Sunday, November 1, 2009

Redwood ACLU Policy On Local Election Reform

Adopted on July 21, 2009

The local, state and national ACLU has long recognized efforts to protect fair representation in government. The Redwood Chapter affirms the relationship between the rights of citizens and the opportunity to cast a meaningful and effective vote. This policy falls within the scope of policies established by the National ACLU and the ACLU of Northern California.

We appreciate the good work of Humboldt County Clerk/Recorder Carolyn Crnich and the Election Advisory Committee to increase vote-counting transparency and encourage electoral reform, which led to their 2007 Patriot Award selection in October. However, our local Board expresses deep concern with local election conditions, as referenced in a 2007 Voter Confidence Committee report. Additional revelations concerning the “lost ballots” in the general election of 2008, only discovered after the election results were certified, have shaken the confidence of voters in the vote-counting process.

Therefore, the Redwood Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union calls upon election officials and elected leaders to consider the following reforms:

- The County must phase-out of the current electronic vote-counting systems due to issues of inaccuracy, secrecy and privatized control and avoid replacing them with any similar privatized, secret systems. Hand-counted paper ballots are one method which could prove to be more verifiable and less subject to tampering, data corruption and other errors. All voting systems must be subject to rigorous verification.

- The County should set as a priority the right to cast a secret ballot, in an accessible polling place, with the option but not requirement to vote by mail. All efforts must be made to ensure the secret ballot so that no ballot may be traced to or associated with any individual. Greater effort should be made to identify potential polling places and bring them into compliance with disabled access requirements.

- Voided ballots should be immediately marked “VOID” and retained for later audit, and voters must also be provided with the traditional curtain system of voting booth to ensure voter privacy.

- Any memory cards or hard drives used in voting or vote-counting systems must be retained and not be deleted or erased for the full 22 months required by federal law.

- Hotlines, whether by land line or by cellular or Voice Over Internet Protocol system, should be maintained between each and every polling place and the central Elections Office during elections. Sufficient staffing should be in place to readily answer incoming calls.

- The shipment of ballot boxes from local police or sheriff’s stations to County Elections via transportation supervised by only one county employee does not provide sufficient security against tampering, theft or loss. Ballots should never be in the possession of only one person at a time.

- The lack of a comprehensive system of voting methods enabling the use of Ranked Choice Voting is an impediment to electoral reform and acts to compromise the ability of many groups to share in the exercise of political power as well as to reduce the diversity of representation. This dilution of political representation violates the spirit of the US Constitution.

- Poll workers and elections office staff must have improved training to better serve voters and reduce the incidences where voters are dissuaded or prevented from casting a ballot, and be paid to attend such training. Election systems must be run simply and conveniently with poll workers and staff behaving in a consistent and reliable manner. The time for training provided to poll workers should be expanded, to include more “hands on” experiential training in simulated election situations and the provision of electronic training materials workers can review outside of training sessions.

- The maintenance of politically diverse precinct-level poll worker boards should be vigorously enforced, regardless of the residency of any particular active poll worker or potential poll worker; as a partial solution, enhanced recruitment efforts, particularly towards young people, may be expanded and county officials could consider more adequate compensation for poll workers.

- District elections, such as those used to elect members of the Eureka City Council, should be accountable directly to the voters of each of the several districts, and not used solely to determine the residency of the district representative. A “true ward” system where only the voters of any particular ward would vote for their own representative is preferable to the current city-wide system, although ward boundaries must be assessed to avoid gerrymandered districts.

- Poll workers and elections office staff should be specifically reminded of the legal right of any voter to observe any and all stages of the election process. However, prohibitions on “crowding” polling places with politically-motivated agents of any campaign should be better enforced to protect polling place accessibility, including the publication of guidelines for election observers.

- The program initiated by Crnich and the EAC, known as the Humboldt County Election Transparency Project, should be made permanent under county ordinance and utilized prior to the certification of election results to allow for vote totals to be reliably and independently audited to verify accuracy.

- In contrast to the invalidated and admittedly unconstitutional Measure T of 2006, campaign finance reform measures must respect freedom of speech and protect minority candidates. Any limitations on candidate campaign contributions must be sufficiently high enough to permit effective communication with the electorate. Public financing of public candidate elections is the best possible solution to allow equitable access to the electorate, so long as the qualifications to access such funds do not discriminate between major party, minor party and independent candidates.

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