Although I was not able to go “gavel to gavel” on our latest re-recount as did our Webmaster, I did spend many hours as a watcher. I was also involved in the Cardenas/Hoelscher recount last year, and bring to the table personal experience in comparing the two not many people have.
The Hoelscher recount was purely paper ballot. The process was tedious, but it is a matter of public court record that neither side objected to that result. The Cardenas court case centered on inaccurate election night early results generated by the software package used to count those ballots on that night but he never questioned the recount.
I have to object to the Standard-Times' reporting in that between the “hillbilly election” editorial comment, and Mr. Anthony's story on the topic, it sounds like we conducted a rolling FUBAR (if the acronym does not resonate, ask a vet. Trust me, it is not a compliment.) of an election.
First, I give high marks to everyone involved. The candidates and their supporters were there, and at no point did I catch a whiff of anything save a desire for an accurate, honest count
The newspaper's interest is in getting a final count on election eve in time for the morning deadline is understandable, but I hope secondary to accuracy of the count. We may have gotten international attention in the press, but Tom Green was not alone in having election day problems with the new machines.
More training would have been helpful, but before we lay that blame at Mike Benton's feet, consider the training offered. The primary four hour course my clerks and I attended was purely the mechanics of the system. At the end of that course, I directly asked the Hart Intercivic instructor, in the event of a recount, what exactly would anyone be counting. I was essentially blown off, referred to “that will be determined by the Secretary of State”.
In my experience, people in positions of authority fail to respond directly to direct questions due to one of three reasons: They are hiding something nefarious or dirty; not a factor I give credence here; they don't know the answer, but don't want to be on record as not knowing something they really should know; or, there really is not an adequate answer and they don't want to say that on record.
Problems came up on election day that clearly were unanticipated. I had a voter drop his paper ballot in the emergency-power-out slot, a problem I cured with a piece of duct tape. The problem was resolved, we are prepared for it in runoff, I am sure that that voters' ballot was counted, but this and other problems were dumped on us to resolve on site. I had a voter recovering from a stroke, who physically could not operate either the dial or breath tube option. I had a “curbside voter” who insisted on a paper ballot.
I have done this for a while, started in '94. We have accommodated blind voters, quadraplegic voters, and totally illiterate voters. Yes, one is still allowed,with witness, to “make his mark” on the sign-in sheet. Prodded by Mission Control in Houston, we were the first state to provide for voting from outer space in the event an astronaut is on mission come election day. Texas defaults to the “let'um vote” position on most questionable calls.
Could Tom Green have been better prepared for this election? Almost certainly, but we had a brand new administrator, given a brand new system, and in my opinion, less support from Hart than he should have had. My precinct was one where the E-Scan machines refused the close-out password. We were finally told at 8:30 to “unplug the machine.”
Texas Election Code is inclusive. The message to election workers is to allow, rather than exclude voters. In all honesty, I have signed in and handed a ballot to people I knew in my heart were illegal, but under law, if the documents are there, they vote. For example, if a person hits my desk with no ID, no driver's license, no birth certificate, but he has a water bill sent to the indicated address in his name, and that name is on the list, he votes.
We may have hit the jackpot on media coverage, but we were not alone in having problems and the implication most of this is the fault of a pack of inbred hillbilly local clerks is unfair. It strikes me that the newspaper primarily knows this was not Hart's fault because Hart told them so. Before we jump on this “no paper ballots” bandwagon, maybe we should at least wait until the Taylor County suit is resolved. Seems voters there are charging they were “disenfranchised” by being denied a paper ballot option.
In sum, there is plenty of blame to pass around. Clearly, election security will be a huge issue for the County Commissioners, with input from the city. Hart is trying, they have developed software upgrades, backed up by hardware improvements to give each voter a printed record of his ballot, that can add-on to existing hardware. The buzzword here is “voter verifiable”. There is no way to get this done by run-off, but voter verifiable systems could help overcome the voter “Angst” headlined in today's paper by giving voters essentially a receipt when they finish voting. Hart owes us better support, and we owe ourselves a system above suspicion, or “Angst”, if you will.
Suffice it to say, with 40% plus of my voters opting for paper instead of trying to master E-Vote, we would do a disservice to those voters, regardless of the Taylor County suit, were we to eliminate the familiar paper voting option. Personally, I saved my vote until election day and used the E-Slate to be positive I could assist any voter in my precinct past the confusion of a new system. I did not find it difficult, but lots of people have to wait until the grandkids come to visit before they can tie, say the new DVD player to the old TV.