July 31, 2006
Taking Voters for a Ride
Friday's special session of the Hamilton County Election Commission was too much fun for eight o'clock in the morning.
I went to witness the Commissioners act on the curbside recycling petition (it was unanimously approved), but got more than I expected when the topic turned to voting machines. That's when the small room got even smaller.
If you'll recall, at the close of the county primaries in May, there were problems with transmitting the voting machine totals back to the Commission office. These problems were blamed on a rat that had urinated all over some modems and thus rendered the equipment useless. The problems have since been fixed, or so we're told.
Still, Elections Administrator Bud Knowles, computer tech Shannon DeFriese, and a representative of Diebold made a decision to not attempt electronic transfers from any precinct at the close of the August 3 election. This decision was not made because of rat pee, but because each precinct will now have two types of machine: the familiar optical scan, and a new touch-screen model that is reserved for disabled voters.
There is an interface available to combine the touch-screen results with the optical scan tally and thus transmit a precinct's total as one set of numbers; but this adapter is pending approval by the state. What this means is that the optical scan results could be transmitted, but the touch-screen machines will have to be manually transported to the Election Commission in order to be counted. Complete results, then, would not be available until these transfers and counts had been made; so the advantage of electronic transfer (for the optical scan machines) is mitigated by the need for some of the votes to be hauled in by hand.
This was apparently unacceptable news to at least two of the Commission members. Commissioner Mike Walden voiced the most vigorous complaints, and made quite a case by asking how many voters had used the new machines (six, including Mr. Knowles and Ms. DeFriese, out of 13,300 early voters) and reminding the group that the county has used electronic transmission for ten years.
Bud Knowles countered that the election workers were having to handle enough with the training on the new machines, and couldn't be burdened with having to keep straight the fact that some results would be transmitted and the others transported. Walden swiveled in his chair and leveled his heavy-eyed, imposing persona at no one in particular: then we ought to hire more competent workers, was his retort. Knowles held his ground and said that this was a one-time decision based on the factors he had already named, and that all the results would be tabulated at the end of their respective journeys across town. He added, in his quiet, country voice, that the extra wait would be no more than 30 minutes or so.
Since Mike Walden serves not only as an Election Commissioner but as campaign manager for an incumbent Sheriff in one of the most watched races this election, one can see how he would be anxious to see instant results. But it was his next statement that opened my eyes to something else: just how entrenched the two-party system has become. The voting machines from every precinct must be accompanied by one Democrat and one Republican at all times while being transported, he reminded the room. Heads nodded all around, and someone backed it up with the phrase "state law."
I haven't looked up the law. Is this true? What about my independent vote? Last I checked, there were more than a handful of political parties in this state. Why guarantee that only two of them will watchdog each other? What if they decided to work together? What about the District 2 County Commission race, which is between a Republican and a Libertarian? Shouldn't every precinct's machine from that district have a Libertarian riding shotgun? (I know, I know: good luck finding that many Libertarians who'll leave their basements for such a trip.)
Furthermore, Administrator Knowles said that when he made the decision to forego electronic transmissions in this next election, he notified the "two party chairmen." I found myself agreeing with Mike Walden and fellow Commissioner Linda Morris-Avila's consternation at being left out of the loop in lieu of
Stuart James and Bobby Wood, but they in turn represent the Democrat and Republican factions of the divided election commission.
I am on the same page as A.C. Kleinheider yet again, who says "parties are a means to an end." I'd rather not have any partisans riding with the votes, if we can't fit all of them in the car (bus?). I want a nonpartisan election commission, ethics commission, and judiciary, for starters. Use parties for their inherent good, but try like heck to avoid their inherent evil. We're all obviously against having a single political party (see China), but I've thought for a while now that we also need more than two. This wink-wink tug-of-war game is beneath us.