Tuesday, September 30, 2008


BARKS AGAINST THE EMPIRE: Last week we sniffed around the reported supposed stunning decrease in spoiled ballots during the Sept 20 election and for the first time were able to throw dimwitted Elections Bureau Chief Kevin Cronin a potential bone for having possibly done something right during the months running up to the balloting,

But it’s becoming clearer that, as we suspected, in all likelihood it was only through manipulation of the statistics and reports and the ways the ballots were treated and in fact counted after balloting took place that the decrease in over-votes and spoiled ballots could make sense.

First, in a follow-up to his original analysis of the raw numbers claimed by the Election Bureau Honolulu, Advertiser political reporter and blogger Derrick DePledge attempted yesterday to explain the massive decrease he originally reported.

First thing he discovered was evidence that the voters were confused by having to check an extra box to designate a party, as many feared would happen going in. He wrote .

Many folks simply do not believe the results reported by the state Office of Elections given past patterns.

(One precinct worker said he collected at least 50 ballots where voters had screwed up before voting correctly, which showed that the ballot design was confusing even though the end products were successfully cast — and presumably counted — ballots.)

Then he goes on to quote Democratic Party activist and long-time voting observer extraordinaire Bart Dame in addressing the problems predicted by many, including himself.

Bart Dame, a Democratic activist and election observer, has identified the most curious aspect of the results. Why so many votes for the obscure Independent Party?

The results showed 1,305 votes at the precinct level and 754 absentee votes for the Independent Party for 2,059 votes overall.

Shaun Stenshol, the Independent candidate in the 2nd Congressional District, received 967 votes and had 291 blank votes for 1,258 overall.

That leaves a gap of 801 Independent Party votes.

These 801 voters could have picked the Independent Party and then skipped the partisan races, voting only in the non-partisan races, such as the mayoral campaigns. Some, however, could have picked the Independent Party because they think of themselves as independents and then tried to vote for Democratic or Republican candidates, spoiling their absentee ballots or overriding or giving up in frustration when the voting machines at the precincts flagged their errors.

Dame would like to see a more complete breakdown of the Independent Party vote to determine exactly what happened.

There were also the 2,074 voters who picked the non-partisan ballot option. These could be voters who were only interested in the mayoral, city council or school board races or — worse — thought they had to pick the non-partisan ballot to vote in non-partisan races and spoiled their votes for partisan candidates.

But that doesn’t seem like it could have influenced the dramatic decrease. But that’s because DePledge only told part of Dame’s story.

In the comments on the blog post Dame wrote:

I would present the math a little different in discussing the Independent Party vote:

2059 voters statewide selected the IP Ballot.

As you wrote, “Shaun Stenshol, the Independent candidate in the 2nd Congressional District, received 967 votes and had 291 blank votes for 1,258 overall.”

Those 1258 votes tell us the number of 2nd CD voters who selected the IP ballot. Therefore, there were 801 voters in the First CD who took an IP ballot, even though there were NO IP candidates for them to vote for.

If we review the voting patterns for minor political parties in the last few Hawaii elections, voters who select “third party” ballot have consistently voted in the 90% plus range for at least one of the party’s candidates.

With the previous, ES&S system, voters were not presented party ballot lines when there were no candidates available for them to vote for. The Hart ballot was designed in such a way that made this mistake possible. It is possible that 801 First CD voters consciously chose the IP ballot as a means of making a statement against the present “two party duopoly,” which dominates our current system. Or they may have been confused and picked the IP ballot because they view themselves as “independent” voters, not understanding the IP is a party– one created to put Ralph Nader on Hawaii’s ballot for the General Election.

An advantage of the Hart optical scan system is its ability to allow for an easy review of images made of the paper ballots as they were scanned and the votes tallied. I suggest the Office of Elections should conduct a review of the ballots cast by voters who selected both the “Independent Party” and “Non-Partisan” ballots. Not to change any vote totals, but in a forensic examination of the voting process to determine the scope of possible voter error, or faulty ballot design. We have the evidence available. Let’s check the data and improve the system for the next election.

Of course, as many remember, Cronin was cut a new one by an administrative hearings officer for picking the Hart InterCivic voting system and cancelling all but this year’s contract, keeping it because it was too late to change it. He also secretly designed the new ballot without checking with anyone as required by law.

But that wasn’t enough for blogger Doug White at Poinography (with a sub-title we’re jealous of- Adhocracy in Action) who dug a little deeper, also with the help of Dane.

White wrote

I was flummoxed by this paragraph in a recent Advertiser story:

“Rex Quidilla, of the Office of Elections, said voters who picked a party had their votes for that party’s candidates counted at precincts even if they tried to cross over and vote for another party’s candidates in certain races. He also said that votes cast in nonpartisan races — such as the mayoral campaigns — were counted even when voters spoiled their ballots in partisan races.”

Then after citing our report on the dearth of required administrative rules White said.

The existing rule §2-51-1 defines a spoiled ballots as “a ballot marked incorrectly by the voter, is misprinted, is illegibly printed, or contains some other defect,” but, beyond that definition, the rules only mention spoiled ballots insofar as to describe what becomes of such ballots if they are discovered before being cast. However, if spoiled ballots were discovered later (as seems to be the case this year), there were (and still are) no rules to explain how a spoiled ballot is to be tallied or, to put first things first, if portions of a spoiled ballot may be tallied by somehow inferring or divining the voter “intent.” In the past it would seem that spoiled ballots were discarded altogether, but that’s only my best assumption.

The so-called “salvaging” of votes by the Office of Elections, however well-intentioned, is clearly open to perceptions of manipulation. As Bart Dame put it so well
last month, “I am NOT saying the OoE staff, or the employees of the voting machine vendors (in this case, Hart-InterCivic) are crooks. I want a system with enough safeguards where they COULD be crooks and it would have no impact due to the safeguards we put into place and the technologies used.”

Dane’s commentary from before the election is rather long but seemingly accurate in predicting may of the problems so far in this year’s elections. .

And in a comment Dane, who witnessed the way the procedures were apparently made up as they went along, on election night, de-flummoxed White by delving further into the matter saying:

(I)f a voter marked they wanted to vote in the Republican primary and cast some votes for Republican candidates, but then voted for a Democratic (or Green or Libertarian) candidate elsewhere on the ballot, the votes cast for the explicitly chosen party (Republican, in this example) would be counted. The votes for candidates from the other parties would be ignored. In previous primary elections, votes cast for candidates from multiple parties would invalidate the entire partisan portion of the ballot.
The next sentence in the Hon-Ad paragraph:

“He also said that votes cast in nonpartisan races — such as the mayoral campaigns — were counted even when voters spoiled their ballots in partisan races.”

Even with the “Select a Party” question reducing the number of spoiled ballots, it is still possible to do so. For example, if a voter selects TWO parties. Or if a voter fails to select any party, then proceeds to cast votes for candidates from multiple parties. Under those rather limited circumstances, the partisan portion of the ballot would be invalidated for reasons of “multi-party voting.”.

But then the heart of the matter was revealed:

Regarding the “vote salvaging operation”: I had raised concerns prior to the election whether such an effort might not be bending the Office of Election’s hard and fast insistence that we are not a “voter intent” state. They have that position for exactly the concern you raise. When human beings try to determine a voter’s intent by ambiguous markings, the results are easily distorted by bias. My understanding is there were 997 ballots cast where the voter had failed, or perhaps refused, to pick a party. These ballots were kicked out by the machines and handed over to a bi-partisan group of election observers. The job of the observers was to determine if votes were cast within a single party’s primary. If they were, they were regarded as properly cast and were counted. Where a voter cast votes in the primary of more than one party, the partisan portion of the ballot was judged “spoiled,” though the non-partisan votes were still counted.

I can agree this may seem a bit “ad hoc.” I had attempted to get straight answers from the Office of Elections prior to the vote on how they would handle such ballots. I was reassured they would be treated in this way, only to see public statements from election officials which gave contrary information.

But I believe the “vote salvage operation” was handled objectively and with the support of the election observers.

Although I am trying to reassure you on these particular points, I still have serious concerns about the conduct of elections in Hawaii, particularly with the secretive procurement process for choosing a voting system and the weak audit standards for verifying the electronic vote.

And as to our supposition from last week that there was more vigilance and insistence on taking another ballot for people who spoiled optical scan ballots causing the machine to spit them out, another comment at Poinography said

Having worked the polls standing at the optical scanner, I can tell you one of the most common errors people made was to pick a single party to vote in but fail to actually color in the box next to that party in the box hidden over on the lower right. Dumb, dumb dumb ballot design.

If a person only voted in one party, it’s not hard to discern which party they wished to vote in. The machine kicks them out as spoiled anyway. I’m going to guess these “salvaged” votes came from the mailed in absentee ballots with this sort of error. Other errors, you’d have to be guessing which is bogus.

Luckily on Kauai, no partisan race had more than one candidate so the entire party primary exercise was silly in the first place

And, as we reported before the election, the paper ballots apparently will never be seen again because, we learned during a conversation with Dame on the Malama Kaua`i Radio program the day before the election, the legally required “audit” we excoriated for being insufficient was even more deficient that we thought.

The audit, it appears
1) done only in one race,
2) done only in 10% of the precincts of that race
3) done only on ballots cast on election day (no absentee or walk-in)
4) done only on election night before the results are announced
5) done only on O`ahu so are done only for O`ahu ballots

Since there was no statewide race this year it’s not clear what race was “audited” this way, if any.

This means no local Kaua`i races are ever audited and the Kaua`i and neighbor island precincts weren’t even used in the one statewide race that was examined by hand because it was done while the paper ballots were still on Kaua`i.

And as we reported the paper ballots are never touched again on neighbor islands once they are cast.

Those who think a “paper trail” makes a difference can take those paper ballots and, like the state elections bureau does, stick them where the sun doesn’t shine.

Because they will never see the light of day again once the results are announced... and one must prove to a judge they contain evidence of actual (not just suspected) fraud in order to ever examine them..

Welcome to governance in Hawai`i- the new home of the Star Chamber mentality where the Minotaur’s Labyrinth rules supreme.

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