The NC GOP: False economies or voter suppression?

The definition of an idiot: Someone who turns down an immediate 600% return on an investment:

Absent from the proposed budget is a previously-included $664,000 appropriation that would automatically release $4 million in federal funds to maintain and improve the state’s election system.

There are only two possible reasons Republicans would do this: a) They're incredibly dumb, or b) They're intentionally trying to disable our extremely complex statewide voting system, probably because they operate from a centuries-old belief that voting should not be a universal right, but a privilege that is only shared by a certain class of the population. And I'm having trouble figuring out which one of those is worse.


It's not just the $664K!

The GOP is taking away a little over $100K in additional funding because of mandated shortfalls elsewhere.

Now another funny thing about election equipment maintenance issues. There was a slight change in language introduced last year by Sen. Stevens from Wake County - to allow county BOEs to hire their own technicians to maintain their voting equipment and not buy a maintenance agreement from the vendor ES&S.

According to FOIA docs provided from the SBOE, there is one and only one election director in the entire state who is pushing to do their own maintenance on voting equipment - Wake ED Cherie Poucher.

This was done without any input from the SBOE, the AG's office, the vendor or any verified voting activists. It wasn't even put through the normal channels of being introduced and debated in a committee meeting dealing with election items. It was just submitted as part of the budget. And what pisses me off even more is that right next to the section of the budget that deals with SBOE and HAVA money is an increase in the budget of $1.5 million last year and this year for the NC Symphony. And they raided a self-insurance fund for THAT money! So millions for the NC Symphony but gut the budget for the SBOE and county BOEs.

This year it's even worse. The NC Symphony gets another $500K added to the $1.5 million for this year - for a total of $2 million!

Just kidding - there is a wholesale attempt to gut the protections we've had for election integrity since 2005. Cherie's friend Richard Stevens is gutting maintenance and warranty protections for the Public Confidence in Elections Act. Here are the holes in the language.

Section 23.3(a) - dealing with NCGS 163-165.9(b)(2):

The part about the SBOE annually reporting to the committees is interesting - because the committees that aren't being reported to are the joint Legislative Election Oversight Committee or the specific committees that deal with elections in the House or Senate.

Also the reports are done AFTER the fact - there is no place for the SBOE to go BEFORE a contract is signed to make sure the contract DOES provide adequate protection for election integrity, security, intellectual property rights for the vendor's technology, etc.

The section (i) about the vendor having to operate a training program offered in NC means that ES&S would have to set up a duplicate training and certification operation in NC like the one they have in Omaha. Seems like Cherie Poucher is trying to push her local maintenance vendors who she claimed were certified by ES&S but were not (according to the vendor herself).

Nothing in the language about the specific requirements for a qualified technician. What if some fly-by-night company came in and offered training and certification for county voting machine technicians - would they have to honor warranties for machines when ES&S has no real business relationship with them?

Section (ii) talks about not dishonoring warranties because a county is doing their own maintenance:

(a) - not even sure that it's legal for the government to tell a private business that they have to honor a warranty if they have no control over how a county does maintenance work UNTIL AFTER the damage is done.

(b) - they are required to maintain annual software licensing - good for the state and county BOE and voters.

(c) - not sure what they mean by the equipment in (i) remaining in stock - does that mean the actual voting machines, or the parts for the voting machines?

(d) - maintains a tracking record - I think Gary Bartlett wrote many times that this was something the counties absolutely would need to do. But it doesn't go into much detail about the specific requirements for the tracking record. This is obviously something that I would think both the vendor and the SBOE would want to have input in before any county started doing their own maintenance.

(e) - they aren't requiring only the use of certified parts provided by the vendor. Not sure about the issue of price - are they expecting ES&S to sell parts to Wake County for the same price they sell parts to PrintElect (the company based in NC that actually services the machines currently)?

(f) - accepts financial responsibility for expenses related to voting equipment failure. This needs to be more specific - would this just be for expenses in the county, or across the state (like Carteret County)? And it's worthless unless each county that chooses to do their own maintenance is required to post a bond to cover the costs of a statewide election redo - just like the law originally required each vendor to do, and which was something ES&S actually did do and still maintains that bond.

Section 23.3(b) - the SBOE can use HAVA funds for training local county technicians. This may force counties to do their own maintenance if they can't use the HAVA money to pay for maintenance done by ES&S through PrintElect?

I have no idea what Section 23.3(c) means when they refer to "consensus estimate" or consensus percentage" other than if they feel that ES&S/PrintElect must do 15% (for example) of the maintenance on equipment, then you can only charge 15% of the ES&S per machine maintenance price.

I like the language about the SBOE "MOE" (Maintenance of Effort) variance - especially the requirement that extra funds be transferred. Problem that I see is that the extra funds must come from another part of the SBOE budget (code 1100) but that any overage must be pulled out and reverted to the General Fund at the end of the year. What if the overage came from code 1100 - shouldn't that money go back to SBOE code 1100?

Overall it seems like the language is less than desirable. There is no real proof required that the County can actually do the maintenance itself. For example, wouldn't the cost of requiring ES&S to maintain an NC-based training and certification program really jack-up the cost of the training and certification - wouldn't it be MORE expensive than $15K for the first year and $5K in subsequent years?

What happens if the SBOE gives a blessing to a county (like Wake) and gets a local employee trained and certified - and then something happens to the tech (gets hit by a bus or leaves the employment of the county BOE) - too many variables. For example, Cherie cites as proof how Wake can do their own maintenance because her tech Dale Beavers has something like 30 years of experience working on voting machines.

Big problem - Beavers ain't working for Wake BOE anymore!

This looks like something written in a hurry by Cherie's friend Senator Richard Stevens to provide a quick and dirty way to cover whatever someone like Wake BOE Election Director Cherie Poucher wants to do for her own maintenance to make it look like she is covering all the bases that were not covered by last year's bill.

SBOE Election Director Gary Bartlett tells me that Cherie is the only Election Director in the state pushing to do their own maintenance. I assume that no one at SBOE had anything to do with that newly added language? Did anyone ask Gary Bartlett what he thinks of the new language - would it actually clear up the muddy waters left from last year's change, or would it make the situation even worse?

My opinion on the new section is that it's an attempt to address issues raised from last-years changes, but that it muddies the water even more. It could make things even worse unless Gary Bartlett to figure out some way to hold Cherie's feet to the fire. Otherwise we can kiss goodbye the protections provided by the Public Confidence in Elections Act since 2005.

So let's hope that Governor Perdue vetos this terrible budget for the danger it poses to election integrity! But let's hope it doesn't stop there!

What makes it worse is that we had two Dems on the Wake BOE who forgot that the staff works for the Board members - not the other way around. They let ED Poucher provide them with the ONLY information they used to make decisions about voting equipment maintenance, and did not even take the time to contact other people in the county or state who have access to alternate information.

And when that info was presented to them - they refused to consider it, perhaps out of some institutional momentum. Then two of the three BOE members quit to run for public office in February, leaving the two new BOE members not wanting to rock the boat - and sticking with Poucher's agenda.

What will the Wake County do about this serious statewide threat to election integrity that started RIGHT HERE in their own backyard? Let's hope they do something serious and do it soon!

President Obama won election by only 14K votes in a state that in 2008 was ranked as being in the top 8 out of 50 for voter protection and election integrity. What will happen in 2012 when the Public Confidence in Elections Act is being gutted by Wake BOE staffers and Democrats won't lift a finger to stop it?

Chris Telesca
Wake County Verified Voting