“C” is for Coloradans
We are a group of volunteer Colorado citizens working for integrity in our elections. Non-partisan and non-profit, we rely on objective scientific knowledge and research methods to determine how well the voting methods used in Colorado serve the public interest.
To this end, we belong to a similarly non-partisan and non-profit national election integrity listserve; among its participants are many accomplished experts in computer security and election administration who share scientifically-based information.
“VI” is for Voting Integrity
Elections must be fair, with all eligible electors having an equal opportunity to vote.
Elections must be accurate, so that only eligible voted ballots are counted, and counted as their electors intended.
Election processes must be transparent to allow public oversight of the election-related actions of public employees and private contractors.
All election products must be kept secure from illegal tampering, until there is no more possibility of election challenges.
In their 2012 book, Broken Ballots: Will Your Vote Count?, Douglas W. Jones and Barbara Simons, two election integrity experts knowledgeable about computers and election administration, give this list of bottom line characteristics of good elections in their recent book: auditability, accessibility, accuracy, security, reliability and usability; they add that these goals are not mutually exclusive, but complement each other.
On its “About” page, the organization Verified Voting defines election integrity as including “accuracy, transparency and verifiability of elections,” along with “the reliability and security of voting systems,” and stresses the necessity “that each vote be counted as cast.”
Why CFVI?Over a decade ago in 2003, CFVI’s founder, Bob McGrath, began seeing Internet reports of large state purchases of unauditable “direct record electronic voting machines” (DREs). The Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) made federal funds available to purchase these machines. With DREs, votes are cast electronically on a machine rather than a paper ballot. Vendors of DREs were claiming that software controlling the machines was “proprietary,” so experts could not inspect the software to check the potential for fraud or other inaccuracies. And without votes cast on paper ballots, audits could not check vote counts for accuracy.
His memory still vivid of the 2000 Presidential election irregularities, Bob posted an invitation on MeetUp to find others interested in challenging the unauditable DRE machines. Eight people responded; they met at a coffee shop on East Colfax in Denver, and Coloradans for Voting Integrity was formed.
Since that time, Colorado’s voting methods have changed, and so have the ways the integrity of our elections are threatened. And we continue to take aim at our state’s risk-taking with voting integrity.
What We Do
We educate, bringing information on weaknesses of current state election systems to the attention of public officials, the public, and the media.
As “volunteer lobbyists,” we promote voting integrity in legislation, by testifying before legislative committees or contributing to legislation.
We sometimes serve during elections as watchers, election judges or canvass board members.
In May, 2017, three CfVIers responded to a request from Secretary of State Wayne Williams for written comments on a draft set of proposed new and revised election rules. These responses to the draft rules were to be considered in anticipation of a second set of new and revised election rules.
Harvie Branscomb’s comments
Mary Eberle’s comments
Margit Johansson’s comments
A Recent Action
In August, 2014, three CFVI members provided verbal and written testimony on Election Rules proposed by the Secretary of State.1 Harvie Branscomb’s testimony discusses the downsides of mail ballot elections, same-day voter registration, third-party delivery of ballots, new laws limiting the role of watchers, and suggests improvements for almost 40 of the Rules.
Branscomb lauded a new Rule (7.2.6) that required listing the names and addresses of 3rd party deliverers of voted ballots. He took issue with an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) “boilerplate” mass-mailed letter opposing the new Rules requiring identification of 3rd party deliverers, and a voter affidavit saying that the voter had not shown their completed ballot to others. He countered content of the ACLU letter at length; his comments included: that all-mail ballot elections are much more open to fraud than voting in person in precinct polling places; and that our mail ballot elections have almost no safeguards for the chain of custody, for voter identification, or for eligibility confirmation. He also asserted that current same-day registration is riskier than earlier registration deadlines were. He recommended that in the next state legislative session, new laws provide for additional ballot security and fewer opportunities for vote intimidation.
Referring to other testimony, Branscomb opposed delaying the effective date for Rule 7.2.6 until after the November election, even if it means abandoning any unattended drop-off boxes. Commenting on Rules 8.6.8 and 8.6.9, he specified that watchers should have access to all information that election officials do, as watchers are the only parties without a motive to hide lapses in integrity, and that they need to watch for violations of voter privacy. They must be permitted immediate reporting of errors, and some recording of the violation. Referring to Rules 9.2 and 9.2.1, Branscomb stressed that there needs to be a time delay between voter registration changes and counting of a ballot, so that all ballots are verified as eligible before they are separated from their envelopes and rendered anonymous. Finally, he went on to note close to 40 text changes in the rest of the Rules.2 Mary Eberle’s testimony discusses the rights and restrictions of watchers, challenges to a voter’s eligibility, canvassing and recount, and some of the transparency concerns raised by mobile election judges collecting ballot boxes.
Election Rule 8 covers the rights and restrictions of watchers. Eberle’s comments to the Secretary of State aimed to increase the watchers’ ability to exercise their rights, which are defined in C.R.S. 1-7-108. She does not think that Rule 8 provisions are expansive enough, and her written testimony attempted to show the places where Rule 8 was more restrictive than the statute. Rules have the force of statute, but in the case of election rules, in her opinion, the clerks have had too much influence in writing the rules to the point that citizens’ voices are diluted.
In the Rule 8 discussion, Eberle included the statutes that the rule cites, for ease of reference. She hopes that future rule revisions will include statute language so that one doesn’t have to constantly look it up.
In testimony about Rule 9, which deals with challenges to a voter’s eligibility, she focused on the changes that are needed because most ballots are now received by mail at the clerk’s office. Therefore, no opportunity exists to challenge voters who a watcher thinks is impersonating another voter or is otherwise voting in an election that he or she is not eligible to vote in. It is human nature to take advantage of situations in which there are no safeguards. Our elections are too precious not to check voter eligibility.
Eberle suggested that watchers be able to stop the signature checking process briefly and ask that a given signature be reviewed, short of a challenge. As with most suggestions offered by citizens, this one was rejected.
Election Rule 10 covers canvassing and recount. Everyone knows what a recount is, but canvassing may be a less familiar term. In this context, canvassing refers to a type of checks and balances: the canvass board’s work is required by statute (several sections in C.R.S. 1-10). The board consists of the clerk and one or two members of each major political party or governmental representative (if the election is nonpartisan). The board has the statutory duty to reconcile various numbers related to the election, such as the number of ballots cast, with other numbers, such as the number of ballots counted. The statute’s requirements for checking are out of date, so the rules have restated some of the requirements to make the check more useful in today’s elections.
One security problem Eberle noted beginning in 2012 is that clerks have started sending mobile election judges out to polling locations in the middle of the day to collect ballot boxes and bring them back to the clerk’s central counting location. This sounds like a good way to get an early start on the counting, but there is no requirement for the on-site election judges to sign off on a statement of the number of ballots in the ballot box before it is taken away. Yes, it is sealed, but to be transparent and assure the voters that their ballots are safely transported, there should be a certified number before the box leaves the polling place, and the number should be checked when the box arrives at the clerk’s counting location.
Eberle hopes that whoever the new Secretary of State is, he or she will implement suggestions made by members of Coloradans for Voting Integrity, as CFVI does not have a partisan or “convenience over integrity” ax to grind.3 Margit Johansson’s testimony concerned two topics: electronic return of voted ballots by military and overseas voters, and a check on the legitimacy of online changes to registration addresses via the distribution of nonforwardable postcards.
A Colorado law passed in 2011 allows the online (i.e., email or fax) return of voted ballots by military and overseas voters only when there is no more secure method available or feasible. The Secretary of State’s Rule doesn’t mention the limits on the use of electronic returns, although back in 2009, the federal Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act mandated better alternatives to email or fax returns. Electronic returns are highly vulnerable to tampering; hence, the present Rule is irresponsible, if not illegal.
In 2013, a law was repealed that required that clerks send out nonforwardable postcards to old addresses whenever an online registration address change was made; this was a check for fraudulent online address changes. Without the postcard, online address changes are easy to forge, so Johansson suggested that sending out a nonforwardable postcard be restored in a Rule; or alternatively, that the Secretary of State send out nonforwardable postcards, instead of clerks.