A local project that uncovered a fatal flaw in Humboldt County’s old elections system just got some national recognition that may ultimately lead to its becoming the standard rather than the exception.
The federal Elections Assistance Commission (EAC) officially notified the Humboldt County Elections Office this week that it was receiving a $25,000 grant to fund and augment the Humboldt County Election Transparency Project so it can be replicated in other places. While the grant is relatively small in comparison to the $1.5 million the EAC doled out in this round of grants, its impact could be huge, according to Humboldt County Registrar of Voters Carolyn Crnich.
”For them to recognize our project as a worthwhile pursuit is, I think, a big deal,” she said. “I would not go so far as to say it’s an endorsement of the project, but it does say they are exploring it as an idea that may be replicated other places.”
The goal of the Transparency Project is simple — to make images of every ballot cast in an election public, along with open-source software to allow anyone to conduct recounts as they see fit. The project received a lot of attention in the wake of the November 2008 election when it uncovered a flaw in Premier Elections Solutions that led to almost 200 ballots being dropped from Humboldt County’s final election results.
The system’s programming error — which became known as the “Deck Zero” bug — ultimately led to its being de-certified by California Secretary of State Debra Bowen. While the error in Humboldt County didn’t alter any election outcomes, it served as a stark reminder of the dangers of proprietary elections technology. It later became a case study in a report on voting systems, which concluded that there is more government oversight of automobiles than voting machines.
Looking to change that, the EAC sent out a request for grant proposals late last year looking for innovative, cost-effective and evidence-based processes to ensure election integrity through post vote audits and pre-election testing.
Crnich said the grant money received locally will be used to augment the software created by local programmer Mitch Trachtenberg and used by the Transparency Project to be compatible with different ballot types, as well as to create a training manual to assist those conducting audits and recounts and allow for the project’s duplication in other jurisdictions.
Located in Southern California, the Verified Voting Foundation was designed to safeguard elections in the digital age to ensure every voter knows their votes are counted as they intended and that every election official is prepared to prove that to them. The foundation’s president, Pam Smith, said the recently announced EAC grants are a big step in the right direction.
”We’re really happy to see this because it gives an opportunity to demonstrate the value of these types of audits,” she said. “Audits aren’t just about catching mistakes — auditing has many benefits, including deterring problems and basic quality control. … I think this was a long time coming on the national level.”
In a statement, Transparency Project founding member Tom Pinto agreed that the grants are encouraging.