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Karen McKim's activity stream


  • commented on Correction to earlier blog post: Are our election results ever audited? 2016-12-22 14:10:48 -0600
    An additional explanation, relating to the instruction that the municipal auditors are to ignore voter intent and “count the votes as the machine would have counted them.”
    The intent of this instruction is consistent with the purpose that state election agency staff see: the audits are to confirm the voting machines themselves (not their programmers, not their operators) is still capable of counting correctly. In their minds, they consider misprogramming to be human error (or fraud), not machine error, and therefore NOT what these audits are looking for.
    I checked this interpretation of their intent with them, asking how they believe the municipal clerk should have handled the audit had the City of Medford, in November 2004, been selected for an audit. In that election, that city’s machines had accidentally been programmed to ignore all straight-party ticket votes, effectively disenfranchising one-third of Medford’s voters.
    They confirmed that the audit should have produced, under their instructions, a finding of “No Error,” explaining “You can’t blame that on the machine.”

  • commented on Why we need to work for verification rather than throwing out the machines 2015-06-07 09:55:44 -0500
    Thanks, Brent. You and I have exchanged comments on this in other forums in the past, and I’m assuming we’re still in agreement: Open-source code would be an improvement. It would deter some fraud. It would also make most of the rest of deliberate electronic fraud detectable if anyone with expertise, credibility, and authority takes the time to verify the integrity of the software. If we install open-source software and no one with the authority to correct alterations ever checks, its advantage over proprietary software is moot.

    And even if our elections officials go to open-source software AND adopt the management review necessary to earn its benefits, they will still need routinely to compare the electronically tabulated totals to the evidence on the ballots, because examination of the open-source software before, during and after the election cannot detect mistakes in setting the machines up for the election (e.g., the missing votes in the Stoughton and Medford miscounts); mistakes in operating the machines (e.g., the type of miscounts described by the Michigan consultant in my earlier post titled “It happens all the time”), or miscounts by Election-Day machine malfunction (e.g., the counted votes in the Stoughton miscount, the Bronx overheating miscount.)

    There’s just no substitute: Whether we’re calculating vote totals, bank balances, the cost of a pile of groceries, or property tax bills, and no matter what system we use—proprietary, open-source, or homemade— whenever we use computers, we must either check the output to make sure it is correct or tolerate the risk of taking action on inaccurate output.

  • commented on Legislation to make recounts even less likely than they are now 2015-05-18 12:31:55 -0500
    Adam, I might print your question out, frame it, and offer a copy to any legislator or clerk who thinks that verifying voting-machine output will cause people to doubt the machines’ reliability. I have no idea why they are so blind to the fact that NOT verifying the output is even worse for their reputations.

    Yes, ‘fraud’ is the first thing that comes to mind when we see public officials doing something that makes no sense. But I see two more mundane motives.

    Sponsors LeMahieu and Ballweg say they were approached by municipal clerks who reported that losing candidates were ‘abusing’ the current recount law. What form ‘abuse’ might take, I cannot guess. That statute has such clear criteria that deciding whether a race is eligible for recount is an exercise in fourth-grade arithmetic.

    So why would a municipal clerk claim ‘abuse’ and why would a legislator believe them? Two reasons:

    1) Deep, unquestioning faith in voting machines. Adam, when you really really really want to believe something, you know how you have a hard time thinking rationally about even the possibility it might not be true? Most elections officials are like that with voting machines.

    Imagine what your life would be like if you could turn your #1 most important responsibility over to a machine that would produce guaranteed-accurate results with the push of a button. Imagine that you’ve convinced yourself that there is such a machine, and in fact you’ve already signed multiple notarized statements publicly confirming its results as accurate, without checking whether they were or not. Now imagine someone comes up to you and asks you to check to make sure the machine counted correctly. It would seem like ‘abuse’ to you.

    Candidates and legislators share the clerks’ naive trust. Green County Clerk Michael Doyle, who has a realistic appreciation of the reliability of voting machines, told me once about a candidate who lost by a few votes and demanded a recount. Doyle was set to do a transparent hand count—the gold standard for accuracy, since multiple human eyes discern and confirm voter intent on every ballot where it can be discerned. The losing candidate, though, INSISTED on having the ballots run back through the same machine that produced the first count! The candidate’s powerful desire to believe in the existence of an impartial, objective machine trumped his common sense. (My bet: if the candidate’s bank statement is missing a deposit he thinks he made, he doesn’t demand the bank push ‘calculate’ again and print out another statement.)

    2) Legitimate dislike for recounts. Recounts are hell for municipal clerks. They don’t do them often so they are nervous about making mistakes. They’ve got news media interrupting them with questions morning to night. They’ve got rabid partisans on both sides—all of them hyped up emotionally and itching for a fight—watching and criticizing their every move. They know from experience and instinct that some of the poll workers probably botched a detail here and there in the chain of custody and are on edge about how many errors they will find and how bad they will be.

    Clerks DO NOT WANT TO DO RECOUNTS and I don’t blame them.

    So, no, changing the recount law is not motivated by a desire to hide fraud. It’s motivated by two even more recognizably human desires: the desire to hang on to a genuine but childlike faith in something that can do ‘magic’ for you (in this case, a voting machine), and by a desire to avoid highly aversive work.

    Finally, to repeat a point I might not have made well enough in my original post: Recounts are useless for detecting electronic fraud. Making the margin smaller or larger doesn’t change that.

    When a hacker finds his or her way into Wisconsin’s vote-counting software, you can bet the farm that the ‘winning’ candidate’s total will have a margin larger than the recount margin, whether it’s 0.5%, 2%, 5% or 25%. That’s how a hacker can make sure the county clerk will obligingly declare the hacked voting machine output final while our ballots, which say otherwise, collect dust in sealed bags in the courthouse basement until they are destroyed. Until Wisconsin, like 20 other states, adopts the practice of routine verification of voting-machine output, hackers can sleep easy regardless of what our recount statutes say.

  • commented on Partisan concerns drive focus of GAB Audit 2014-12-18 00:36:35 -0600
    Other highlights of the report: One bad, one possibly quite good:

    Bad news first: The report contains wildly inaccurate information about which type of voting machines are used in Wisconsin’s municipalities. Ignore the map on page 42; LAB badly misinterpreted the data available on GAB’s website.

    Good news: The report is quite critical of GAB staff’s current lackadaisical, unwritten procedures for receiving, handling, and resolving complaints of election irregularities, and makes strong recommendations for improvements that will allow citizens to file complaints with more assurance that they will be seriously considered and resolved, and that will allow both the Board itself and citizens to know what sorts of complaints are being filed. Up to this point, citizens complaining about ineligible voters have been very active in bringing their complaints to the Board’s attention, but citizens advocating for verified accurate election results have not. As soon as the Board adopts the new complaint procedures, citizens concerned about election integrity need to start to bring our concerns more frequently, directly, and specifically to the GAB.

  • commented on The Stoughton Referendum Miscount 2014-12-21 10:19:08 -0600
    (If you visit the blog post I linked in my previous comment, just read the comments, don’t click on ‘Read on…" That ’read on’ link will just bring you back to an earlier post in this blog.)

  • commented on Dane County could begin routine post-election audits 2014-11-08 18:10:02 -0600
    Hi, Martha: Yes, the money is in the budget. As soon as the smoke clears from this election, we hope to be working with McDonell and municipal clerks including Madison’s Meribeth Witzel-Behl to develop procedures that truly provide the public with transparent reassurance of the elections’ integrity. I suspect that after Stoughton’s flamboyant referendum miscount, the clerks who were cool to the idea before may come around!

  • commented on Did a Tea Party hacker defeat Cantor? We'll never know. 2015-04-17 21:27:30 -0500
    A year later, and across the ocean, a serious journalist finally looks at Virginia’s elections machinery:
    http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/apr/15/virginia-hacking-voting-machines-security?CMP=share_btn_fb

  • commented on "It happens all the time." Interview with the consultant who discovered the Medford miscount 2014-05-23 14:45:13 -0500
    And thanks also, Neal, for that great link. I wish I could buy billboards with the conclusion: “There should be more regulation of the evidence trail, less regulation of equipment, and … compliance audits and risk-limiting audits should be required.”

    So much money and time is wasted in pre-election security measures that have little more than decorative value, while post-election verification (cheaper, more transparent, and more effective) is neglected. It’s like putting double deadbolt locks on the front door of a store while never inventorying the merchandise.

    A few months ago, Brown County wanted to use a less expensive configuration of voting-machine equipment than is currently approved for use in Wisconsin. Brown County reps, GAB board members, and GAB staff spent the better part of a public meeting discussing possible new PRE-election security measures that might enable Brown County to buy the equipment they wanted.

    Not a one noticed the obvious or thought to propose, “How about the county audit the election results produced by the new equipment to make sure they are correct?”

  • donated 2014-01-31 23:48:22 -0600

  • commented on How to win every political conversation 2014-01-17 17:37:01 -0600
    Marcia, I agree. My post was written just this side of tongue-in-cheek, since I get so tired of the expectation that a conversation can be “won.” Like you, I think our focus should be on how much mutual understanding the conversation is creating, not whether either participant is ‘winning.’

    So yeah, a better objective is ‘point-making.’ I suspect the key to successful conversations by that measure (points made) is being very aware of whether both of the participants in the conversation understand the point and accept it as valid with reference to their own values. That, I think, is the difference between a ‘talking point’ and a ‘made point.’

  • commented on 2013 Accomplishments; 2014 Plans 2014-01-10 20:36:33 -0600
    Rebecca, we met monthly on Saturday mornings for a while last spring and summer and developed a work plan that guided us for the remainder of the year even though I (the meetings’ organizer) got thrown off schedule by family events related to my stepson’s wedding in the Twin Cities (one month a shower, another month the wedding itself). We tried web meetings for a bit, but I have a dinosaur of a computer/Internet connection and others were having trouble, too. We tried several Google hangouts, which turned out to be 80% struggling to get people logged on and only 20% meeting.

    We were able to keep our work—at least the follow-up work on the post-election audit observations we made last year— moving ahead simply through email communications, without meetings. It’s probably time for a meeting again; I’ll keep you in the loop. (And I’m getting a new computer next week!)

  • commented on "Mission and Values" statement for the EI Action Team 2013-04-29 06:54:27 -0500
    I like the idea; perhaps we can do it in fewer words (always a good idea for this type of thing). I’ve edited that sentence in the first bullet from:

    “We will strive to rely on verifiable information to inform all our deliberations, positions, and actions. In particular, we strive to avoid presumption of guilt when dealing with suspicions or allegations of misconduct.”

    to:
    “We strive to rely on verifiable information in all our deliberations, positions, and actions, particularly avoiding the presumption of guilt when it becomes necessary to look into suspicions or allegations of misconduct.”

    Does that adequately capture the intent of your suggestion?


  • commented on Indiana legislator proposes ban on touch-screen machines 2013-02-05 14:27:49 -0600
    Absolutely agree, Karen. Pre-election machine tests are necessary to ensure that the machines have been set up correctly to read the ballots for that election, but even when conducted perfectly on machines that have not been ‘patched’ are incapable of detecting hacks, errors, or simple malfunctions that can affect the machines’ operation on Election Day.

    Post-election auditing is the ONLY way to validate election results, and Wisconsin has a LONG way to go until we have adequate post-election auditing of our elections. (Important lessons are being learned in the citizens’ efforts to recount the votes in California’s GMO-labeling referendum. They are proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that the value of paper ballots is limited unless there are clear and well-accepted procedures in place for demanding and getting that recount or audit.)

  • commented on How Re-Districting Skewed the 2012 Election 2013-02-05 10:59:48 -0600
    At the Grassroots Festival in Mazomanie on Feb. 16, we’re going to discuss this issue in the Election Integrity workshop (1:15-2:15.) Some legal action is still underway to challenge the 2011 redistricting, and it’s within the realm of possibility (though far, far from probable) that Wisconsin could correct the 2011 redistricting before the next census.

    The best chance for useful action is a bipartisan effort that is underway to change the process before the 2020 redistricting. Now is our best chance for this. Many sitting legislators know they won’t be running for re-election after 2020, so they are less likely to take the redistricting personally and more likely to be statesmen about it. It’s always a long slog to get good-government legislation passed, but every month closer to the 2020 elections is a month when it is less likely to happen.

    I’m working on getting up-to-date information about that effort before festival so that I’ll be able to share it there.

  • commented on Which election integrity issues concern you NOW? 2013-01-24 08:47:49 -0600
    (Trying again; that link got messed up.) Thanks, Karen and Grant, those thoughtful comments are really helpful. I’m hoping others will weigh in, too.

    In the meantime, Think Progress has this informative little piece about the Republican plans to rig the Electoral College. In the first paragraph is a link to a separate piece from more than a year ago about such an attempt in the Wisconsin legislature.

  • CD2 grassroots networking Facebook group

    CD2 grassroots groups meet several times a year as "Progressive Partners," which now has its own Facebook group. Follow events by logging on to Facebook and search for Progressive Partners of Wisconsin.

    --Karen