Monday, November 06, 2006

No on Question 4: the Election Central Command and Control Act

This post concludes a series arguing against Maryland's Question 4, a referendum on election law revisions that I christened the "Linda Lamone Lifetime Appointment Act" and the "Election Technology Boondoggle Act" in prior posts in the "Free State Politics" blog.

This time I focus on another troubling aspect of Question 4: the way it allows the Maryland State Board of Elections to assume control of local election processes. When HB 1368 -- the basis of Question 4 -- is closely examined, it's quickly clear that the measure also gives the state of Maryland a great deal of power over local election officials:
[2-103.]
[(b) The State Administrator shall:]
(4) supervise the operations of the local boards AND, IN ACCORDANCE WITH SUBSECTION (C) OF THIS SECTION, INITIATE A LEGAL ACTION TO ENJOIN THE ACTIONS OF A LOCAL BOARD OR THE ELECTION DIRECTOR OF A LOCAL BOARD
In said subsection C, it develops that the State Administrator may be initiating legal actions not just under the specific authority of HB 1368, but on behalf of regulations promulgated by the Board of Elections later on:
[2-103.]
(C) (1) THE STATE ADMINISTRATOR MAY FILE SUIT IN A COURT OF COMPETENT JURISDICTION TO ENJOIN A LOCAL BOARD OR ITS ELECTION DIRECTOR FROM VIOLATING ANY PROVISIONOF THIS ARTICLE OR OF A REGULATION, GUIDELINE, OR PROCEDURE ADOPTED UNDER THIS ARTICLE.
(Emphasis added.) Thus, even were you in full agreement with everything else in HB 1368, you'd still be unwise to vote for Question 4 because of the sweeping powers it grants to the State Administrator to enforce future Board of Elections regulations -- however unwise, arbitrary, or unfair they might be.

As elections activist Robert Lanza has pointed out, one direction this could take is the simple removal of local elections judges in favor of contractors like Diebold favored by the State Board and/or Administrator. There's little I see in HB 1368 to prevent it, and more to suggest it. Specifically, when the powers of local election directors and the local election board are enumerated, the word "MAY" precedes powers such as appointing employees, training election judges, and processing absentee ballot applications, while the word "SHALL" precedes duties such as getting State Administrator approval of precinct boundary changes or Board approval of locally adopted election regulations. If Linda Lamone got it into her head that hired election "judges" would outperform the local volunteer variety, there might be less standing in her way than we'd like.

With greater control comes correspondingly greater power to manipulate elections. The manipulation need not take the form of actual vote-changing -- the valid "black box" worry about electronic voting -- but may instead be bureaucratic, aggregate election suppression. A local precinct chair has noted,
Montgomery County has traditionally run very efficient elections. Under Lamone's direction, both materials and equipment were very late in coming. Three-fourths of judges had been trained when new directives came from the state. There is a fear that this will happen again in November. Training on e-poll-books was too late. ... Yes, there was human error, but there was gross mismanagement from the State Administrator.
(Emphasis added.) While it's always been possible that a given county elections board might encounter difficulties, HB 1368 and Question 4 would make it more likely than ever that the State Board of Elections or State Elections Administrator could set it up for failure -- whether intentionally or not.

Conclusion
In previous posts I've argued that passage of Question 4 would make it too difficult to remove the election administrator from office, and that it places too much trust and emphasis on "technology" per se without similar emphasis on safeguards and feasibility. Here I assert something that seems to be a different topic -- local versus centralized authority and control over the election process.

But it's all connected. Whether or not it's the intent of Linda Lamone and her Diebold suppliers, the fact remains that the system they envision allows the central, networked command and control of elections. After all, that's the flip side of electronic voting: programmable voting machines electronically tallying their results and uploading them to central election computers.

The relationship between the State Board of Elections and companies like Diebold is a symbiosis between a technology supplier and a new political power center. Suppliers of electronic voting and registration-checking equipment gets a lucrative and -- thanks to the "technology boondoggle" clause -- never-ending, expanding relationship with the State Board of Elections and its administrator. For their part, that board and especially its administrator become a new and all but invulnerable under-the-radar force in Maryland politics.

Screwups like the recent September 12 election meltdown in Montgomery County, or the suspicious inability to squeeze James Webb's last name onto Virginia voting machine screens, might be accidental at first. But they might not be so the second time -- and the system we're creating in Maryland, with its NASA-like pre-election checklists and proprietary black box voting machines, is riddled with opportunities for mischief.

Luckily, this Tuesday Maryland can vote for the first step back to common sense, voter-verified balloting and elections and away from unaccountable, excessive bureaucratic power over those elections: vote "No" on Question 4.


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CROSSPOSTED from "newsrack."

UPDATE, 11/6: The full 2003 SAIC report on Maryland's voting machines -- a.k.a. "the Pentagon Papers of e-voting" -- has been leaked by a "a patriotic high-level state official," and has been made available at "The BRAD BLOG". Rebecca Abrahams first obtained the document. She writes that "the report is considered to be a serious "smoking gun" by the very few computer experts who have seen it. It is evidence, they say, of a very purposeful plan by Diebold to hide the operational and security flaws on the machines that count all of the votes in Maryland and Georgia and many of the votes in states across the country."

2 Comments:

Blogger The League: Reassembled said...

This was a terrific series. We hope you raised some awareness, at least within the blogosphere, as to the dangers of Question 4.

Great job on substantive, informative posts.

11/06/2006 09:51:00 PM  
Blogger Thomas Nephew said...

Thanks very much, I really appreciate that.

11/07/2006 12:07:00 PM  

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