Monday, September 18, 2006

My Local Elections Chair is a Party Honcho - Why Should I Care?

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting"Much ado about nothing. Must be a very slow weekend for blogging, hey Bernie?"

"... I am having a hard time convincing myself that I should care about it."

These are reactions to my Friday and Saturday posts about Northampton County Elections Commission Chair Walter R. Garvin. The Home Rule Charter bars political party officers from the election commission. Yet our elections commission chair is not just an elected Democratic committeeman, he's also a regional chair. And he hosts a partisan radio show under an assumed name. Why should we care? We should if we care about the integrity of our voting system. And this has been complicated by new and highly controversial touch screen electronic voting systems.

Northampton County purchased its little black boxes from Advanced Voting Systems while Lehigh County uses a Diebold innovation. Both systems have the same two problems. First, there's no paper trail. That's too expensive, we're told. Second, they can be hacked. Diebold reps call this internet hysteria. But a group of Lehigh University computer science and engineering professors are convinced there's “a wide variety of threats, many of which could be carried out by a single perpetrator or a small group needing only a modest understanding of computer security.” Pennsylvania's new voting machines already face a legal challenge as well as a House Bill to require paper trails.

In addition to worries about a paper trail and hacking, Jon Soden of the Lehigh/Northampton Progressive Alliance points to problems with our very first use. In the last election, a "glitch" turned Northampton County's ballot upside down, so that Democrats were voting in the Republican primary and vice versa. "If this was done in the 2004 election anyone voting for Kerry would have really been voting for Bush if the problem was not found and corrected."

Could you imagine how any election irregularity, no matter how innocent, will be interpreted if party honchos are allowed to sit on the election commission? And should the chair of an elections commission host a radio show promoting party propaganda from either side? When vote counters get political, public confidence in new requirements HAVA (Help America Vote Act) requirements is jeapordized.

Much ado about nothing? Ask the folks with hanging chads in Florida. Ask Ohio Democrats. I suppose the answer depends on whether you like your vote to count.


Dem Fly on the wall said...

Much ado about nothing?!!
Gee Bernie, where did you get that headline?!! LOLOLOL

Bernie O'Hare said...

Over the weekend, I heard that expression quite a bit!

PA progressive said...

I'll give you an example of why it's bad. In Berks we had a highly partisan Republican as elections commissioner. In 2004 he began screaming to the newspaper that hispanic voter reg organizations were involved in massive voter fraud. He accused them of filing 7,000 fraudulent applications.

This was headlines in the Reading Eagle. It began scaring people in the hispanic community who began to fear they'd be arrested if they went to vote on election day.

It was nothing more than part of a national Republican effort to itimidate hispanic voters. Only 25 registration forms were eventually forwarded to the DA and no one was investigated. The elctions commissioner was fired.

Bernie O'Hare said...

PAProgressive, Thanks again for your insight. That's another example of the opportunities for mischief presented by the politicization of that office.

Anonymous said...

Bernie, great stuff. As usual. You are the ABFS's first featured "Blog of the Week" this week because of this kind of thing. I love seeing local blogs like this showing up the mainstream media with their coverage.

Keep it up!

A Big Fat Slob (Posting anonymously because Google has screwed up Blogger Beta --DON'T CONVERT)

Bernie O'Hare said...

To ABFS, Wow! Thanks for the nice words. In fairness, though, I've got to point out the mainstream press is all over this. Both The Morning Call and Express Times picked up on Angle's memo to the county exec and ran detailed stories both Saturday and again this morning. It's always very encouraging to see what local reporters are able to find. I'm just a muckraker.

As far as Beta is concerned, I tried it last night! At 8:30 PM, my PC was completely screwed up. It took me until 3:30 AM to get it back to normal.

Bernie O'Hare said...

To Pa Progressive, I forwarded your remarks to the county executive, who will decide whether this is a problem.

FtHillDem said...

I see that you have taken a quote from a comment that I made without any indication of the context. I resent that.

A person looking at your article might conclude that whoever wrote the quoted material simply didn't care about issues of law and justice. As my Saturday comment indicated, it is because I see far more important violations of law and justice on a national scale, that we should be more concerned about those. And do something about them.

After reading your blog for the past few months, I am getting a better idea of your sense of fairness. And I am not liking what I see.

I see for example that you attack a citizen for expressing his views on a radio program, thereby preserving the near-monopoly of right-wing opinion in that medium. I say again, that as a citizen, the person you attack has every right to express his opinion, whether he is an election official or not. There is not anything illegal about it. There is nothing wrong about it.

Well, I guess having a quote taken out of context is par for the course in political discourse these days. But I had expected better of you.

LSTresidentPIA said...

Bernie, ever think about a career as a reporter? I think you can give Bill White a run or his money!

Bernie O'Hare said...


I have to apologize for offending you. I know you read this blog regularly and it would be pretty foolish for me to take you out of context and not expect to be called on it.

I don't think anyone reading that remark would reach the conclusion you suggest. I think they would conclude you felt this particular situation is not that big a deal, for whatever reason. I don't feel that I took you out of context, and would not have posted the comment if I thought it was unfair to you.

But you and I must have different perspectives on fairness. I don't have a problem with any citizen expressing an opinion. I'd like to see more opinions. But I do have a problem with an elections commission chair hosting a partisan radio program. If he wants to be elections chair and wants to be fair, then he should not be hosting a partisan radio show. If he wants to be a right wing or left wing radio host, then he shouldn't be on the elections commission.

If the situation were different and it was right-winger Angle or Bobby Gunther Walsh being placed on the elections commission, you would be jumping up and down for their removal. What I'm saying is that it's wrong to politicize the elections process. And the reason for that boils down to fairness.

Paprogressive had a comment about this situation and gave us the example in Berks of an elections commissioner who was ranting about Hispanics, politicizing the electoral process. He may have intimidated a large number from registering or voting.

I view an elections commissioner as quasi-judicial. He's ther to make sure all of our votes count. Wally G has created the perception that he is primarily interested in making sure that D votes count. And that's not fair.

You're a bright guy but I know from some back channel emails we have exchanged that you are a bit sensitive. Perhaps I should have asked you for permission to use your comments. Perhaps you were startled to see your own words. There was no desire to stress you out or brush you off as a person who does not care. I just didn't see that this could offend you.

But as far as your opinions concerning fairness are concerned, we're on differnt planets. You think it's perfectly fair for the chairman of an elections commission to host a partisan radio show in which he took some nasty shots at one political party. And you think it's unfair for me to dare to suggest that this is inappropriate. Apparently, he is entitled to his opinion, you're entitled to your opinion, but I'm not entitled to mine. OK. I think I'll go to the dictionary now to look up the word fairness.

Bernie O'Hare said...

To LSTresidentPIA: I am an opinionated miserable old bastard and would be a terrible reporter. Writing this blog has given me a newfound respect for the mainstream press.