I was one of about 200 "auditors" recruited by Citizens for Election Integrity which works in cooperation with the League of Women Voters to assure election procedures are adhered to by those responsible for conducting elections here in Minnesota. After all, it does little good to vote if one's vote is not counted, or not counted for the candidate or issue the voter intends to cast their ballot for.
As the law requires, two precincts in each county were selected by random draw at an earlier date to be counted by hand to make sure the machines are doing what they are intended to do: Count Votes.
Based on my observations the machines are very reliable provided voters do what the machines require: fill in the little oval with a black pen.
The big problem, in my opinion, as to why there are problems tabulating votes, is because Election Officials, mainly the Minnesota Secretary of State--- Mark Ritchie, has a very lax, cavalier and flippant attitude in enforcing voter education and insisting that Election Officials, beginning with the Head County Election Official does his/her job properly... which in my opinion in this case, borders on malfeasance on the part of the Head of Roseau County Elections based on what I observed as a trained auditor.
There really is no excuse for one single voter entering a voting booth not knowing the procedure and requirements for assuring one's vote is counted. The responsibility for this lies with the head County Election Official... there is no escaping this.
Yesterday (Thursday, November 19, 2008) at 9 A.M. I went to the Roseau County Courthouse up here in northern Minnesota to audit, observe and record my observations.
While I must point out that the only part of the electoral process I observed was the hand-counting of the ballots the "machines" are intended to do more efficiently--- and faster--- than humans are able to do the job; I was to observe that the auditing process was done according to procedure.
What I observed was all done correctly and according to the law, and the intent of the law--- with one important exception which I will get to further on because it was not the primary problem in my opinion--- but, rather, in my opinion there are two very glaring problems occurring.
For some unexplained reason--- and the head of Elections in Roseau County did not want to address my concerns even though she continually asked if we had any questions which I think was to her credit for doing so--- she refused to consider.
The first problem I see is integrally related to the second problem.
First. We need to understand that the voting machines become very unreliable if voters do not understand completely what is required of them to have their votes counted, and counted accurately.
For these vote counting machines to work instructions for voting have to be carried out exactly if the vote counting machines are going to do what they are intended to do: COUNT VOTES.
If every voter does exactly as instructed the machines will count every single vote as the voter intended to vote; if instructions are not followed THERE WILL BE PROBLEMS.
Is the PROBLEM to anyone's advantage? Probably so, I would argue; but this is not the point of this blog posting. I will be writing about this later. We need to address the PROBLEM first.
As I have stated, based upon my observations, the machines are apparently performing their very simple task, a task that is really not based on a very elaborate technology... computers have been "counting" since their invention some 60 odd years ago.
HOWEVER... and this is a very BIG however; however, when voters do not follow the procedures exactly as instructed (and this is the second part of the problem: the instructions and instructors) their votes are very likely not going to be counted at all; or, not counted as they intended to cast their ballot.
What is the requirement?
Voters have to use the black PEN--- not a pencil--- and fill in the little oval on the ballot.
It seems so simple, eh?
Well, apparently this is not so simple and Mark Ritchie the Minnesota Secretary of State bears full responsibility for the problems occurring.
In my opinion, if voters were fully educated on the need to fill in this small little oval on their ballots with the black ink pens provided in the voting booth there would be no problem.
The Head of Elections in Roseau County assured me that every single voting booth has a black ink pen.
OK, so why are two (actually three) problems (based on what I observed) occurring:
One. People are placing an "X" or a "check mark" in the oval... or, circling the oval.
Two. People are apparently taking pencils out of their pockets to mark their ballots and the scanners on the vote counting machines are many times not picking up these pencil marks.
Three. People are changing their minds after filling in the oval. And, make no mistake, people do have the democratic right to change their minds while in the privacy of the voting booth... as we all know, this is a very common practice and something that goes along with every single person's right to vote; anything restricting or thwarting this right should be frowned upon by anyone who believes in the very basic concept of democracy. The use of these vote counting machines is forcing--- and coercing--- people to give up this very important and very fundamental right, the right to change their minds while in the privacy of the voting booth. However, even here, Mark Ritchie, the Minnesota Secretary of State bears full and complete responsibility for this problem occurring.
Mr. Mark Ritchie called me on the telephone knowing I was a delegate to the Minnesota Democratic Farmer-Labor Party State Convention and begged for my vote. Mr. Ritchie got my vote as a delegate to the MN DFL State Convention and as a voter... Mr. Ritchie need not ever ask or beg me for my vote ever again based upon what I observed as an Auditor from "Citizens for Election Integrity."
In fact, it is difficult to fathom and comprehend why the League of Women Voters and other organizations observing the election process in its entirety have failed so completely as advocates on behalf of voters when it comes to voter education.
Without voter education concerning the very simple act of how a ballot needs to be "marked" in order for the optical scanner on the vote counting machine to perform its function, voting becomes a farce, especially in a close election like the Coleman-Franken contest.
Personally, I could care less which one wins--- the choice is between a dumb cluck and a dumb donkey as far as I am concerned.
But, the question--- and the problem remains--- one of the integrity of the electoral process which is highly skewed because the Minnesota Secretary of State has failed so miserably in his duty of insisting that county and precinct election officials carry out their legislatively mandated duties of assuring that every single voter entering a voting booth understands the very simple, yet less than obvious requirement, of having to fill in that little oval with a black pen... and if they change their minds after having voted, the procedure of requesting a new ballot.
What would it take for the Election officials to show each and every voter how the oval has to be filled in at the time they come into vote?
The solution is so simple; yet the politicians are so insensitive and uncaring.
In my opinion, Mark Ritchie should resign as Minnesota Secretary of State as a result of this voting fiasco we are witnessing in this race between the dumb cluck and the dumb donkey.
One problem I observed which in this case presented no problem because it was very apparent everyone selected to do their job in the auditing process was very honest and very diligent and carried out their task knowing the importance of counting every vote.
I do think there was a problem that probably all of those counting the votes knew how many votes had already been cast and counted for president, senator and state representative--- I may be wrong, but this appeared to be the case from what I observed and heard.
The problem as I see it with people involved in conducting the audit knowing how many votes there already are, is that if there were those less than honest involved and motivated towards the bias for who they voted for, the auditing process could be severely compromised--- after all, we know that even jurors on occasion can be "bought." We all know the role "big money" now plays in elections and we also all know the kind of "games" politicians will engage in to win an election.
Exactly how to resolve this problem, I don't know. It is kind of like an attorney asking a potential juror on the O.J. Simpson "robbery case" if they ever heard of O.J.'s murder trial... when you have election officials doing the audit you are probably going to get people who already know what the machines have counted for vote totals... kind of a common sense conclusion, but, politicians are making these laws to protect themselves, eh? Not exactly an unbiased process to begin with in such a thoroughly corrupt political process.
Even my own observations as an "Auditor" of the auditors and my opinions of the entire electoral process which are highly biased and difficult to overcome; but, overcoming our biases is not the issue at hand--- the integrity of the electoral process in Minnesota and the country is the issue involved.
I think that a little education of each and every voter entering the voting booth--- irrespective of our biases--- is in order.
One other small problem based on my observations as an "auditor." There was no vote counting machine available during the auditing process to try counting the ballots in question. Without trying to run the questionable ballots through a vote counting machine, we really aren't verifying anything, are we?
After all, we are not talking about anything that requires spending a single additional penny on... all that is required is a Secretary of State interested in defending democracy through a little education... it is not like we are asking that each and every voter be required to pass the Bar Exam.
And it is not like we are expecting every Election Official to be a university professor, although I understand some of the greatest problems are occurring where university professors are working as Election Officials in the precincts on Election Day... now, if these professors are having difficulty in teaching voters how and why the little "oval" needs to be filled in with ONLY the black ink pens supplied... I would suggest that this might be one reason why this country is so screwed up.
Why these problems, so simple to remedy, continue to occur after eight controversial years of election fraud and irregularities across the country is thoroughly bind-boggling.
Mind you, I only observed a few actual problems in the two precincts audited--- one precinct, from the City of Greenbush had about 370 voters, the other precinct was the Township of Juneberry which had 12 voters... however, considering there are over four-thousand precincts in Minnesota it becomes very obvious the potential for voter machine counting errors when voter education is so lackadaisical, especially in a close election.
Now, someone might ask, "What the heck are voters doing voting for "dumb clucks" and "dumb donkeys" anyways? Maybe the real voter education required goes far beyond filling in a little oval with a black ink pen?
Yes, you most likely did vote--- if you filled in the little oval on your ballot with a black ink pen properly.
Something to discuss and think about around the dinner table.
Alan L. Maki
Citizens for Election Integrity, Minnesota
Roseau County, Minnesota