On the face of it, the recent Burlington Free Press story is a non-story, but certainly a last-ditch effort at dirty politics in an otherwise uneventful campaign. Tempers escalated in the Burlington mayoral campaign this week when a Bob Kiss surrogate - the city's Chief Administrative Officer Leopold - accused Democratic candidate Andy Montroll of a conflict of interest in his role as a member of the city council's finance committee. Mr Montroll was pissed - rightly so; meanwhile Mayor Kiss stood idly by and said it was a "misunderstanding." A few have judged the merits of the Briggs story, but the damage has been done. Voters will decide anyway on March 3rd in the Instant Run-off Voting mayoral city election.
Sadly. however, there is a bigger problem than the hijinks of a political campaign.
Much greater concern to Burlington voters is this: the choice for the next mayor of Burlington may be decided for them before they've even had a opportunity to vote. There are serious technical, procedural and ethical questions about how the city will handle the mayoral IRV election. Voters will have two ballots, one is IRV for mayor and the other is for referendum items and other candidate races. After voting, each will be deposited by voters in separate voting machines. Normally, at the start and end of voting, election officials are required to sign off on a print out from the voting tabulator machine, at the beginning to show that the machine's "memory card" is at "zero," and at the end to show the number of votes cast. That will happen with the non-mayoral ballots, but won't be possible with the IRV ballots. And that's the big deal about this election. A important step in accounting for the integrity of the election will not happen, as described by Owen Mulligan, Ward Clerk for Ward 6, in an email he sent to two reporters at Seven Days newspaper [my emphasis in bold]:--
Subject: Mayoral Election ConcernsOwen tells me that Shay Totten responded in a disinterested email that he would not pursue Owen's concerns in a 7D story; Ken Picard has at yet not replied.
Ken and Shay,
I'm writing to you because as an election official in Ward 6 I have a concern about the way this election will be handled. Last time we had an IRV election, I was not a Ward Clerk but I believe the issue was probably the same then and for some reason no one brought it up or maybe they did...I don't know.
Anyway, my intention here with this email is just to let you know what my concern is and then if you feel it warrants further investigation or reporting, then so be it.
I will try to explain, but this is not easy to do non-verbally so hopefully you will get the point I'm trying to make:
At the polls and before we open them for voting, we always check each tabulator machine to make sure there are no ballots in the ballot box..that is for the actual ballot box that holds the paper ballots and also the electronic ballot box being the "memory card" that is sealed into the tabulator machine.
To check the memory card to make sure there are no electronic votes on the card we do an opening print out which will have all the races and all the candidates being at zero showing there are no votes cast. We then as election officials sign off on this print out from the machine if all races are pre-set at zero votes. This is an important print out..all the elected officials must sign off on it. We do this for every election and for every tabulator machine that is used.
My concern is, and I do not feel comfortable as an election official running the election this way, is that on the IRV machine I have been informed that we will not be able to do a print out or even an end of night print out from the machine at the polls. So essentially a huge step in the process of election integrity has been removed and centralized at City Hall. The way it is now, I'm supposed to turn on the machine and have people vote without ever being able to get a print out letting me know that the races are pre-set to zero votes on the memory card.
City Hall does a check on each memory card before they are sealed just like every election before they are delivered to each polling location, the difference this time is we are not able to do that print out at each polling location and check the "electrnoc ballot box" to make sure the races are pre-set at zero. There is nothing for us to sign off on and we are supposed to blindly trust the memeory card that City Hall has provided us. I do not feel this is responsible and it does not sit well with me. I'm going to have a bad taste in my mouth for the whole election day. I just can't ignore the fact that a whole step has been removed because the machines do not have the technology to do a print out for IRV programming.
If either of you feel like dicussing this or feel that it warrents any attention please let me know. I think the voters deserve to know and steps should be taken to make sure the next time we have an IRV election that print outs will be possible. At this point in time and esp. with all the issues Burlington has had with elections, we should not be removing steps in the process of election integrity.
I absolutely support IRV, but I do not support the way the city is running the IRV election. The technology to do print outs is somehting that should have been checked into before we ever made a transition to IRV or if that technology is available then why don't we have it?.
Ward 6 Clerk
Something is indeed rotten at Election Central, 139 Church Street, Burlington, Vermont. Burlington voters should be enraged as I am that the integrity of our City Election 2009 is at stake.