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.
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.
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