After February Hearing, What’s Next?

What’s Next?
The loss at the hearing last week and the length of time to have an appeal (approx. year) means I need not worry about my lawsuit for a while. I can concentrate on other things. I have an offer to write a book. I have a day job I need to give more focused attention to. I’m working an editorial on voting system recommendations for Sedgwick County.

I am extremely disappointed that I won’t be able to verify results of 2014 before the 2016 election, which will be run on the same equipment. Our election commissioner has decided to postpone purchasing a new system that would provide a complete paper record of all ballots until 2017.

Sedgwick County
So…what can we do to improve the situation in 2016? I have a few ideas, but I would need help to accomplish any of them. The hearing has shown me just how many other people care about this issue. It’s nice to know that there are others who want to see transparency in our election results. With help, here are some things that we could accomplish.

“Paper Please” Promotion
This isn’t something I can do; promotion of any sort is outside my bailiwick. I’m a shy nerd. I don’t know what would be required to get the word out to all voters in Sedgwick County that they have the right to a paper ballot and that their vote has a better chance of being counted properly if they mark a paper ballot. But this isn’t something that needs my special skills either. The buttons and bumper stickers that people brought to my hearing were awesome and unexpected. Thank you.

Exit Poll the 2016 election
This requires volunteers and not much else. Well, tables and chairs and paper ballots, stuff like that. I would need to do some research on what is allowed and what isn’t when conducting an exit poll, then train volunteers to do the job and schedule shifts for the polling place(s).
The basic idea is to staff a relatively large polling station with volunteers to pass out paper ballots and put them into a box to be counted at the end of the day. They would report their results. I would get copies of the total tapes for those voting stations and compare the two. We wouldn’t have 100% coverage, but if we can manage more than 80% I would be delighted. Even 20% would provide a reasonable check on the accuracy of the reported totals. If anyone is interested in volunteering to do this next November, let me know. With help, we can organize such a poll.

I even found and joined a facebook group for this kind of activity: Citizen Exit Poll

Recount the 2016 election
In Sedgwick County, only a candidate may request a recount. The candidate may specify the precincts to be recounted and the method of the recount. The candidates themselves are not allowed to be in the room where the votes are being recounted by the election board, but they are allowed to specify a representative who is able to observe the ballots to assure that they are counted properly.

In order to do a solid audit through recounts, I need as many candidates as I can get to request a recount and appoint me as their representative. I will also need funding to cover the costs; recounts aren’t free. Finally, I doubt I will manage to get a recount done to my satisfaction without a judge ordering them to do it. That means I’ll need legal assistance before I’ll be granted access. While I have pro bono lawyer on my current case, I can’t expect him to add on another for free. Nor can I donate as much of my time as is required without compensation, so I’ll be soliciting donations to fund our time as well.

I know how to select a representative sample in a low cost way, but thus far the election office have refused to even give me an estimate of the costs of doing such a recount. The cost for a hand count of the paper ballots in 2014 was IIRC around $10,000. Recounting RTAL ballots will be harder, even more time consuming, and there are an order of magnitude more votes to be counted that way. I expect it to be costly. I estimate the cost will be between $20,000 and $100,000. If it happens. I give a higher probability to the outcome that my ability to conduct a recount in 2016 will be thwarted in some way.

A good critical look at the mail in ballots and provisional ballots wouldn’t be a bad idea either. But again, this requires more time of all the officials involved, which in turn means they will charge me more for doing this work. So, I guess it’s time for me to find out if I can overcome all my mental blocks to asking people for money and raise sufficient funds.

Other places
The three activities outlined above can be modified to other jurisdictions. Promoting “Paper Please” won’t be needed in places with a solid paper trail already. Recounts are expensive and the laws vary about who and when they can be requested, so that’s a step requiring a strong commitment.

If people are interested in pursuing recounts, I can help them understand what steps would be needed to verify the output of an election using a sample of paper records – i.e. I can minimize the costs of the sample for the greatest return on information gained. But the most likely outcome is a lot of legal hassles and grudging limited access for those who can get a judge’s permission to see the records. One guy was allowed to photograph ballots but not touch them. He found discrepancies ranging from 3% to over 5%.

I leave it to every individual voter reading this to decide what they personally are willing to do to make sure their vote is counted accurately. Voting with a paper ballot is an option nearly everywhere and requires only that you ask for it when you vote.

Activists, I would recommend running an independent exit poll on election day. Setting one up locally is not all that expensive with volunteers. If that’s something that interests you, let me know. I can help with the details. Then you can compare your results with the reported results and see what you think of the comparison. If they match up well, then congratulations. You have no reason to suspect the count is inaccurate.

If they don’t match up, it’s more evidence in support of the hypothesis that we have a serious problem with the foundation of our democracy. Once you have established that the foundation has rotted away, you have to replace it with a solid one. Hopefully, without bringing the entire edifice down upon you while the replacement is being put in.