Fighting to Keep Votes Private
Washington Greens file lawsuit against electronic ballot tracker
submitted by the Green Party of San Juan County, Washington
“Make no mistake. The ultimate utility of this auditing scareware is to sideline Greens by ‘proving’ any election result they choose.” — Tom Munsey
On the small islands of San Juan County in Washington State, Greens have filed a lawsuit objecting to the use of an electronic tracking system, which would link ballots to individual voters. As the first binding election in the country to use the “Mail-in Ballot Tracker” (MIBT) in their 2005 primary election, San Juan Greens see the experimental project as an unconstitutional breach of voter privacy.
This untested and uncertified “paperless auditing system” requires election workers to scan an individual voter’s name to the barcode on their assigned ballot. In the process, the vote loses its confidentiality. However, VoteHere.net, MIBT’s privately held creator, declared the pilot a “resounding success.”
It wasn’t until Allan Rosato and Tim White of the Green Party of San Juan County’s Elections Working Group raised the concern of voter privacy to county officials and the public, that the community expressed outrage. After Rosato and White faced a stonewall with the County Auditor’s Office and the elections department, other county officials who were not even aware of the pilot project recommended they take legal action.
Taking the lawsuit on as a deep personal commitment, Rosato and White spent weeks of late night research sustained by dogged determination and financed by working construction jobs. Once they released their findings, the loss of the secret ballot resonated across all political lines among the 16,000 rural islanders in the archipelago county. Many Greens contributed logistical and financial support.
Success of the lawsuit is now more urgent than ever as other small counties are being lured to the high tech “auditing solution.” San Juan County residents resent being the guinea pigs to the voting pilot as well as marketed as the “happy poster child” for the expanded use of MIBT, White said.
VoteHere intends to secure election results by integrating military-style cryptography into every electronic voting machine and elections mailroom in the country. The Green Party brief cites multiple violations of provisions in federal and state constitutions, statutes and codes. It contends that MIBT compromises the secrecy of the ballot, engenders widespread suspicion and erodes public confidence towards elections and reduces safeguards thereby increasing the possibilities to influence voters.
“Make no mistake. The ultimate utility of this auditing scareware is to sideline Greens by ‘proving’ any election result they choose,” said Tom Munsey of the local Greens’ Coordinating Council.
Jerry Cronk, the Green attorney who wrote text for Washington’s Instant Runoff Voting effort and is handling the MIB suit, is finding some unexpected difficulties. State code mandates, “There shall be no marks on the ballot cards which would distinguish an individual voter’s ballot card from other ballot cards.” However, 10 days after the Green suit was filed, there was a repeal of that line by the Election Office with no explanation.
Rosato and White have learned VoteHere has strong ties to federal and state government, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ connection to the company by serving on its technical advisory board during the Ballot Tracker’s development. As an influential lobbyist, VoteHere helped write the $3 billion Help America Vote Act (HAVA). White said MIBT went into full deployment in San Juan County without consideration by citizens, the elected prosecutor, county commissioners, councilors, or the Elections Canvassing Board. Similarly, neither the state legislature nor the attorney general reviewed or approved the product because it was paid for with federal HAVA grants.
White pointed to connections between VoteHere and federal politicians; such as chairman Ralph Munro securing what has become a $1.5 million under-the-radar contract with Washington State from Secretary of State Sam Reed. Reed is Munro’s lifelong protÈgÈ and successor as the state’s top elections official said White. Although there is no other product like Ballot Tracker, VoteHere claims, “The system was secured in a competitive public bid.”
VoteHere does not plan to stop just in Washington. It is pursuing an aggressive national lobbying effort to get Ballot Tracker software into elections in California and other states. It plans to plug its portable version, Sentinel, into every voting machine in the country.
To counteract the proliferation of Ballot Tracker, a broad group of activists, spearheaded by the Green Party, are distributing DVDs, producing flyers, circulating petitions and raising contributions There are even plans for a Ballot Tracker theme song on YouTube. Presentations in Seattle and Olympia spotlight the issue and have brought in donations from Washington Citizens for Fair Elections and other groups.