Sunday, October 23, 2016

Security at the Polls

I want to take a moment and go on the public record:

I am working as a volunteer in Elbert County on the 2016 General Election.  I have always believed that helping with elections is my civic duty. To me, there is nothing more important than to protect the integrity of our elections.  Each election cycle I am honored to take the oath as an election official  to do my job honestly and without bias. I feel privileged to work next to friends whom I know to hold opposing political viewpoints than my own.  I applaud each and every citizen who is dedicated to this, the American way.

I am certain that the election process in Elbert County is being run fairly and that there is no reason to fear for the validity of this upcoming election.  Elbert County Clerk and Recorder Dallas Schroeder and Election Manager Rhonda Braun have, to the best of my knowledge, provided the time and resources necessary for a fair election and have provided a bipartisan environment that will meet the stringent requirements put upon the county by the Secretary of State’s Office for the State of Colorado.

That said, I want to point out that the 2016 election is probably one of the most contentious in modern times.  This election, poll watchers, registered and trained by the state, will be at the polls to observe this process in unprecedented numbers.  They will be required to follow strict guidelines and will be doing a very important job this election cycle.  They will be helping us to maintain faith in the American electoral process.  As I have pointed out in a previous article, it is not likely but it is possible, due to the heated nature of our presidential contest, for the polling places to experience turmoil.  There have been articles both in print and played on television in regards to these concerns and I believe you, the reader, have seen them, too. 

This year both of the two major political parties in Colorado have expressed concerns that the full service voter centers where people are working must have adequate security in place in the off-chance that something might go wrong. I brought these concerns to both Dallas Schroeder and Rhonda Braun.  I did this only after speaking to several other judges who had questions as to the safety of the volunteer poll workers.  To their credit, our election officials addressed these concerns and asked Sheriff Shayne Heap to provide at least two  deputies on election day to cover the two remote Voter Service Centers.  It was reported to me that the request was denied due to budgetary constraints.

Mr. Schroeder has no way to compel the Sheriff’s Office to provide security, but it was discussed that members of the Elbert County Sheriff’s Posse would be asked to come to these sights to help poll watchers feel more secure.  While I have great respect for these volunteers, from a legal standpoint, I do not believe these citizens can do much more than give verbal admonishment to a potential disrupter and then call the Sheriff’s Office for backup. Sheriff Heap did say that their officers would stop by and check in with the poll workers. It is my fervent hope that this will be sufficient coverage.

It has been a long standing tradition here in Elbert County that at community gatherings, especially where a contentious issue is being addressed, that uniformed law enforcement officers are in attendance for purposes of security.  I do not know why this election does not break the threshold of the need for security or if it is purely a budgetary situation that makes it impossible, but the issue has been discussed. Perhaps, in defense of the Sheriff’s Office, their opinion is consistent with law enforcement offices in both Pueblo and Colorado Springs as is shown in the following televised clip. The inclusion of the Sheriff’s Office was not part of the Elbert County election training as was the case in Pueblo and the Springs and that may be something to discuss for future elections.

I do feel it is important to go on record as saying that the request for security was made.  I believe that it would be terrible if any harm occurs to any volunteer or voter in Elbert County because of a lack of security.  I believe that it needed to be pointed out that this was a topic that was raised before voting ever commenced in this general election so that the issue can be addressed for future election cycles. This is my opinion alone and not meant to reflect any official position of the Elbert Democratic Party.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Zombie Apocalypse, Poll Watching and Voter Fraud

Despite a recent televised report that dead people were voting in Colorado, our state is actually recognized as having one of the most secure voting systems in the United States.  So how did this report of political activism within the community of the dearly departed occur?  It is really very simple, and almost every case can be attributed to several fairly innocuous causes which will be outlined later in this blog entry. Of course there are those few actual cases where fraud has occurred and nobody, including this author, should ever turn a blind eye to fraudulent voting.  Voter fraud is a serious crime, and anyone caught doing it should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.  However, the zombie election apocalypse is not upon us, and once you see the steps that are taken to preserve the integrity of the vote in the Centennial State, I believe you will feel less inclined to worry.

I have worked as an election official in one capacity or the other in almost every one of the elections in Elbert County for well over a decade.  The one exception was the time that I ran for District 3 County Commissioner, and even that year, 2008, I had to be very aware of election laws and procedures so that I did not violate any campaign laws in the state.  Every year, Colorado has moved steadily toward elections that insure that the most people possible will find it easy to register, that the vote is convenient, and that every vote will count.  There is also every step taken along the way to insure that the election team is comprised of a balance of the two major political parties and that every person on the team not only takes an oath to follow the rules but also passes a criminal background check every year.

These three items are very important:  First is that Colorado permits online voter registration. It is very easy to do and the Secretary of State’s web site is simple to navigate. You'll need a Colorado State Driver’s License or ID card issued by the Department of Revenue to register online at Secondly, Colorado is one of only three states utilizing a vote-by-mail system for all elections. And finally, if you decide you would rather vote in person, voters in Colorado are required to present a valid form of identification at the polls.  There are a lot of people out there who are working under the misconception that Colorado requires no valid form of identification to vote, but the opposite is true.  In a state where the voter rolls are comprised of properly identified and eligible citizens, it is unlikely that an unscrupulous  person could obtain a valid ballot, and even if he did, a long list of steps that scrutinizes each and every ballot cast is the next stop on the journey to having a vote count...and that invalid ballot would be caught.

Elbert County’s election office has been working on this year’s election since the beginning of the year.  In order for you to get your ballot, the rolls are checked to see if you reside here,  to see that you are an active voter and eligible to receive a ballot… oh, and alive!  Normally when you die, either the family or someone who moves into the deceased person’s vacated home will send the ballot in and mark that the person has passed away.  Those ballots are returned to the election office and those names are removed on the voter rolls.  If there is a family member living in the home that has the same name as the recently departed and they vote the wrong ballot by mistake, sometimes this gives the false appearance that we have a case of voter fraud.  That is the situation that occurred  most often in the investigation into Colorado having "dead voters."

But the State of Colorado has identified a few cases of actual fraud.  In a few isolated cases, someone  received a ballot that belonged to a person who had recently passed away in addition to their own ballot.  They voted both ballots. This is easy enough to do at first blush.  They just faked a signature on the deceased person’s ballot and voted a second time.  That is a felony and easily discovered by the voting team at the county.  You see, every person who resides in the county does business with the county government.  On any occasion that you send in a legal paper, file a government form, obtain a license,  register to vote in the county or send in a ballot, your signature is photographed and put on file.  Every ballot that is cast in this or any election goes through a process called signature verification.  If you volunteer to work on the election, the state gives you training on signature verification. The signature on every ballot is checked against copies of your actual signature or signatures on file by two people (one from each of the two major political parties).  If the signature does not match, the voter is notified and told their vote will not count unless they come in and rectify the signature problem.  That is really hard to do when you are dead.

Lots of signatures do not get accepted.  Sometimes a signature changes due to injury or illness.  There is a provision by where a voter can vote their ballot and obtain a witness signature to solve that problem, but if there is no witness there will be no vote and the ballot is returned. Sometimes people just scribble something like they do at a credit card machine; we’ve all seen that.  If the verifiers can’t read it, the ballot will get kicked out and returned for correction.  Have you ever seen a zombie’s handwriting?  It ain’t pretty and they are always pretty upset when they are asked to come in to fix the problem.

There are common mistakes.  Lots of couples mistakenly vote their partner's ballot.  Again, it is common, but it is not fraudulent.  It is so common that the state allows signatures of a household to be batched together.  If the verifiers see the wrong name on a ballot, the first thing they check is to see if there are other voters in the household.  If there are other voters, the ballot is pulled until the other ballots from the household show up and it can be shown there is another person who made the same mistake.  Problem solved!  

There is one caveat that is worth mentioning here:  Sometimes a parent or spouse sees that a household member did not sign their ballot and they think it is okay to sign for the family member whose signature is missing.  Do not do that.  You will almost certainly be called in to explain the situation because the verifiers will catch it.  That is right on the edge of fraud even though the intent was benign and it can be very embarrassing.  In defense of the zombies living (more accurately non-living) in the county...they almost never make this mistake unless a family crypt is involved.

Why did I write this piece on voting you might ask.  It is simple, really.  In this arguably the most contentious election of my lifetime, there has been lots of talk about voting being rigged.  There have been calls from candidates to not trust the election officials and requests to turn out in large numbers to watch these untrustworthy poll workers so they won’t commit crimes against the candidates.  Well, if you do decide that is what you must do to protect the integrity of the vote, Colorado has made provisions for you to do just that.  We have one of the most open systems in the country, but you do have to sign up and get permission.  

If this is your cup of tea, by all means contact the Elbert County Clerk and Recorders Office and sign up.  Be aware that while you will be given access to every station in the voting process, you will only have one designated person to whom you may make comments or ask questions.  This is done to help the poll workers stay focused on the exacting work in front of them. Signature verification does take concentration.  Be also aware this will be a long and possibly boring task, so wear comfortable shoes and consider bringing a thermos of coffee to stay awake. Don't plan on taking any phone calls while you are in the election area.  

With the dedicated bipartisan volunteers operating a voting system deemed to be one of the most secure in the nation, there will be little to do or say.  We are a friendly group, and if I might brag, easy on the eyes.  We welcome your participation, but cannot guarantee the entertainment factor...that is, unless the zombies show up to straighten up a signature issue.  Happy voting.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Elbert County Citizens’ Zone - The Bipartisan Meeting is Happening!