Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Wisconsin Voter Distraction Bill - Senate Bill 6

There are some very real issues with how elections are run in Waukesha County. Other counties in Wisconsin probably have some of the same or other issues. However, Wisconsin Senate Bill 6, the Voter Distraction Bill, won't fix any of them.

We must demand real solutions to problems with our elections. Unlike pseudo-solutions such as requiring an ID to vote, there are solutions that would actually improve our elections. Requiring an ID to vote is extremely expensive and provably not a solution to a very minor issue, it only seeks to stifle valid voters. I'm of course referring to Wisconsin Senate Bill 6. The most critical issue is counting votes right the first time. Years of investigation have shown that voter fraud is not a serious issue, and this bill wouldn't have prevented the very few recent cases of voter fraud in Wisconsin. There are much more effective ways to spend our money to improve our elections than this bill.

The prevalent issues in Waukesha County involve the computer election system, and there are serious and relevant issues with all of the election systems in Wisconsin. Using our election system as an example, Bruce Schneier, a world-renowned security expert, described some of the very real issues with elections after questions over election security in 2004. A more recent essay by Schneier describes an election in 2006 similar to the current one in Waukesha County, a 386-vote margin with 18,000 lost votes due to computer error. The only way we can avoid situations like the one in Waukesha County is to demand more transparency in our elections through open election systems. A non-profit organization that has been successful in these efforts is the Open Voting Consortium (I don't know them or have any affiliation).

From now on, or until someone comes up with a better name, I strongly believe the Wisconsin Senate Bill 6 should be referred to as the "Voter Distraction Bill," because this bill doesn't address the very real issues with elections in Waukesha County and other counties in Wisconsin. At the very least the bill is a distraction. However, the GAB estimates it will cost them over two million dollars and was unable to determine the cost to local governments, saying local governments would bare "the brunt of the cost." That puts the estimated costs of implementing the bill at well over four million dollars, much of which will be recurring. The costs required to implement and enforce the bill far outweigh its benefits, and the difficulties it adds to valid registered voters are simply un-Wisconsin. The bill is far worse than a distraction, but the Voter Distraction Bill is the simplest, most explanatory name I could come up with.

The bill is quietly being rushed through the Senate. I expect Republicans will incorrectly use the issues with the Waukesha County election system as evidence that the Voter Distraction Bill is needed, if they aren't already. They will make the bill law very soon, and legally this time, unless we loudly demand otherwise.

Common Cause will be holding a public forum in Kenosha to talk about issues such as these Monday, April 18. If you haven't read the essays from Bruce Schneier, please do, they're factual and very informative. You can find his eight essays and op-eds on election security here. Wisconsin must kill the Voter Distraction Bill, too.

The next bill regarding elections in Wisconsin better have some real solutions to major issues.

(I think it's important that we call this bill what it is. "Voter ID" or "Voter Photo ID" are not good names for this bill, because the bill doesn't specifiy creating a "voter ID" as the names imply.)

Update: (April 21, 4:17am) As another example of a real issue with our computer election systems, the GAB may ask a court to allow some counties to irreversibly clear the data on voting system memory cards before the recount, destroying evidence. From the GAB,
"We are receiving information from some county clerks who use prom packs with tabulating equipment for their voting systems, and they report that they are unable to get sufficient additional prom packs from their respective vendors to conduct the recount, while at the same time preserving and retaining intact the Election Day prom packs.

...This may mean getting judicial permission to clear memory devices for reuse during the recount"
This is absolutely unacceptable.

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