Mid-Term Report: Two really dangerous bills and a duck

UPDATED.

Yesterday, the Government Elections and Administration (GAE) held its last meeting of the year to approve bills originating in the Committee. Today we will recap three of be seven election bills we are tracking.

It is hard to compare and prioritize the importance and impact of bills for good or ill. Today’s three bills provide an instructive contrast. All three are well intended, yet ill conceived. One is extremely threatening to democracy, yet the threat may be way off or ultimately avoided. Another sets a bad precedent for Connecticut and the Nation, flaunts reason, with a message almost the opposite of that intended. The third aimed at fairness is unfair to most of those seeking redress for an imagined unfairness.

The National Popular Vote Agreement

For about the fifth time in eight years, the National Popular Vote Agreement came up and passed the GAE. We can only hope it does get vote on in the House and Senate.  The one time it passed the House, it lost originally  by one vote, but several members changed their votes to provide a pass.

Perhaps Connecticut’s seven Electoral College votes will not tip the balance to put the Compact in effect. That would take states passing the Compact totaling half the Nation’s total Electoral College. The Compact is half-way there, so far, after seven years. But the danger is in that passing here, Connecticut’s yea or nay could make the difference or influence other states.

Maybe the danger is far off. Maybe there will not be another really close election like 1876, 1960, 2000, or 2004 for a long time. Maybe things will change and we will have more voting integrity, less suppression across the country. Maybe faced with an actual impending implementation, enough states will bow out of the Compact in time.

Maybe Not. The stakes are high. An essentially “stolen” presidency can be bad in itself, and also disheartening for democracy.

In my estimation, the most dangerous bill going forward this year.

Constitutional Amendment to Void the Secret Vote

For the last three or four years we have been fighting Internet voting, a bad idea, justified in the name of supporting our troops. Statistics show great results in supporting our troops based on the implementation of the MOVE Act. Connecticut paralleled other states in going from 61%  absentee ballot return rates in 2010, to 94% in 2012, on the same order as the return rate for all absentee ballots.

Yet critics are not satisfied. They push for risky, expensive, and likely ineffective Internet voting. Yesterday, Representative Hwang called anyone who would vote against the bill “unpatriotic”. We applaud the three Representatives that voted against the bill, articulating the risks of coercion and the value of the Secret Vote. They are the true courageous patriots.

As we said in our testimony, “Like vaccination, it only works if everyone has the secret vote.”

Also I applaud Secretary of the State, Denise Merrill’s steadfast opposition to Internet voting and defense of the secret vote, in the face of such support for Internet voting.

Here we are torn with regard to the dangers. This bill is bad because it is a foot in the door of eliminating the secret vote. Yet, is it worse that it is a foot in the door of Internet voting? Or is the worst aspect that it is using flag waiving to accuse others of being unpatriotic, while actually assaulting the democracy our soldiers and ancestors fought and died for? And, like the Popular Vote Compact it sets  influence and precedent for other states as well.

In my estimation, the second most dangerous bill going forward this year.

Limit Post-Election Audits to Three Per Town Per Election

This bill started off really, really, bad. It would have cut post-election audits in half, from 10% down to 5%, and worse by “auditing” by feeding the ballots through a different scanner and comparing the tapes.

As such it would have been a contender for the most dangerous bill of the year – it would impact only Connecticut, but seriously and immediately and had Connecticut be known as the 1st state ever to “effectively eliminate post-election audits”. Hopefully, like last year, it would never have been brought before the Senate or House. As we testified, audits should be strengthened, not weakened.

What remains is severely abbreviated version with only a clause limiting audits to a maximum of three districts per election or primary. There are several impacts of this well-intended, yet flawed remnant:

  • Audits work best when truly random across all districts. Limiting some towns causes the audit to be less protective, with certain votes and districts to have less opportunity for being selected. (Fortunately, a limit of three on 10% has only a moderate such a effect in Connecticut).
  • The intention is to save towns from “being audited almost every time” while others “hardly or never get selected”. This effort to spread the burden fairly will actually help towns with many polling places audit less, and place additional burdens on towns with fewer polling places, especially those with a single polling place.
  • It is worse than it might seem. When towns like New Haven and Hartford, get regularly selected for three to six polling places, they have about two hundred votes per polling place (and over the long run, audit a fair 10% of their votes). But when towns like Suffield, Lebanon, Clinton, Oxford, or Andover get audited, they have to count 2000, 3000, 4000, or approaching 9000 votes at once! Under the current law they get their fair share over time.
  • The towns with many polling places are right that they their scanners get audited almost every time, yet this bill will not change that. Yet, they will get a bit less than their 10% share. Yet large towns will continue to, fairly, get routinely selected even more often. (We marvel at how some with 20 to 30 districts in a 10% audit random drawing are surprised they are almost always selected.)

In the grand scheme of things this bill, unfair as it is, will have little effect on audit integrity. Yet, we are sympathetic to the towns with few polling places, who ironically are disproportionately represented within the Registrars of Voters Association of Connecticut (ROVAC) which is the bill’s proponent. Can we call this a ‘duck’, since maybe we ducked the a really bad bill, leaving one with a few quacks in the logic.

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