What's the Matter With Alaska?

Joe Miller has been criticized and mocked for challenging write-in votes. What he should be doing and demanding is a full scale election audit. It's time to restore some integrity to Alaska elections.
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Something in Alaska stinks. Again. Not just an ordinary low tide smell. Not like something you'd blame on the dog. It smells like an infection. For me to plug my nose, I'd have to overlook some curious facts.

I've written another piece like this. It was after the last election. I said it the three elections before that. In the words of baseball great Yogi Berra, it's Déjà vu all over again! I'm writing and talking about the same thing, in what has become an even-year ritual: Alaska doesn't count votes properly and hasn't for years. Alaska still uses the Diebold Accuvote Optical Scanners. The same Diebold machines California "decertified" because of the "Deck Zero" anomaly after the company admitted the software error plagues all versions of their paper ballot op-scan systems, deleting the first batch of scanned ballots under certain circumstances without alerting elections officials to the deletion.

I'm not a Joe Miller fan. My "horse" is out of the US Senate race in Alaska. It's not about any candidate. But has everything to do with my candidate, Scott McAdams' slogan: "It's about Alaska!" Specifically, it's about the bedrock of election integrity. If democracy were a religion, voting would be the sacrament. It's poisoned.

Here's some history:

The Democratic Party obtained the 2004 Diebold Global Election Management System (GEMS) database by suing the Division of Elections in State Superior Court. That suit was made necessary because the Division of Elections insisted that the database was not public record. The Division of Elections refused for more than nine months to release the GEMS database, but did so a few days before a hearing was scheduled to begin in Superior Court.

According to the Division of Elections' Diebold-produced vote reports for 2004, as posted on the Division's official web site, a far larger number of votes were cast than the official totals reported in the statewide summary. In the case of President George W. Bush's votes, the district-by-district totals add up to 292,267, but his official total was only 190,889-a difference of 101,378 votes. In that year's U.S. Senate race, Lisa Murkowski received 226,992 votes in the district-by-district totals, but her official total was only 149,446-a difference of 77,546 votes.

The Division's own posted data for 2004 shows that in 20 of the 40 State House Districts, more ballots were cast than registered voters. In 16 election districts, the voter turnout was over 200%.

A review of the audit logs of the GEMS database for the 2004 election shows that modifications were made on July 12th and 13 of 2006. The Division claims it kept no backup copies of that database after the 2004 election was certified. It was impossible to know who had made the modifications because the entire department HAD THE SAME USER NAME: ADMIN, AND THE SAME PASSWORD: PASSWORD.

The law says that public records must be produced "as soon as practicable, but not later than the 10th working day" following receipt of the request. Democrats requested the database on Oct. 30, 2006, and, through its counsel David Shoup, again on Nov. 3. In a response dated Nov. 27, Division of Elections Director Whitney Brewster told Shoup she would not respond to the Democrats' records request until Dec. 6, two days after the new Governor would be sworn into office on Dec. 4.

Again, in 2006, the Democratic Party of Alaska had to sue the DOE to secure evidence."Loren Leman's reluctance to release this critical public information highlights the need for a Lieutenant Governor who will ensure the transparency of elections. We need someone in charge who doesn't agree withthe way Lt. Gov. Loren Leman has handled all this. Sarah Palin's running mate, Sean Parnell, says he'd handle it the same way as Loren Leman," Metcalfe said. Parnell said Oct. 12 at a public forum at the University of Alaska, Anchorage that he would handle the Democrats' request for information the same way Leman has - by offering to let them count the paper ballots. Parnell told the Anchorage Daily News in August of 2006 that the Democrats' lawsuit to get the 2004 electronic election data "smacks of political posturing more than a real desire to see a fair result." [Anchorage Daily News, August 17, 2006]

In 2006, I watched a tied state house race publicly decided with the flip of a coin onto a beaver pelt. I trusted the outcome of the coin flip far more than the closely-guarded "secrets" of the GEMS database and the culture of secrecy (or, so-called "security by obscurity") surrounding one of our most precious and fundamental rights-the right to vote.

Sean Parnell is now the Governor. His concern with election integrity and the ability of citizens to oversee their own elections - otherwise known as self-governance - is completely flaccid.

In 2007, the University of Alaska began an audit of the Alaska election process. They followed in the footsteps of similar recommendations from universities in Florida and California. A "fix it" list was created that included replacing the software. To date, there has been no report on the suggested fixes.

Move along, nothing to see.

Fast forward to 2010.

Despite heavy national media coverage and historic Citizens United money spent on Alaska's hotly contested and much-watched three-way US Senate race, the results, if we are to believe them, were a surprisingly low voter turnout. In fact, this election was one of the lowest turnouts since they started tracking ballots cast versus registered voters in the mid-1970s.

It's strange that Anchorage appearances by both Rachel Maddow and Glenn Beck covering the high profile race had such a chilling effect on voters. It's curious that the forgotten gubernatorial race, reportedly, had several hundred more votes recorded than the attention-grabbing U.S. Senate race. Furthermore, as returns from around the state poured in on election night, the percentages between candidates in statewide races never changed throughout the evening-despite Juneau, for instance, being ideologically opposite of Wasilla.

Election chain of custody is the unbroken trail of overseeable accountability that ensures the physical security of our ballots during an election. Goldbelt Security Services was contracted by the Alaska Division of Elections to provide the security and transportation of the ballots to Juneau. Goldbelt is an Alaska Native Corporation with SBA 8(a) status-meaning they are eligible for sole-source, no-bid government contracts. The 8(a) program was relentlessly attacked by Joe Miller. The Alaska Native 8(a)'s unanimously backed Lisa and provided tremendous financial support in the bargain. As they transported the record of the state's future, Goldbelt Security had a tremendous stake in the outcome of the election. Imagine if the Alaska Division of Elections contracted Drop Zone Security to transport and guard the election ballots. How would the Murkowski camp react?

I'm not buying it. We are a small enough state that we should have hand counts. Based upon Alaska's documented and nefarious election history, we should, at the very least, be able to perform a basic audit of any precinct. We, the people, should be able to reconcile reported election results by reviewing the summary reports, signed by poll workers detailing total ballots received, total ballots cast, total ballots spoiled, leftover ballots and compare all of that to the poll tape and signed voter registries.

Apparently, Joe Miller's campaign is on the same page:

Anchorage, Alaska. November 16, 2010 -- The Joe Miller campaign is pleased the Division of Elections will allow access to several precinct registers for review; however, the Division has not responded to the campaign's request to review the voting tapes generated by the voting machines at the polling places. These tapes tally the total number of votes cast.

The Joe Miller campaign filed suit last Friday in state court in Juneau in order to compel the State to fulfill its legal obligations under the Public Records Act and allow inspection of the election registers from certain precincts that voters signed before casting their ballots. The Division of Elections had been unresponsive to the Miller request. The lawsuit simply asked that representatives from the campaign be given access to inspect the election registers.

Given the contested nature of the election, time is of the essence to ensure the vote count is trustworthy and that each valid vote is counted, and that there be no opportunity for fraud to taint the election results. Irregularities at polling places have been noted both Election Day and during the ballot review process including sworn affidavits testifying to unsecured ballot boxes and ballot envelopes arriving in Juneau presorted by the Senate race: these ballots are not to be handled in this fashion prior to the write-in review.

Miller Campaign chief counsel Tom Van Flein noted, "The campaign determined that inspection of precinct registers was an appropriate audit to spot check the process. The registers will provide data on the number of people who signed in to vote which can be matched with the number of votes tallied for each precinct."

If we want to have faith in something, we go to church-not the voting booth.

Lisa Murkowski's campaign, funded by millions of dollars from corporate sugar daddies, will no doubt prevail. The Alaska DOE counted "Lesa Murcowshit" as a vote for Murkowski. I'm pretty sure that wasn't the voter's intent. Joe Miller has been criticized and mocked for challenging write-in votes. What he should be doing -and demanding- is a full scale election audit and reconciliation of every vote cast and every ballot not cast.

Some Alaskans will be bitter regardless of the outcome.

My point isn't about either one of them.

It's About Alaska.

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