October 2, 2007

Election Supervisor Says Voting Process is Flawed

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Since the United States democracy operates in such a way that every citizen of 18 years and older has the right to cast a vote, one would imagine that every citizen’s vote would have the right be counted. According to Ion Sancho, supervisor of elections for Leon County, Fla., however, this is not at all true.
This past Saturday, New Yorkers for Verified Voting invited Sancho to speak to the public concerning issues of the flawed voting processes that occur in the country.
Sancho first discovered there was something awry with voting processes when he ran for Local County Commission for Leon County in 1986. After voters discovered that they could not physically press down the lever to cast their vote due to malfunctions of the voting machines, the entire election melted down. When news reached Sancho that there was a denied request to redo the election, he was driven to make a difference.
“I read about the people that challenged society to make it better, and I wanted to do the same,” Sancho said. “Irrespective of negligence and irrespective of corruption, and irrespective of human error, my voters needed to know that their votes would not be lost,” Sancho said.
Determined to become the supervisor of elections of his county, Sancho decided to sharpen his expertise in the field. He therefore sought and received the proper training to become a voting machine programmer.
According to Sancho, voting machines that involve levers are dangerous to use because it is impossible to perform a recount. The levers accumulate totals and stop at a particular number at the end, but there is no record of individual votes.
Ruling these machines out, Sancho investigated direct-recording electronic (DRE) voting machines, also known as touch screens, but these did not render different results. In fact, the touch screens share the same problem of lacking a mechanism to count individual votes, therefore disallowing the possibility of a recount. Furthermore, Sancho dismissed these as just plain difficult to use.
“[Touch screen voting machines and similar mechanisms] are about as clear as mud to understand how to use,” Sancho said. “I wanted technology that would not pose a challenge for the voters.”
Not only was this voting system confusing, but Sancho also ran a series of tests in 2005 that proved that touch screens could in fact be hacked into. This discovery as well as the ability to hack into certain Diebold election equipment is thoroughly investigated in the documentary film “Hacking Democracy,” in which Sancho appears.
When asked his preference of voting material, Eli Acosta, attendee of Sancho’s presentation, also strongly opposed touch screens.
“Votes processed by DRE’s can be comprised,” he said.
Sancho finally ended his quest for the most secure voting system when he investigated precinct optical scanners. According to Sancho, these votes can be tabulated, and the skill level required for their use — that of bubbling an oval on a paper ballot — is extremely low. Sancho demonstrated this by overseeing the implementation of optical scan voting in elementary schools by young students.
“[With optical scanners], I have every voter’s vote marked in their own hand,” Sancho said. “That’s first degree evidence.”
According to Sancho, precinct optical scanners avoid human error by rejecting a ballot that has too many ovals filled in, thereby allowing the voter to correct and resubmit it. By doing this, votes will not be lost.
“If we have to get rid of levers, we should acquire optical scanners,” said Marge Acosta, the Long Island representative for New York Verified Voting. “Because it requires the voter to mark a paper ballot, we’re sure that who we cast the vote for is who is counted by the machine.”
After being elected as supervisor of elections for Leon County in 1988, and after verifying that these machines produced reliable election results, Sancho eventually settled on this type of voting equipment for the county. He remains a strong proponent for this system today.
Aside from his campaign to implement the safest voting machines, Sancho, whose credentials also include leading the Miami-Dade County recount during the 2000 presidential election, also addressed several larger issues concerning election fraud.
According to Sancho, vendors are the primary source of funding for the Election Center, but these vendors have their own agendas as well. This fact plays a critical role in the debate today about the technology used for voting.
“We should not outsource [the money] and privatize it to vendors who are trying to make a profit. It’s not my job to make sure that the vendors make money; it’s my job to have my voters’ votes count,” Sancho said.
Sancho also spoke of the fraudulent felon list that disenfranchised 5,000 votes in Florida in November of 2000. According to Sancho, if a citizen’s name matched 80 percent of that of an actual felon’s, this citizen was justified as a felon, and therefore ineligible to vote. Sancho discovered that this was a deliberate act, further renewing his vigor to bring justice to the election process.
Sancho encouraged those in attendance to be aware that fraudulent actions do occur.
“The most patriotic thing you can do is say ‘no’ to an authority,” Sancho said. You have the right, the moral choice, to not follow something you think is wrong,” he said.