Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Letter to Editor 29 November 2009

Letter to editor concerning voter turnout

To The Editor
The Times-Journal

Last week’s T-J editorial included notice of local election contests which were decided by slim margins and an invitation to those who didn’t vote this year to take part next November. The editorial emphasized how important one vote can be in deciding a contest.

I share the editor’s sentiments concerning voting responsibilities and do also encourage greater citizen participation in elections, however, such annual lamentations are not likely to improve matters much. More attention by local government, election administrators and the media will be needed to solve the low voter participation problem.

The Peacemakers Voting Integrity Project has been attempting to address these issues. Last year we requested to meet with the Election Commissioners to discuss the creation of a Citizen Advisory Board for Election Administration. We had hoped such an advisory board could be of assistance to both the Board of Elections and the Board of supervisors. The Commissioners refused to meet with us and the Supervisors did not carry the issue forward.

This past June The Voting Integrity Project released an analysis* of voter registration and voter turnout statistics for several upstate counties including Schoharie County. The numbers are troubling: One in four eligible Schoharie citizens is not registered to vote. Factor in low turnout percentages and contests or propositions can be decided by a minority of the citizens. As of this writing there has been no announcement of Board of Elections or Board of Supervisors action on this problem.

Members of the Voting Integrity Project were present at the Board of Supervisors meeting this month. Our purpose was to announce initiation of a survey of county Boards of Elections administration practices, resources and accessibility. We asked the Board of Supervisors to assure us that the Schoharie County Board of Elections will respond to the survey. We did not receive any such assurances from the Supervisors but remain hopeful the Election Commissioners will return the survey.

This small group of citizen volunteers is doing their part to make democracy work. We need government and the media to do their part if we are to succeed.

Wayne Stinson, Coordinator
The Voting Integrity Project

Analysis of Voter Registration Performance (http://paperballotwarrior.blogspot.com)
The Voting Integrity Project, 30 June 2009.

Voting Integrity Project Update

6 December 2009 report to The Peacemakers,

Wayne Stinson and Katherine Hawkins attended the Schoharie County Board of Supervisors meeting in November. Privilege of the floor had been requested via Summit Town Supervisor Harold Vroman, however, when the VIP presenters arrived they discovered no agenda notation to that effect. Fortunately, the BOS meeting included a continuation of the budget comment period so Wayne was able to address the board anyway.

We reminded the board of our earlier attempts to meet with the Election Commissioners (Nov. '08 - March '09) to propose establishment of a Citizen Advisory Board for Election Administration and the Commissioners' refusal to meet with us.

We reminded the board of our earlier research and analysis of voter registration and voter turnout statistics which revealed lower voter registration percentages in Schoharie County compared to five other demographically similar NY counties, and the disturbing fact that one in four eligible Schoharie County citizens is not registered to vote.

We notified the board of our most recent research effort, a survey of twelve county Boards of Elections (10 Nov. '09) which asks the ECs to report administration practices, department resources and accessibility data. We asked the Board of Supervisors to assure us that our Board of Elections would respond to the survey. We have received no such assurances and the Schoharie county Election Commissioners have so far not responded.

So far three counties have returned surveys. we will begin contacting those counties which have not yet returned the survey to remind them and to encourage participation. If personal contacts fail to gain cooperation the only remaining option would be Freedom of Information Law demands. No decision has been made as to this course.

Schoharie County BOE participated in the so-called pilot project use of the new voting equipment last month. The Sequoia-Dominion ImageCast machines were used in Schoharie Town election districts only. We have been told our BOE chose to do a 100% hand count of the paper ballots in those districts. If this is true they deserve credit for doing the right thing and something the state board didn't have the good sense or courage to require. We are not aware of any problems occurring with the new equipment in Schoharie Town pilot project.

Friday, November 6, 2009

VIP Survey of County BOE


The cover letter and survey instrument pasted here were mailed the second week of November.

This initial distribution to a small number of county BOEs is intended to be a trial application which we hope will help us further refine the instrument in preparation for a larger survey.


The cover letter:

The Voting Integrity Project
A public interest initiative of The Peacemakers of Schoharie County
P.O. Box 214, Cobleskill, NY 12043

10 November 2009

«Dem EC», «Commissioner»
«Rep EC», «Commissioner»
«City» «State + Zip»

Re: Local Boards of Elections Survey

Election Commissioners,

The Peacemakers of Schoharie County is an all volunteer non-partisan citizen organization dedicated to promoting peace and social justice which has been active for over twenty years. The Voting Integrity Project of the Peacemakers has worked for more trustworthy elections for the past four years and is most recognized for support of paper ballot voting and opposition to unauditable electronic voting machines.

The Voting Integrity Project is initiating this survey of a small number of County Boards of Elections to document administration practices, department resources and public accessibility. Your Board Of Elections has been selected for this survey because of your county’s population demographics.

This initial survey will be limited to several low population counties to test the serviceability of the survey instrument and to evaluate the potential for a more expansive inquiry in the future.

We hope you will not find our brief questionnaire too time consuming or intrusive. We have kept it short so as to not substantially interfere with your duties. A survey report will be provided to each of the participants as soon as it becomes available.

Please contact us with any questions you might have. We encourage you to provide commentary on the survey itself if you wish. Write us at: stinson@midtel.net .

Thank you for your cooperation,

Wayne R. Stinson, Coordinator

The Survey

Thursday, October 8, 2009

A Failure of Democracy?

It’s been all over the news of late, the blatant and massive election fraud during the recent Afghanistan elections. We are allowed to recognize it over there because…..well, it’s over there. So let’s talk about it. We are told that bringing democracy to the people of Afghanistan is one of our goals, priority unknown, of eight years of death and destruction we call Operation Enduring Freedom.

From our vantage point it’s quite easy to assign blame for this “democracy failure.” Some will observe that the Afghan culture is just not ready for democracy, or that three decades of occupations and civil war have caused the populace to become so cynical as to prevent ideals such as democracy from taking root. Poppycock! What we have here is a failure of leadership by American political actors, the ones that were so cynical as to claim to want to bring democracy to the Afghan people, and then enthusiastically used military force to make whatever they wanted to happen, happen.

You might sense that I doubt the U.S. motives in Afghanistan…of course I do. And you might wonder what all this has to do with election integrity here in Schoharie county. I’ll explain.

Several months back the Peacemakers Voting Integrity Project (VIP) sought to introduce the concept of a Citizens’ Advisory Board for Election Administration (
Challenge Provincial Power: The Test) to the County Board of Supervisors (BOS). Without going into too much detail I’ll simply report that we were rebuffed by both the Board of Supervisors Rules & Legislation Committee and the Election Commissioners. They simply refused to talk to us. Was it a distaste for the goals of such a board or was it dislike of individuals associated with the effort? We can’t be sure but there are clues we can follow.

One of the proposed activities of the CABEA was fact finding which could assist the Board of Elections (BOE). One specific action we suggested was research and activities to expand the number of registered voters. Lacking the cooperation of the BOS and the BOE we decided to go forward with a simple research effort which compared Schoharie County with five other counties of similar demographics (
Analysis of Voter Registration Performance). What we discovered was that Schoharie County had a smaller percentage of eligible citizens registered to vote than the other counties. Approximately one in four voting age Schoharie citizens is not registered.

The VIP report was published, and reported, and delivered to the BOS in June of this year. There has been no reaction from the BOS. There has been no reaction from the BOE. And, other than printing the press release we provided, there has been no attention from the press. Why?

The clues: On the occasion of our meeting with the R&L Committee to introduce the CABEA concept, one Supervisor responded to our proposal to expand the franchise to more Schoharie citizens by saying she thought “… we would be better off if they didn’t vote.” Apparently this legislator believes there is a segment of Schoharie County citizens who shouldn’t be encouraged to register and vote. On another occasion, a Supervisor from one of the largest towns in the county, responded with similar sentiments to a constituent’s query about the report.

The tally: Two County Supervisors who are either entirely clueless as to what democracy is or arrogant enough to dismiss it (and so indiscreet as to express their prejudice). Another handful of Supervisors lacking in courage or conviction to do the right thing. Two Election Commissioners dumb enough and arrogant enough that they believe they don’t need to attend to some of their responsibilities. A pair of Deputy Election Commissioners without sufficient autonomy or initiative to act. The remainder of the Board of Supervisors who lacked the initiative to spur action by a county department which is obviously failing in its mission. And a newspaper editor without the courage or initiative to act on a story with significance to the functioning of our democracy.

What do these actors have in common? They occupy leadership positions. They have responsibilities and they failed to fulfill those responsibilities. Is this a failure of democracy? I don’t think so! Democracy is fading for sure but as a concept, an ideal, it can not fail. It can be intentionally suppressed by those with elitist sentiments or allowed to suffocate through ignorance and inattention, but it can not fail.

The lesson:
Democracy requires leadership by the actors previously identified. For democracy to thrive requires leaders who are actually committed to democratic egalitarian ideals. Our job is to train the people we allow in power…...and to demand of them stronger support of these ideals. If we had such leaders we would not be killing Afghans and we would already have universal health care. With such leaders here in Schoharie County we might have even created a Citizen Advisory Board for Election Administration.

Oh yeah, about the Afghanistan elections: Mr. Karzi’s “win” in the past two Afghanistan elections is to Bush’s “win” in 2000 and 2004 here. In both cases local war lords screwed with the electorate, voting machines, polling places, ballots and ballot tallies to shape “democracy” the way they wanted it.


Wednesday, July 8, 2009


Sue Spivack Interrogates County BOE

July 3, 2009

Mr. Clifford C. Hay, Commissioner and
Mr. Lewis L. Wilson, Commissioner
Schoharie County Board of Elections
PO Box 99
Schoharie, NY 12157

Dear Mr. Hay and Mr. Wilson:

I was glad to receive your letter of May 21, 2009 a few days before I left Cobleskill for an extended trip. Having arrived home and reviewed my April 21 questions and studied your responses, I’m disappointed to find some of your answers incomplete and in one instance inaccurate and misleading.

Here are my comments:

General Questions about the County Board Administration:
Your statement of the Schoharie County BOE goals is helpful and useful to me as far as it goes. However the NY State BOE Mission Statement (http://www.elections.state.ny.us/AboutSBOE.html) states in part “In addition to the regulatory and enforcement responsibilities the board is charged with the preservation of citizen confidence in the democratic process and enhancement in voter participation in elections (my emphasis).” It seems to me that every NYS County Board of Elections is therefore also charged with this mission—to enhance “voter participation in elections.” Please add this to your statement of goals and act accordingly.

Aside from listing your salaries, your statement that qualifications for Commissioners are set by the NYS Election Law is pretty much a non-answer. You give no real job description which would let me know such things as how many meetings with the NY State Board of Elections you must attend each year, how many education and/or training sessions you participate in as new means of voting and counting votes (voting machines, BMD, paper ballots—hand counting vs optical scan machines, etc, are being considered and purchased), how much time (per week/per month?) you spend in the County Board of Election office taking care of Schoharie County election business, and approximately how many days/hours a week/month you put in actually on the job. Please reanswer this question.

Questions about Election Statistics for 2004, 2006, 2008

You say you do not create statistical analyses of the voters. If you spent any time doing statistical studies of our county’s population and the numbers of voters, and sought to seriously compare our participation with NY State and the Nation, you would soon notice how many eligible voters there are compared to the number of registered voters—and realize these are two very different numbers (see comments below for more on this).

I am glad to learn that you file an Annual Report with the NYS Board of Elections. However in the interests of ease of citizen access, and open government and transparency, I ask that you please post these reports on the Board of Election website. Many people do not have the money to pay for printed copies. Every one has free access to the internet at the public libraries. I understand you possess only printed copies of these reports on hand—however they can be easily scanned into a pdf file and posted.

You state that “All eligible voters are registered voters.” and. “Traditionally, Schoharie County voter participation has been higher than either NYS or the US, as seen in the chart below.” Unfortunately your response in paragraph #3 equating eligible and registered voters is completely untrue, which makes the table in paragraph #4 entirely misleading. Eligible Voters are all US citizens 18 years and older who reside in Schoharie County. Registered Voters are those Eligible Voters who have filled out the voter registration form and been OK’d by the County Board of Elections as a Registered Voter.

In the column under Schoharie County, your table gives the percentage of Registered Voters who actually voted in those elections. In the columns under New York and US you are quoting percentages of Eligible Voters who actually voted. You are comparing apples and oranges. (See attached Sheet A with statistics from the US Census Bureau and other sources for more detailed information).

In 2007 Schoharie County had an estimated eligible voting population of 25,658 of whom 19,583 citizens were registered. We had an actual turnout of 14,558 voters which means while 74.3% of Registered Voters voted, only 56.7% of Eligible Voters actually voted. Note how close this 56.7% statistic is to the 2008 New York and US turnout. (see Sheet B-attached table with data sourced from the State BOE and/or the Census Bureau)

Therefore, if you look at the entire population of eligible voters, it is not true that Schoharie County voter participation is higher than either NYS or the US. This response conceals the need in Schoharie County to do much more voter education and voter registration outreach and to involve more eligible voters in the democratic process, in order to “enhance voter participation in elections.”

Re: your voter registration outreach efforts, I’m glad to know all that you are doing. However, since there is an obvious need to increase voter registration (see previous comments), I suggest that instead of waiting for any school or organization to request a presentation from you, that you energetically OFFER these programs to every high school government class in the County. I suggest that you call for citizen volunteers to help you do this kind of outreach to the following groups as well:

· Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of Schoharie County
· Community organizations such as Eagles, Elks, Rotary
· All Veteran’s groups, Business Groups and Libraries
· Voter Registration Tables outside Wal-Mart and Price Chopper and on the SUNY Cobleskill campus

Questions about the November 2009 Election

Please let me know what districts will participate in the OPSCAN Pilot Program. Will you be doing any public education in these districts to prepare voters to use the optical scan machines for the very first time? I believe you should.

I think a pilot project is usually a good thing. However as you have stated, the Op-Scan devices are not certified, therefore I urge you to make sure in every district where they are used that the paper ballots are hand counted and stand as the vote of record. This will provide an excellent and necessary test of the functioning of the Op-Scan machines. I advocate that this be done in OPSCAN Pilot Program districts state-wide.

Local BOE’s are not required to buy from state contract. Since privacy voting booths are not a tested and certified election device, you will not be told what to buy. By waiting for the State OGS to make a choice, I am concerned that more money than necessary will be spent to purchase privacy booths. Schoharie County is already experiencing financial difficulties. I urge you to research simple and inexpensive ways of assembling privacy booths out of tables which the county already owns and cardboard dividers. When you have decided what privacy booths you will be purchasing/assembling, please inform me of the costs.

I urge you to actively recruit poll workers in the same ways (perhaps at the same places and times) you seek to register new voters—by making presentations to high school government classes, to community organizations, at the County Fair, or other places where many local people congregate. There was/may still be some grant money available from the Federal government for recruitment of college students as inspectors. There has been state legislation to allow high school students over 17 years to participate as well. To involve young people in the election process should be a prime goal if we hope to attract young people to the polls.

Final comments

I am a person who values the right to vote, the need to maintain a vigorous and open electoral system, and a system of voting that is affordable, trustworthy and reliable. These are goals I would like to believe you share.. I am a member of the Voting Integrity Project and hoped that you would be open to discussing the formation of a Citizen’s Advisory Board to help accomplish the goals of increasing voter registration and voter participation in elections and self-governance.

To me our democracy is only as healthy and strong as its roots in local districts. When only a little over half the eligible voters turn out for major elections, and far less than half appear at the polls in off-years, I believe our democracy is in trouble. I am also deeply concerned that we are a County already struggling to make ends meet and facing all kinds of budget cuts. I believe that the costs in future years of maintaining and renewing machines and software, and paying corporate fees for Optical Scanners whose inner workings are proprietary secrets will drain County funds away from other important public needs.

I advocate for hand counting of all paper ballots when the time comes that the lever machines are finally abandoned, and even discarding the optical scan machines if they prove inaccurate and unreliable, and (as they already seem to be), prohibitively expensive.

I will continue to try to open a dialogue with you and the County Supervisors on these issues and topics. I believe that all of you in public service must hold in your hearts some of the same ideals as I do in this land of free speech and free people:

· that the more people who are involved in decision making, the more the will of all the people will be carried out,
· and the way we make sure our vote is fair and accurate in our local districts determines the fate of the whole nation.

There must be a way to create a government of the people, by the people and for the people, right here in Schoharie County. I look forward to your response to this letter.


Susan Spivack

SHEET A Statistics on Eligible, Registered and actual Voters

percent of eligible voters (citizen-age18+) registered 72.1%
percent of eligible voters (citizen-18+) voted 63.8%

New York State
percent of eligible voters (citizen-age18+) registered 67.5%
percent of eligible voters (citizen-18+) voted 60.2%

percent of eligible voters (citizen-age18+) registered 67.6%
percent of eligible voters (citizen-18+) voted 47.8%

New York State
percent of elegible voters (citizen-age18+) registered 56.6%
percent of eligible voters (citizen-18+) voted 37.6%

percent of eligible voters (age18+) registered 73.5%
percent of eligible voters (citizen-age18+) voted 62.3% http://elections.gmu.edu/Turnout_2008G.html

New York State
percent of eligible voters (18+) registered 91.3% http://elections.gmu.edu/Registration_2008G.html

percent of eligible voters (citizen-age18+) voted 58.6%http://elections.gmu.edu/Turnout_2008G.html

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Population & Voter Registration Charts

Challenge Provincial Power: The Test

On Quixotic Attempts to Challenge Provincial Power

Select the answer which best describes the actions of the various public officials as set forth in the following paragraphs.

A- Arrogance B- Ignorance
C- Malfeasance D- All of the above

In the fall of 2008 The Voting Integrity Project requested a meeting with the Board of Supervisors subcommittee responsible for oversight of the Board of Elections. We reasoned that, since there was a subcommittee charged with elections oversight and recognizing there was a risk Election Commissioners might not want to meet with representatives of an election integrity advocacy group, that it would be both practical and respectful to recognize the subcommittee’s authority and responsibilities.

We had hoped the members of the Rules and Legislation subcommittee would appreciate that a Citizens’ Advisory Board for Election Administration (CABEA) could be an asset in the accomplishment of their oversight duties while at the same time assisting the BOE in various ways.

Following our initial meeting with the Rules & Legislation Committee months passed while we waited for a follow-up meeting with Board of Elections representatives to be arranged by the committee Chairman. First we were told one or the other Commissioner was in Florida for the winter. Then, finally after more than three months, the committee Chairman returned our calls. He reported that the Election Commissioners refused to meet with us, and…..that the Rules and Legislation Committee was in agreement with the Commissioners’ decision.

Since the Chairman delivered his message through a third party it was not immediately clear with whom the Election Commissioners were refusing to meet. I needed to know were the Commissioners just refusing to meet with curious and annoying citizens, or were they arrogant enough to refuse to meet with the oversight committee for the purpose of hearing the annoying citizens? Or could it be, that when presented with a threat that both the legislators and the Election Commissioners were loathe to deal with, a mutually agreed upon defense was needed: No!

Some might say the Quixotic citizens failed to recognize the unofficial power relationships at play. There’s a long-standing practice in Schoharie County for the Board of Supervisors to appoint the chairpersons of the county partisan committees as Election Commissioners….regardless of the individual’s experience, skills or abilities. Such is the nature of a feudal patronage system. So it seems that the elected legislators feel greater allegiance to their partisan leadership than to the citizens they are elected to represent.

We suspected that might be the case. That is why we chose to engage the legislative committee. What we misjudged was the timidity of the lawmakers. We had expected to have at least one meeting with the Election Commissioners before they rejected our proposal. It was expected that engagement of the legislative subcommittee would guarantee that opportunity. I suppose we should have known better. Historically, there has been no evidence of legislative oversight. In fact, it more often seems that the Board of Elections leads the subcommittee. We have attended Rules & Legislation Committee meetings which were initiated by the Board of Elections staff, held in the Board of Elections office and organized with an agenda prepared by the Board of Elections staff.

So it seems we might be paddling upstream. I’m OK with that. Jim Hightower is fond of saying that even a dead fish can go with the flow. The Voting Integrity Project folks are very alive and still paddling. Check out the following postings for further clarification of our recent efforts.

Analysis of Voter Registration Performance

A Performance Analysis of the Schoharie County Board of Elections

Introduction: Late last fall, at a meeting of Voting Integrity Project representatives and the Board of Supervisors Rules & Legislation Committee, it was discovered that the committee does not receive regular reports from the Board of Elections Department or the Election Commissioners. We know that the Election Commissioners have addressed the Board of Supervisors when specific circumstances suggest the need to do so, but there have not been periodic reports of performance parameters which the Board of Supervisors, as an oversight body, should receive.

When considering performance evaluation of a governmental unit it is important to understand the mission of that unit. An initial inquiry to the county Board of Elections revealed that the unit does not have a written mission statement. Thus we have chosen to use the New York State Board of Elections Mission Statement as a guide for our evaluation effort. That document closes with this statement: “…the board is charged with the preservation of citizen confidence in the democratic process and enhancement in voter participation in elections." (emphasis added).

The following is offered as both an initial evaluation and a suggested format for future reporting which might serve the needs of the Board of Elections and Board of Supervisors.

Voting Statistics Analysis: This report offers analysis of election data for Schoharie County and several other New York counties, which we hope will serve to identify needed reforms or policy changes.

It will consider population demographics, voter registration numbers, voter turnout and certain other voter behaviors for the past five even-year election cycles while comparing Schoharie County to five other counties of similar population numbers and rural character: Allegany, Chenango, Cortland, Delaware and Essex.

The following statistics were sourced from the U.S. Census Bureau and the New York State Board of Elections or calculated from similarly sourced statistics: (see charts in subsequent post)

Estimated total county population (Est. Pop. Herein)
Estimated 18 years or older county population (eligible voters or EV herein)
County total registered voters (RV)
Recorded voter turnout (TO)
Under vote (UV) (most election results do not report under votes or “blank” as a singular statistic. Instead they offer a total of “blank, void & scattering.” We have chosen to use this number to represent the under vote since void and scattering are only a small percentage of the total.

2008 Voting Statistics: The following table (see subsequent post) is provided for those who want to verify the math or logic of our calculations. Similar data and calculations were used throughout our investigation to provide added statistics and inform our findings.

What we’ve learned There are no big surprises here. Schoharie County seems to chart near the other counties in most categories throughout 2000-2008. This is not say there is no room for improvement, there certainly is. It just means that Schoharie County is not alone and that other counties exhibit similar demographic patterns.

Population Changes: Schoharie County does stand out among the sampled counties in one respect, it has gained a few hundred in total population since 2000 while the other counties have lost significant numbers. Note, however, the across the board increase in Eligible Voters despite population losses in the other counties. These numbers indicate that voter registration efforts were significantly more successful in these counties than they were in Schoharie County.

Registered Voters: Schoharie County, with 76.3% of eligible voters registered, ranks second from last to Allegany’s 73.4%. The other counties were all in the low 80th percentile except for top ranking Essex County with 88.7% registered. In Schoharie County one in four eligible voters is not registered. Only Allegany County had a higher percentage with 26.5%. All the other counties have unregistered percentages at least five points lower. Raising the percentage of eligible voters registered clearly should be a goal for Schoharie County.

Voter Turnout: With respect to voter turnout Schoharie County came out on top with 74.3% of registered voters showing up at the polls. We led the other counties by as much as 10 points. However, if the turnout is calculated as a percentage of eligible voters Schoharie County falls in the middle at 56.7%. Obviously the turnout numbers are directly informed by the eligible voters and registered voters statistics.

Under Votes:
The 2008 Presidential under vote was very low among the sampled counties. All six counties registered percentages near 1%. But this is not the whole story.

The 2008 general election included a proposition concerning civil service law changes to benefit military veterans. The under vote statistics for this proposition are very telling. Relative to the other counties sampled Schoharie County stood out with the lowest percentage, 57.1%. The other counties ranged from 61.3% to 65.1%. These differences are less instructive than the magnitude of the under votes in all jurisdictions.

Absent the opportunity to question voters we can only speculate as to the causes for such a large number of voters failing to register an opinion on the proposition. It seems likely many voters either didn’t know there was a proposition on the ballot or didn’t have enough information to make a decision. In either case this high under vote seems to indicate a need for increased public education concerning ballot contents and the issues they represent. We believe citizens who are made aware of issues and ballot questions will want to make their opinion known. If we are correct in this assumption then simply paying attention to informing the public will result in greater turnout and fewer under votes.

Mandates: Another statistic which should be a cause for concern is the total of under votes plus the unregistered eligible voters number. In some circumstances this statistic could call into question the legitimacy of a candidate’s selection or the true status of a proposition.

In 2008 the Schoharie County unregistered EV population was 6075. This number of citizens not empowered to vote added to the 8318 under vote on the proposition equals 56% of the whole EV population. Thus the decision for this proposition was made by only 44% of Schoharie County’s eligible voters.

This calculation might not be as significant when considering a national question such as the aforementioned 2008 proposition. However, when the vote concerns a county question or candidate this calculation would be much more important. A local political candidate elected with less than 50% of eligible voters could be said to have not received a mandate. Likewise a ballot question “decided” by less than a majority of the citizens entitled to vote could be subject to challenge.

Observations & Recommendations: The numbers tell us there is a large group of Schoharie County citizens who are not participating in their governance. Many of these citizens could be drawn into greater community involvement, participation in our democratic system and possibly even active political life, if they were invited to become registered voters. This is important, full participation is necessary for democracy to work.

It is not appropriate or constructive to assume that all the unregistered eligible voters remain so of their own volition. Among the most common responses from citizens as to why they don’t vote are “I don’t know anything about the candidates” or “I don’t understand politics.” The relative stability of the statistics seem to indicate that voter registration efforts up to now have not been successful, or that there has been no actual effort made to increase voter rolls. In either case it seems obvious that our voter registration outreach needs to be revised and expanded. Newspapers, civic groups, churches, government agencies, and advocacy groups, all need to be drawn into a coordinated community effort to register citizens as voters.

The statistics also present a powerful argument that present efforts to inform citizens concerning candidates and ballot questions are inadequate. Responsibility for informing the public should not be left only to the political candidates and their supporting partisan organizations. There is a role for government and the media in this effort as well. In years past sample ballots were printed in the newspaper. This practice should be revived. We are also aware of some jurisdictions which actually mail sample ballots to each household prior to election day. Such an effort could be made part of the present post card verification process. For such a mailing to be fruitful as a voter registration effort it will have to be posted to all households early enough to facilitate registration. Radio and cable television must also be utilized to familiarize voters with the candidates and issues.

The voter education effort should be the corner stone of any effort to increase voter registration and voter participation. We believe, that having been adequately informed of the candidates and issues, more citizens will want to be registered and will be motivated to go to the polls on election day.

Unanswered Questions: Typical of such an inquiry this investigation raised more questions than it answered. There is much more work to be done.

We have documented differences but have not tried to discover the causes or reasons beyond what is obvious from the numbers. It could be very informative to compare the administrative structures of the several county governments and their respective Boards of Elections. Is there a County Administrator? Is there a legislative oversight committee? What is the Board of Elections staffing? Is there a professional administration culture prevalent in the county government, including the Board of Elections? For example, is there an administrator or director of the Board of Elections Department and does the department have a written procedure manual with job descriptions and a mission statement? It would also be interesting to compare the media services, community organizations, income levels and government services available in each county.

It’s hard to know what you do not know until you look and ask. We encourage the Board of Supervisors to undertake similar investigations regularly. The research is not very time consuming or difficult. Much of the information is readily available in the public domain. If there is one outcome we would like to see above all else it is that the Schoharie County Board of Supervisors pay more attention to such looking and asking.

This small study has revealed the need for action on a couple of fronts. The Voting Integrity Project hopes that this report points the way forward and assists both the Board of Supervisors and the Board of Elections in the execution of their duties.

Significant Findings:

“Note, however, the across the board increase in Eligible Voters despite population losses in the other counties. These numbers indicate that voter registration efforts were significantly more successful in these counties than they were in Schoharie County.”

“The numbers tell us there is a large group of Schoharie County citizens who are not participating in their governance.” “In Schoharie County one in four eligible voters is not registered.” “Raising the percentage of eligible voters registered clearly should be a goal for Schoharie County.”

“…this high under vote seems to indicate a need for increased public education concerning ballot contents and the issues they represent.”

“…it seems obvious that our voter registration outreach needs to be revised and expanded.”

Voting Study Press Release

Voting Integrity Group Releases Elections Study

For Immediate Release: 30 June 2009

Contacts: W. Stinson, 518.287.1463, airhead@midtel.net
S. Spivak, 518.234.3840, sspivack@nycap.rr.com

The Voting Integrity Project, an initiative of the Peacemakers of Schoharie County, has published a performance critique of the county Board of Elections. The study compares Schoharie County voter registration, election turnout statistics and other data with those of five other upstate counties with similar population numbers: Allegany, Chenango, Cortland, Delaware and Essex.

The group has been outspoken in its advocacy for secure paper ballot voting, and against the so-called touch-screen electronic voting machines, for the past few years. “It’s not good enough to have trustworthy voting systems. For democracy to thrive citizens must be informed, engaged and actually go to the polls.” said Voting Integrity Project Coordinator Wayne Stinson. “We have begun to look at what needs to be done to improve citizen participation.” he continued.

Representatives of the Voting Integrity Project had met with Schoharie County Supervisors last fall to propose creation of a Citizens’ Advisory Board for Election Administration but the initiative was blocked when Election Commissioners refused to meet with the group. “It was very frustrating to have the Election Commissioners refuse to even listen to our proposal and disappointing that the Supervisors were not willing to move the process forward.” said Project member Susan Spivack.

The Voting Integrity Project has decided to continue their efforts without the cooperation of the Board of Elections or the Election Commissioners. “We will do what we can to identify problems and develop suggestions for correction or improvements. We would have liked to have the Board of Elections cooperation but we will still be able to provide the Supervisors with useful information.” Stinson said.

The report is critical of the Schoharie County Board of Elections voter registration efforts stating “The numbers tell us there is a large group of Schoharie County citizens who are not participating in their governance. …one in four eligible voters is not registered.” It also noted “[The] numbers indicate that voter registration efforts were significantly more successful in [the other] counties than they were in Schoharie County. Raising the percentage of eligible voters registered clearly should be a goal for Schoharie County. …our voter registration outreach needs to be revised and expanded”

The study also found “…[the] high undervote (instances where a voter does not indicate a choice) seems to indicate a need for increased public education concerning ballot contents and the issues they represent.”

6.25.09 Letter to Board of Supervisors

The Schoharie County Board of Supervisors
Post Office Box 429
Schoharie, NY 12157

Honorable Supervisors,

The Voting Integrity Project is committed to supporting election integrity and strengthening our democracy. This we endeavor to accomplish through promotion of secure voting technologies and practices, advocacy for an informed and engaged electorate, and expansion of the franchise.

We had been working for several months to initiate a conversation with the Schoharie County Board of Elections and the county Board of Supervisors concerning the creation of a Citizen Advisory Board for Election Administration.

We began by requesting a meeting with the Board of Supervisors subcommittee responsible for oversight of the Board of Elections Department. We reasoned that, since there was a subcommittee charged with elections oversight it would be the logical starting point. It also seemed respectful and practical to recognize the subcommittee’s authority and introduce our proposal to them first.

We had hoped the Rules and Legislation subcommittee would appreciate that a Citizen Advisory Committee could be an aid in the accomplishment of their oversight responsibilities while at the same time assisting the Board of Elections. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen that way.

After our initial meeting with the Rules & Legislation Committee months passed while we waited for a follow-up meeting with Board of Elections representatives to be arranged by the committee Chairman. Finally, after more than three months, the R&L Chairman advised that the Election Commissioners had refused to meet with us and that the Rules and Legislation Committee was in agreement with their decision.

While it is very disappointing to be unable to engage county legislators and department heads as we had hoped, the Voting Integrity Project will nevertheless continue to strive for improved election integrity, voter confidence and citizen participation in the democratic process.

In the next few months the Voting Integrity Project will offer the Board of Supervisors observations and specific suggestions concerning election administration which we hope will be received in the same spirit as they are offered, a spirit of community, shared responsibility and respect for democratic principles.

For the Voting Integrity Project, Peacemakers Action Committee Co-signers

Susan Spivack
Nancy Sheehan
Katherine Hawkins
Wayne R. Stinson, Coordinator Ann C. Adams
Cynthia Wilson
CC: Board of Elections
Clerk of the Board of Supervisors

Saturday, April 4, 2009

New York Democracy War

A Short History of the New York Democracy Wars

I'm not an investigative journalist or a war correspondent. I'm just an ordinary citizen and voting integrity advocate watching the battle from my vantage point in the hills of Schoharie County.

I am an observer of political currents, political critters and would be captains of commerce. The captains and their lobbyists can be spotted circling the capital buildings when the scent of money is on the air. It is in times like this that politicians can be easily observed engaged in intercourse with said captains and their lobbyists. These exchanges are important to us because the people's treasure is the currency of this drama and our democracy is very much at risk.

The drama of which I speak began earlier but we'll click on the play button at about ten years ago. The militant anti-democracy idealogues had been in exile for several years but they were not still. They had published their plan, an explicit statement of what America's world position should be in the 21st century. It was a blueprint for the America of their dreams and it's execution would depend upon the Republican partisans winning the 2000 election. The Republican party, determined to take the Presidency by any means, and aided by corrupt Florida election functionaries, a seriously unethical and probably criminal voting machine company and a surprising Supreme Court ruling, installed an ignorant puppet as President of the United States in January, 2001.

Spurred into action, ostensibly by the horrors of deformed chads which defied all attempts to discern the will of voters, and recognizing that they needed a more reliable system to control democracy and maintain a permanent Republican government, Congressman Bob Ney, with the guidance of Diebold voting machine company, introduced the Orwellian Help America Vote Act. Ney's no longer a congressman, he's in jail now for unrelated crimes, but the HAVA regulations live on.

Early on in the play a second plot line was introduced, some say with the direct involvement, or at least the passive acquiescence, of the newly installed regime, when angry Arabs from the other side of the world took vengeance on America for it's imperialistic behavior over there. They flew airliners into the capitalists' prayer point knocking down two very tall buildings and killing many, many Americans. This incident instantly endowed the puppet with extraordinary powers he then used to transform our country into a habitat more hospitable for the oligarchs, and repressive of the peons, a habitat more a monarchy or dictatorship than a democracy.

Scoring several wins in the 2002 midterm elections the new authoritarian, monarchical, Commander-in-Chief puppet regime was on a roll. Popular Democratic incumbents were ousted in states where Diebold voting equipment was used but the would be rulers of the world knew they had more work to do to ensure the puppet's second, third and fourth term. A partisan-politicized Justice Dept was put into play aggressively prosecuting trumped up voter fraud cases and threatening to force HAVA compliance in any state which seemed reluctant to deploy electronic voting.

Ohio was the chosen battlefield for 2004. Ohio was home for Ney, the Diebold company (with many election districts served by Diebold machines) and a Secretary of State with a penchant for unethical behavior in the service of the party. The permanent Republican control enterprise had grown in sophistication. There were now talented IT people on board to create a complex "man in the middle" routine for shaping the election results. They pulled it off. The ignorant one was re-installed for a second term.

So it was in 2008 that many of us observers of currents, captains and criminals were at the ready and working hard to prevent New York State from becoming the next battleground lost in electronic service to the permanent power empire builders.

Collectively we had made a hell of a stink in opposition to direct recording electronic voting machines and in favor of a paper ballot system. Then, when a little luck came our way in the form of a state BOE crippled by partisan squabbling and a federal judge short on patience, a paper ballot scanner system was the only system left standing at the very moment of decision. That would be the Sequoia ImageCast combination Ballot Marking Device and ballot scanner. We bought it, and it must be a really good system because we paid way, way too much for it.

An important subplot throughout this drama, little recognized or attended to by politicians, lobbyists or the captains of commerce, was the preservation of democracy. It was a strange battle with politicians, lobbyists, bureaucrats both federal and state, and judges all focused lemming-like on the goal of imposing electronic voting upon the citizens of America. It was as if all the aforementioned rodents had experienced an identical Epiphany: To vote requires a machine, and modernity demands that machine be solid-state electronic, and the huge amounts of federal money appropriated for the transition dictated that these machines were to be expensive. And so it came to pass.

Some will describe it as a compromise. The democracy defenders got their paper ballots. The lemmings got their solid-state electronic and expensive ballot marking device/scanner machines. All the Federal money has been spoken for. Everybody should be happy. What more could they want?

The partisan patronage appointees charged with managing our elections really didn't want to have to deal with paper ballots. They had hoped to avoid any of the extra chores paper ballots might require. Obviously, most of the voting machine manufacturers did not get a contract to supply machines. Only two companies will be supplying all of New York State. Of all the actors the ones most ill at ease are the good government groups, election integrity watchdogs and individual democracy defenders. They remain concerned that, absent adequate audits, transparency and citizen participation, the electronic ballot scanners might be programmed to control election outcomes.

Of these patriots many are dissatisfied with the ballots being counted by an electronic machine and are pressing for more extensive audits than provided for in NY law. Some are in court arguing to retain the lever machines rather than trusting a scanner count of ballots. And there are some who so distrust the electronic machines, the companies that make them, the election management bureaucracy and the various other governmental agencies that might otherwise be expected to stand guard over democracy, that they want every paper ballot counted by hand under the caring eyes of the citizens, with the ballot counting chores being handled by randomly chosen citizen volunteers. And they demand, if there is to be a scanner count, it must be relegated to serving as a confirmation of the hand count.

This last group of pro-democracy patriots claim support for their position in none other than New York's HAVA compliance legislation, The Election Reform and Modernization Act of 2005. They note that the amended Election Law (Sec.9-211, Sub 3,4 & 5) recognizes the primacy of paper ballots as the official record of an election and reason that official records of an election can not be disregarded or subordinated to an electronic count and therefore the paper ballots must be 100% counted by hand.

Late last year certification testing of the Sequoia ballot marking device/ballot scanner machines, most of which have already been delivered to local Boards of Election, was interrupted when the testing contractor itself was de-certified due to poor performance, inadequate record keeping and inappropriate assurances to machine manufacturers. Testing had barely just resumed when the national economy began to crumble threatening state and local governments with huge budget shortfalls. Sequoia, apparently numb to the world around them, decided the time was right to announce price increases, including a demand for outrageously high license fees for software required to run the machines.

So that's where we are. The New York State election administrators will continue to slog through their partisan differences while conducting machine testing, developing an audit regimen and resolving the software licensing fees issue. Our responsibility, every citizens' responsibility, is to continue defending democracy.

We have to continue hacking away at the election administration lemmings, zombie voting machine reps and other corporate shills who would have us lay down and give them control of elections and our democracy. We will continue to confront, write, call and message anyone and everyone who might be instrumental in developing the election administration procedures and practices which will protect the integrity of our elections.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Citizen Advisory Board Proposed to BOE

The Voting Integrity Project
A public interest initiative of The Peacemakers of Schoharie County
Po Box 214, Cobleskill, NY 12043

2 January 2009

Schoharie County Board of Elections
PO Box 99
Schoharie, NY 12157

Commissioners Wilson, Hay,
Snowdon and Davies-Griffin

Last month representatives of the Peacemakers Voting Integrity Project met with the Board of Supervisors Rules & Legislation Committee to introduce a proposal for increased citizen participation in election administration and cooperation with the Board of Supervisors.

Specifically we suggested creation of a Citizens Advisory Board for Election Administration (CABEA) which would cooperate with the Rules & Legislation Committee and the Board of Elections.

The Rules & Legislation Committee agreed that the next step must include discussions with Board of Elections representatives and suggested this take place at a subsequent committee meeting. Chairman Brandow has indicated he will schedule that meeting after consultation with your office.

For your interest we have enclosed copies of our communications with the Rules & Legislation Committee which introduce the CABEA concept. Please note the concept and the suggested areas of cooperation are most certainly a work in progress which will require your input to produce a viable end product. I encourage you to contribute your expertise to the development of this idea.

As always we are available at your convenience to discuss this proposal. Please feel free to contact us at 518-287-1463 or airhead@midtel.net .

For the Voting Integrity Project

Wayne Stinson, Coordinator

CC: Rules & Legislation Committee

Enclosures: R&L Comm. Ltr., To Begin The Conversation, Democracy in Election Administration.

The Frugal Voting Booth

An Inexpensive Voting Booth Solution

Local Boards of Elections have begun to consider what additional supplies and equipment they will need to implement the paper ballot voting system. The State BOE has started the process of developing an Invitation for Bids (IFB) for voting privacy booths.

The voting equipment manufacturers have been marketing their voting booth offerings for many months already but none of the proposed systems are inexpensive. Prices range from $150 to $300 per booth. Most are unnecessarily complex or bulky, requiring way too much storage space, and very few are designed with the voter’s comfort as a priority.

The above picture shows a very inexpensive solution which offers the needed privacy while also providing greater voter comfort. The photo is of a corrugated plastic tabletop divider fabricated from a 4' X 8' sheet of 1/4" signboard which produces three voting positions on a 7' table for less than $50. The IFB could specify such a design also.

Consider that practically every polling place has ready availability of folding tables and chairs. All that is needed to turn these ubiquitous items into comfortable voting booths is the addition of privacy screens.

The folding table solution suggested above is so inexpensive that each of our polling places could easily be provided with sixteen or more voting stations for the price of one commercial voting booth. What economy! What luxury!

If commercially available booths are the only option considered a minimum number of booths will be ordered to keep costs down. This will likely result in voters having to wait in line to vote. And, if the less expensive booths, which require the voter to remain standing while completing their ballot, are chosen the elderly and infirm will suffer discomfort and possibly be discouraged from voting at all.

The picture at right shows another frugal solution: a corrugated cardboard privacy carrel available from office supply services. If a more durable product is desired the IFB could specify corrugated plastic construction.

Given the present economic pressures we believe such a frugal solution is almost unavoidable. We hope the State BOE, their testing oversight contractor NYSTEC and the State OGS will give this suggestion serious consideration.

For the Voting Integrity Project,

Wayne R. Stinson, Coordinator