October 31, 2012
“I’m not going to touch that machine,” the aging farmer told the poll worker. “I want to make sure my vote is properly counted.”
The poll worker gently tried to persuade the farmer. But to no avail. He took his paper ballot and pencil into the voting booth and voted like he had for six decades.
Many people across the state echoed this farmer’s concerns at a recent public hearing I chaired of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Elections and the UW System.
My goal for the hearing was to explore concerns about elections from both sides of the aisle. By any measure the hearing was very successful. Almost 80 people testified, registered or sent written testimony. People from Marquette County to Lake Geneva; from Eau Claire to Kenosha sent thoughtful letters or gave passionate testimony.
I was amazed at the diversity of those who submitted written testimony. People were of all political persuasions and walks of life. Some identified themselves as poll workers, attorneys, Evangelical Christians or political scientists. Most were concerned citizens who wanted paper ballots counted at their polling place in every election.
During the hearing, the Governmental Accountability Board (GAB) testified on the progress made in educating the public and clerks about proper processes leading up to, on Election Day, and following an election. Many changes in Wisconsin and an unprecedented number of elections made difficult work for the GAB and local clerks. Both state and local governments operate with tight budgets and few staff. Things are more complicated by court actions that declared unconstitutional the Voter ID law of 2011.
The GAB responded to citizen confusion with two education campaigns – “Back to Basics” for election officials and “Voter Education 101” for voters. In addition, a Voter Information Center is active on the GAB website (http:/gab.wi.gov/voters). Voters can update their voting information at a new website called “My Vote Wisconsin” (myvote.wi.gov).
Prior to much testimony about touch screen voting machines, GAB Director Kevin Kennedy discussed machines.
Wisconsin moved to voting machines because of the volume of voters and the speed at which election results can be known. He discussed machine validation. He agreed machines are aging but said machines have withstood hundreds of recounts.
Mr. Kennedy shared his confidence that Wisconsin was fully prepared for a smooth election, saying. “The conduct of fair, transparent elections provides the foundation for public confidence in its elected representatives.”
This confidence was not echoed by many who testified.
Some testified about voter fraud. Documented cases of fraud are very rare. The most common problem is convicted felons who can vote only after they served their time on probation or parole.
Others testified about the proper counting of votes. People were concerned about the reliability and security of voting machines; especially touch screen machines.
Citizens provided detailed accounts of problems uncovered in citizen vote counts. Barbara With, who testified, was so concerned about abnormalities in elections she wrote a recently published book about the problems entitled; Steal this Book, Not My Vote.
The main concern was technology had outpaced our ability to “adopt rigorous methods to approve or disprove its accuracy or reliability,” said one member of the Wisconsin Grassroots Network that led the citizen vote count this summer.
Some of those testifying advocated for the use of more technology. Paul Malischke suggested the state modernize voting registration by allowing “instant-check registration” on a secure website that is later verified by municipal clerks. Advocates discussed problems related to access for disabled voters.
Several members of the Grassroots Network suggested the Legislature make certain election officials have the authority to verify voting machines. People also asked for the Legislative Audit Bureau to investigate the “vulnerabilities of election technology”.
Andrea Kaminsky of the League of Women Voters discussed the League’s work and concluded, “Election Day is about the Voters. It is the time when citizens of the greatest democracy in the world go to the polls, register if we need to, and cast a ballot for the candidate of our choice. It is one time when we are all equal. We urge you to continue to “put voters first” as you consider the many issues raised in today’s hearing.”