In my earlier post on this topic, I said Judge Brown's intention were undecided, but, I have been told that some of my phrasing was taken as an implication that Brown was equally culpable for the election night fubar. That was not my intention, and I apologize if I left that impression. To the best of my knowledge, Judge Brown is asking for details of the election and has not yet taken a position.
I have talked to a lot more people and have more first hand information than I did Wednesday. I am sorry to say, nothing I have learned makes Mike Benton look any better.
The paper ballots were not counted by hand as I satirically suggested in an earlier post. The one scanner we had was smaller and slower than had been used in past elections. Workers were feeding stacks of 30 to 40 ballots at a time, waiting for it to digest them, and repeating the process. About 10:00 PM, someone, by one report Vonna McKerly, suggested bringing up some of the Hart E-Scan machines and putting them to work. As they had not been prepped, each had to be programmed before being put to work, but eventually 8 of them were added to the assembly line.
The E-Scan machine was designed as a precinct counting machine, as it was used in March. The study I mentioned in my Standard-Time guest column, in a review of Florida jurisdictions with various voting systems, the paper ballot with precinct scanners to tabulate the vote had the lowest error rate of any looked at. This study was also sent directly to Mr. Benton. I do not know whether he read it, but it was provided to him. Used as a precinct counter the E-Scan has the additional advantage of being its own paper trail, as the physical ballots are preserved in the event of a recount.
This brings up the critical question of why the E-Scan machines were not used as designed, as precinct level tabulators. In the March primary, some E-Scan machines, the one in my precinct being one, failed to close down at end of day, they did not recognize the password provided. We were eventually told to unplug them and bring them in. On election night, my party Chair, Russ Duerstine, queried Mr. Benton on just this point. Nearly everyone with real knowledge of the systems I have told about this problem had the opinion the problem in March was bound to be improper programming of the E-Scans that did not respond. Mr. Benton told Russ those machines had malfunctioned and that was why they were not used at precinct level this time, they were unreliable.
Had those E-Scan boxes been used at precinct level, instead of feeding over 10,000 paper ballots through slow scanners, elections office would have pulled the cards from 50-some scanners and read them. If those scanners were so unreliable we could not use them in the way Hart Intercivic designed them, how could Mr. Benton turn around and decide they were adequate to do a central counting station function for which they were never designed?
How Mr. Benton arrived at his 25% paper ballot figure is another mystery. In the early voting, where there were plenty of both paper booths and machines available, the voters, under no pressure of limited availability chose paper right at 50% of the time. The initial count showing Kay Longest ahead at 64% came from the 3,100 early votes cast on the E-Slates. Total early vote was about 6,800, 3,100 of which were cast on paper, on site, the balance being mail-in absentee. In that ballots are now printed in house, there is no excuse for not erring on the side of caution and having plenty of ballots. They are not expensive. In my years as an election judge, most of which was solely paper, we normally turned in more unvoted ballots than used. Why this sudden frugality on paper?
Compounding the crush of election day ballots, the early voting paper was not counted until election night. 68.034 of election code demands that the county clerk transmit the early voting results to the Secretary of State at 7:00 PM of election day, consistent with 68.033 which says the early voting ballot board shall count the ballots “periodically throughout the day.”
I have talked to a number of precinct judges, over twenty to date, who did work this election. When directly questioned on these two points not a one of them claimed to have faith in the current voting system, and not one had faith in the competency of the current elections administrator. Aside from the election night debacle other complaints surfaced.
Inadequate training was high on the list. I did work the March primary, and Hart provided four hours of training, with another hour by the elections office itself. This time we watched an hour long movie provided by the Secretary of State, which was not even specific to the Hart system we are using. If Mr. Benton presumed everyone had done the training in March, he was wrong. He had no basis for such an assumption, he of all people should have known who had volunteered.
Poor communication was another. In previous elections I had been provided with as many as four phone numbers, three being numbers not in the phone book. Some judges still had those numbers from previous elections and had no problem getting through, those lines are still active. Why weren't all election workers given these numbers?
One judge told me she was not given the notice giving the Secretary of State's toll free complaint line to voters, and was taken to task over that by an observer from that office. Posting that sign in the polling place is required by statute. I started asking that, and no judge I spoke to was given one.
Poll workers complained of being assigned to precincts other than that for which they had volunteered. That is something I had never heard of before, and I have done this for many years.
I will add one of my reasons for resigning, though it goes back to the March primary. In earlier elections, on paper, we picked up our supplies the day before election and did the physical set-up the afternoon or evening before. I would have everything set to go when I walked in the polling place in the morning. The only thing that did not stay in the polling place was the bundle of ballots. They went home with me and I literally slept with them, only unwrapping and signing them on election morning with other poll workers present. In March, elections office came to each place and put in the E-Slates, the JBC controller, and the E-Scan for paper ballots. Those machines then sat there overnight. In the fifty some polling places I don't guess much more than a thousand or so people between deacons, janitors, teachers, etc. had keys to one or another of them. That was totally unacceptable ballot security to me. The E-Slate machine heads were the ballots.
Several judges I spoke to expressed their belief that Mr. Benton had set out with the intention of making paper ballots look bad, and it is true he has more than once publicly expressed his personal preference for an all electronic voting system, most recently on KSAN news last Wednesday. On election night, Russ Duerstine overheard Benton to say, “We are just going to have to force the voters to use the electronic option.” Fortunately, that is not his decision to make. The County Commissioners, or in Party Primaries, the respective Party executive committees, selects the system to be used. I have no personal knowledge of evidence that would prove Benton deliberately sabotaged this election, but that leaves one with the alternative that he was staggeringly incompetent.
I originally supported Mr. Benton's selection enthusiastically. I spoke to my party chair, Dennis McKerly at least twice urging his appointment. I am now forced to the conclusion it is time for a change in that office. Aside from the sheer ineptitude, by continuing to advise adoption of a system the voters have so clearly expressed distrust in, Benton shows no faith in the judgment of the voters he works for. Unless the many, many people I have talked to are by some fluke a totally unrepresentative sample, the voters have no faith in him.