Tag Archives: Harvie Branscomb

Letter to SOS Williams about 2016 Colorado Election Flaws

To: The Secretary of State of Colorado, Wayne Williams

Mr. Secretary

I'm expecting to see you tomorrow in Glendale at 9:30 at the http://freeandequal.org Election Reform (and alternate voting method) Symposium.

Because of that I am providing here an outline of my impressions of the CO voting system and the CO model as it performed in this election. 
Most of this I have already made SOS staff aware of. I am not sure if my contribution and perspectives are appreciated. I suspect that some of these issues ought to be presented as complaints through public channels such as CDOS offers. I am having trouble getting answers to questions that have been properly asked through the correct channels. If I don't get answers I see little choice but to make a written complaint in some cases. Your advice would be welcome.

I also expect 107 and 108 to come up as topics tomorrow.  I presented to your election committee a proposal for legislative solutions to the mistakes made by these initiatives. Clearly the legislature should propose one primary election with a presidential contest. As for unaffiliateds, it seems obvious that a ballot should be created for U and otherwise non-primary-eligible voters that contains candidates for both parties and unaffiliated candidates. Why force the U voter to select a party when they could be given a chance to vote on all candidates R, D,G,L and U etc. in each contest separately? Under approval voting we can free these voters from voting from only one party and avoid marking errors and disenfranchisement. Separately reported results from such a U primary would be most informative to the parties' assembly and convention process and even could be optionally folded in, resulting in an open primary.  I'll be promoting this idea tomorrow.

Below I show what I am aware of as flaws in the General Election 2016. Of course there may well be others. Only by physically visiting election officials does a member of the public become aware of the real flaws. (There are rare exceptions that appear in mainstream media.)

I don't mean to express that the election was predominantly flawed. In fact, my impression is quite the opposite. Colorado's election system and methods of tabulation, particularly, have in many ways improved dramatically in the past 10 years. In visiting 30 counties I encountered many officials working under difficult conditions and apparently doing a great job with complex and incomprehensible law (particularly the conflation of mail-ballot-for-all with in-person same-day registration). Officials also deal with difficult and changing rules, and of course voters expecting meaningful representation and campaigns expecting to win.

In almost every county I found some meritorious election innovation that deserves sharing. I saw the beginning steps of solutions that would benefit the whole state. I am working on a detailed description of the vigorous and beneficial non-uniformity of the Colorado election as seen in about 30 counties. I will be turning that into some suggestions for legislative and rule-making remedies for some of the flaws that I report here.

Among many rarely heard of innovations are - signature verification at the VSPC (in the presence of the voter), use of stickers instead of stubs,  envelopes with zero voter identity information on one side.

But here are what I see as flaws:

Notable flaws with the 2016 Colorado elections known to H. Branscomb who visited 30/64 counties.

(flaws are non-indented and comments and remedies are shown indented)

Statewide SCORE outage – two instances on election day about 30 minutes each

  - Caused excessive lines in 6 of Denver’s polling centersCaused Boulder’s centers to resort to “contingency mode” for eligibility checks
  - Left unknown number of voters in line till 9-10PM – will we learn how many and where?
  - Slowed down central eligibility checks by signature verification
  - Demonstrates once again a lack of ability to pull off the internet dependent Colorado model

Pueblo’s new Dominion server ran out of resources on election day

  - An SQL database license that was not sufficient for the task
  - caused tabulation to stop early on election day recovered only late at night

Pueblo’s vendor sent 134 incorrectly printed ballots (missing final page).

  - Recovered by sending replacement packets and sorting for most correct return ballot to count

Pueblo duplicated 2600+ ballots voted in-person from paper to ballot marking device with QR codes

  - To reduce inventory complexity, Pueblo supplied voters choosing paper with only district styles
  - Election judges copied these to precinct style ballots using the Dominion Ballot Marking Device
  - These voters had chosen to vote on paper instead of the BMD at the polling centers

Pueblo lost at least two voters to Huerfano County by an addressing mistake.

  - One recovered in person, but one requested and did not receive an emergency ballot requested by email

At least two large counties allowed recent registrants’ mail ballots to count without a matching signature

 - Did not wait till the required document containing the signature was uploaded to SCORE
 - Arapahoe verifiers approved signatures when no reference signature found if registered after Sept. X

Some ballots were dropped in 24 hour boxes without the necessary official identifying envelope

  - In some large counties the number was on the order of 50. At least hundreds statewide.
  - SOS allowed counties to attempt to identify the voter from the stub if present or available means
  - Some staffed drop boxes provided blank envelopes for voters to return otherwise unidentified ballots.

Some counties’ signature verification process is much more careful than others’. 

  - Most verifiers plus the system itself lean in the direction of accepting rather than challenging.
  - One county inadvertently disenfranchised a voter by accepting a signature expected to be the voter’s
  - Some signature verifiers are stretching imagination to match signatures
  - The signature most recently accepted becomes the standard for the next election
  - SCORE has no way to focus attention on recent, ID checked wet signatures on paper
  - There is no system for collecting recent wet signatures on paper that would serve as excellent exemplars.
  - The cure process isn’t sufficiently informative or convenient

Huerfano sent “ID required” secrecy sleeve instructions to all active registered voters

  - Recovered by sending replacement sleeves

Harvie H. Branscomb 11/18/2016    

Noteworthy benefits of the Colorado Uniform Voting System 
1)      Scans and cast vote records (CVRs) are produced and can be delivered to the public. CVRs can be effectively and efficiently used for auditing to paper. 
2)      Electronic on-screen adjudication eliminates almost all duplication of ballot content 
3)      Mark density range is used to redirect light marked contests to human adjudication 
4)      AuditMark (r) printed below the scanned image can be used as a quickly accessible substitute for a cast vote record in certain cases such as during adjudication 
5)      Small and large counties seem to be adequately served with cost benefit in most cases 

Noteworthy defects of the Colorado Uniform Voting System 
1)      Low resolution scans of ballots 1 bit per pixel and 200 dots per inch – may affect quality of adjudication, may tend to hide marks on paper ballots leaving intended votes undetected 
2)      Red printing of target and red dropout ensures that scan will not fully represent paper. Dominion software doesn’t see the target and cannot know if it is missing or obstructed 
3)      Dominion ballot layout places party name much nearer the adjacent candidate target in the next column than the target or name of the corresponding candidate. 
4)      The format of the in-person Ballot Marking Device printed ballot (ICX) is entirely different from a voter-marked mail ballot format- it is selections only with QR code- these records stand out as potentially identifiable when rare. 
5)      The QR code on the Dominion ICX ballot carries the information of the voter intent to the scanner – not the printed selections that are seen and may be recognized and verified by the voter 
6)      There are reports of difficulty designing ballots – particularly modifying existing ballot layouts. 
7)      Dominion supplied Pueblo County with an inadequate system license that apparently failed early morning election day by stopping to process additional ballots. This caused a down time of 10 hours or more on a crucial day. 
8)      The Dominion program that allocates a ballot style to an in-person voter uses a drop-down menu that may contain over 300 lines of precinct split numbers. This is very slow to use, both in the polling place and particularly when bulk duplication of ballots is the intention. 
9)      The Dominion systems as implemented do not physically separate the action of scanning from the action of reporting – credentials that protect administrative roles are what protects the system from reporting results before 7PM on election day, unlike some other systems using physical transfer of memory.

Denver Post editorial supports Harvie Branscomb’s attempt to audit anonymous voted ballots

Voted ballots still too hard to access

Friday, Nov. 20, 2015 – 4:06 p.m.

Volunteers count ballots in Saguache County on Aug. 31, 2011. (AAron Ontiveroz, Denver Post file)

Coloradans achieved the important right to review voted ballots as open records through a costly legal battle culminating in a state court of appeals victory in 2011.

And the legislature affirmed this critical citizen right to see voted ballots in a bill it passed the following year.

But did the victory count for anything?

Do citizens really possess the right to review the work of elected county clerks after elections are over?

The answer seems to be they do if they’ve got a lot of money, and that’s unacceptable.

Election integrity activist Harvie Branscomb found this out when he served open records requests to eight counties after the Nov. 3 elections, seeking to independently audit the accuracy of new voting equipment being tested as a part of a state pilot program.

As reported by Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition Director Jeffrey Roberts, Branscomb’s request to verify the Nov. 3 elections in those counties would cost him thousands of dollars.

Of the eight counties, six have said he must pay a total of about $20,000 in advance so officials can scan ballots for marks that could identify voters and redact the scribbles.

Only Adams County said the cost would be “near zero” to review and redact 73,103 ballot scans. Denver has yet to say how much it would cost.

But Jefferson County asked for an advance payment of $12,475 to review and redact 185,000 ballots. Douglas County sought $4,000 to review 88,000 ballots, and Mesa County asked for $1,500 to view 29,000 ballots.

Adams County says its system would allow it to quickly scan images of its ballots to look for markings and the cost would be next to nothing.

The Adams County vendor, Clear Ballot, is one of four being considered for statewide use. As Secretary of State Wayne Williams considers which of the four systems might be best for the state, one of his criteria should be the ease with which officials can comply with open records requests at a reasonable cost.

Legislation from 2012 gave election officials the authority to charge “actual costs” for records requests, but if the result is prohibitive, then the right to the records is meaningless.

Putting such high costs on a citizen’s efforts to examine voted ballots restricts public access and cripples an important check on election integrity.

New voting technology should make transparency easier, not the other way around.

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Harvie Branscomb’s  posted records request threads are in this article:   http://electionquality.com/2015/11/colorado-pilot-access-to-ballots/