Transparency in the Voting Process by Nancy Morgan

10/09/06

Lead: This is part two of WMNF’s Nancy Morgan’s report on voting issues in Hillsborough County. In this report, Morgan covers the canvassing board’s duties and possible conflicts of interest, and a report that it filed with the State about the September primary election. She also talks to the president of a citizen’s activist group to get another perspective.

During a recent meeting with Jim Reed, Assistant Supervisor of Elections, Rich Cervetti, Manager of Elections Services, and County Attorney for the canvassing Board, Mary Helen Ferris, WMNF asked about one of the biggest issues for voters, confidence in the election process. Will their votes be counted, and if there are questions about ballots, either electronic or absentee or provisional, will the final decision be fair and accurate? The county canvassing board has the duty to make those decisions. But questions have been raised in the press about the neutrality of the canvassing board since Buddy Johnson, Supervisor of Elections, and County Commissioner Brian Blair, both Republicans, make up two of the three members. County Attorney for the canvassing board, Mary Helen Ferris responded to a question about partisanship on the canvassing board. She also said that the county charter could be changed to make the Supervisor of Elections office non-partisan.

Sound: Ferris

In the September primary election, one of the canvassing board members, Republican County Commissioner Brian Blair sent out campaign literature supporting two candidates who were running in the primary. Under state law, members of a county canvassing board cannot actively campaign for candidates. Attorney Ferris comments.

Sound: Ferris

State Law requires that each county canvassing board file a report called the “Conduct of Election.� The report must describe all problems ranging from equipment or software malfunctions at all levels; all election definition errors that were discovered on the logic and accuracy test, which is a test that is run on some voting machines prior to the election; all ballot printing errors or ballot supply problems; all staffing shortages or procedural violations by employees, including precinct workers; all instances where needs for staffing or equipment were insufficient to meet voter needs; and any additional information regarding material issues or problems associated with the conduct of the election. For any problems reported in any of the categories, a full explanation must be offered and a remedy outlined. Under a public records request, WMNF News obtained those reports from both Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties. With approximately the same number of precincts, Hillsborough with 363 and Pinellas with 376, the two reports were astounding in their differences. Hillsborough reported just three problems; a voter reported a malfunction with one voting machine, seven precincts failed to return all required election material to the designated drop site, and a precinct failed to copy provisional ballot ID numbers resulting in an inability to count some ballots. Pinellas County’s report, however, reported scores of problems in dozens of precincts and went into great detail, unlike Hillsborough’s report. I showed the two reports to the three officials and asked them to comment. Jim Reed.

Sound: Reed

Rich Cervetti explains how these problems are reported and how the final conduct of elections report is compiled.

Sound: Cervetti

Assistant Supervisor of Elections Jim Reed

Sound: Reed

Recent stories in both the Tampa Tribune and the St. Pete Times have said that under Buddy Johnson, the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Office has become more secretive. But voters are entitled to an open and transparent voting process. All records in the elections office are open and available to the public. All canvassing board meetings are open to the public. So, what is the Supervisor of Elections office doing to guarantee transparency, and thus increase voter confidence? Jim Reed thinks education is the key.

Sound: Reed

Rich Cervetti tells voters how to access public records.

Sound: Cervetti

Attorney Ferris

Sound: Ferris

To get another perspective, WMNF attended a meeting of The Voting Integrity Alliance of Tampa Bay, a citizen activist group in Pinellas County that monitors elections and reports problems. After looking over the conduct of elections reports for Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties, Pam Haengel offered her perspective.

Sound: Haengel

Although The Voting Integrity Alliance does not have a chapter in Hillsborough County, a drive is underway to make that a reality. Along with education, more citizen involvement in monitoring the voting process is needed. Transparency in the election process can only help to increase voter confidence. I’m Nancy Morgan for WMNF News.

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