office, but I'm told it was at 3:30 PM and because of the weather. She did get permission.

Anonymous said...

Mr Givens:

The purchasing of the voting machines was mandated by the Federal Government. There were no machines with voter-verifiable paper trails certified by the state.

WTF was the county supposed to do - cancel the election?

You may write pretty pose, but your grasp of the issues stinks and I, for one, am tired of reading your inaccurate, confusing verbiage. You do the public a disservice by posting your poorly-researched drivel.

Anonymous said...

pose=prose

Sue me!