Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Minnesota Recount Folly: We've Been Down That Road

How the Democrats 'won' the Washington governor's mansion in 2004.


Olympia, Wash.

Sorry Minnesota, but the sequel is never as good as the original.

For those who watched the Washington State governor's race recounts in 2004, the ongoing recount drama in Minnesota is just another rehash of the same script -- albeit for a U.S. Senate seat that might put Democrats one vote away from a filibuster-proof majority.

Four years ago in Washington, Democratic Party candidate Christine Gregoire lost the first count, lost the recount, and then won a second, highly dubious recount by 133 votes. In Minnesota, where Sen. Norm Coleman is defending his seat against comedian-turned-candidate Al Franken, the first count showed Mr. Coleman up 725 votes. Today, thanks to another dubious recount, Mr. Franken is apparently in the lead.

Razor-thin margins like these put election systems to the test. As the old proverb goes, they are a crisis and an opportunity. Yet the crises keep coming and the opportunities continue to be squandered. It's time to learn the lessons of the recount wars and address the systemic flaws in our election processes. Indeed, the price of a continued decline in voter confidence is too troubling for most Americans to comprehend.

In Washington's 2004 gubernatorial election, at least 1,392 felons illegally voted, 252 provisional ballots were wrongly counted, and 19 votes were cast from beyond the grave, according to Chelan County Superior Court Judge John Bridges's opinion in a case brought by Dino Rossi, Ms. Gregoire's Republican opponent.
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Election workers in King County (where Seattle is located) "enhanced" 55,177 ballots to make it easier for tabulating machines to read them -- even though the county had failed to establish written procedures as required by state law. In some cases, individual election workers modified voted ballots using black felt markers and white-out tape while observers were kept at a distance that prevented meaningful observation. Nine separate times, King County "discovered" and counted unsecured ballots.

Nevertheless, Ms. Gregoire lost to Mr. Rossi by 261 votes.

An automatic recount reduced Mr. Rossi's lead to just 42 votes. The Gregoire campaign demanded a state-wide hand recount, a time-consuming and expensive process that state law says the challenger must pay for (if the result changes, the challenger is reimbursed). Big labor unions joined with far-left groups like to put up the money for Ms. Gregoire's third-time's-the-charm ballot shuffle.

During the recount process, five counties found new, uncounted, unsecured ballots and added them into their totals. King County officials admitted publicly that ballot reconciliation reports were falsified in an attempt to conceal variations between the number of votes counted and the number of voters who voted (two elections workers were disciplined as a result).

By the end, 3,539 votes more than the number of voters who voted were tabulated. Four other swing counties provided an additional 4,880 mystery ballots. Ms. Gregoire was the victor by a margin of 133 votes.

That margin -- 133 votes -- happens to be the same number of ballots that Minneapolis election officials are currently missing. The initial vote tally in one Democrat-leaning precinct counted 133 more ballots than officials have been able to find for the Senate recounts. The Minnesota canvassing board decided on Dec. 12 to allow Minneapolis simply to ignore the recount and go with the original number. This provided a 46-vote boost for Mr. Franken, about the same as his current projected lead. The board also "requested" that counties reconsider rejected absentee ballots, a new and novel part of the recount procedure that is also expected to favor Mr. Franken.

Something is wrong when a victorious candidate owes more thanks to vote counters than to voters. Such was the case in Washington in 2004, and Minnesota is poised to follow in its footsteps in 2008.

It need not be this way. After 2004, the Evergreen Freedom Foundation produced a 42-page report offering a dozen solutions. While a few were implemented, most were simply ignored by officials content to cross their fingers and hope the next close election is in someone else's jurisdiction.

Some reforms are simply educational and cultural; others are fundamental and essential. Election officials need to understand current federal and state laws and regulations governing the entire election process, including recounts. Those responsible for elections must also inculcate a culture of compliance among election staff, including temporary staff hired at election time.

From the moment they are printed, ballots should be isolated and guarded and their chain of custody recorded. Officials with rule-making authority are responsible for establishing processes that clarify how ballots are to be handled, stored, counted, and, if necessary, recounted.

Most important to maintaining and increasing public faith in elections is improving openness, especially leveraging Internet technology to make anyone a potential election observer. The Minneapolis Star Tribune's project to put all 6,700 contested ballots in the Senate race on the Web, so people can compare their own judgments to those of the canvassing board, is but one example. Election officials who have nothing to hide should be putting as much as possible online as quickly as possible.

Citizens and the media might also take a closer look at some of the individuals and organizations involved in monkeying with and even overturning elections. Both Mr. Franken and Ms. Gregoire were endorsed by the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now -- Acorn -- a group under investigation in several states for suspected voter registration chicanery.

The man overseeing the Senate recount, Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, was also endorsed by Acorn, and his election campaign in 2006 was funded in part by something called "The Secretary of State Project." This latter group, founded by's former grass-roots director, exists solely to install far-left candidates as secretaries of state in swing states.

Close elections will always stir controversy. They will often require recounts to validate the results. Yet the Washington and Minnesota recounts offer cautionary tales. The democratic process is too important to be disregarded until a virtual tie forces us to pay attention. Regardless of which candidates win our elections, the voters -- not the vote counters -- should win every time.

Mr. England is director of the Citizenship and Governance Center at the Evergreen Freedom Foundation.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Fix is In, Utah legislators keep getting elected, here is why

The problem here in Utah nobody, especially elected officials want to admit is the fix is in here in Utah. This goes both ways for the Democrats and the Republicans so this is not directed at either party.

There is turnover in the legislature to be sure, but it is controlled by the very elected officials that are leaving office.

Having been on the “inside” of the Republican Party all my life, I have never seen a more “the fix is in” system anywhere else in the country other than maybe Illinois.

An elected state Representative here in Utah (from either party) needs only a handful (about 50) friends and neighbors to keep happy and re-elected as delegates each two years to stay in office. The State Senators only need about 100 delegates every four years, and the Federal guys need 700-1500 delegates. The caucus system here in Utah can and will continue to be gamed by skilled operatives.

The other concerning issue here in Utah is their really is no true turnover in the legislature. When an elected official decides to leave the legislature, they essentially hand pick their replacement and just before their term is up they “retire”. The local county party holds a special caucus meeting of the delegates in that district. Usually this is only attended by “diehard” party people and those “friends” of the retiring legislator. The retiring legislator then in the caucus meeting introduces their handpicked replacement to all the delegates, and then “nominates” them when the meeting is called for a vote. I would say a nearly 100% success for this strategy is used by those elected officials. These caucus meetings may have only a handful of people, sometimes less than 10 delegates. So the fix is in.

Then these hand picked replacements are sworn into office and become the incumbent for the next election cycle allowing then to receive the mothers milk of elections, lobbyist money. It is almost impossible to replace an incumbent elected official in this state. Both sides know this and take advantage of this to maintain their seats in the Legislature.

The only way this will change is for the citizens of Utah to create an easier access to the ballot.

Having lived in Washington State and Alaska the election process seems to be a more open choice for the people to decide, not the hard line left or right.

Look at how moderate Republicans are treated here in Utah, even elected ones. You are a RINO if you do not agree 100% with the power brokers within the party, especially on the issue of vouchers.

As long as our current system decides the election on caucus night, nothing will change. Our elected officials don’t want it changed for obvious reasons, so what to do?

What chance does any candidate that is fiscally conservative but socially moderate have in ever receiving the nomination from either major party here in Utah, especially in Salt Lake City? How about zero, nada, zilch.

The third parties here in Utah all have some kind of issue that drives them. The Green party is the environment. The constitution party is even more right wing than the GOP.

So what to do? You can’t get a constitutional amendment before the voters without it passing the Legislature, so we again have no say in how we elect our officials.

This is why the need for a Unaffiliated Party of Utah. If candidates were allowed to run unaffiliated without having to obtain thousands of signatures, they could run against each other for a place on the general election ballot to be decided on the primary election. Both of the other major parties would be unaffected, and voters would actually have several choices other than the two major parties to choose from.

What a novel idea, actually letting the voters of Utah select the best candidate regardless of party affiliation.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Regulators Spring Into Action Against Naked Short Sellers. Or not. December 7th, 2008 by Patrick Byrne

As is explained in numerous pieces in DeepCapture, there are many cracks in the settlement system, one of them being the DTCC’s Continuous Net Settlement system, or CNS. I am highly confident that the federales (at least, the SEC) are not permitted to explore the other cracks, that the failures to deliver that they see within the CNS are thus but a small fraction of all that exist, and that, therefore, trying to gauge the depth of the naked short selling problem from the level of FTD’s in the CNS is like trying to guess the condition of an automobile from the level of water in its radiator.

But it’s a start. Given that the CNS system is the one place the SEC can look, and might be able to do something about, it is instructive to see how well they are cleaning up unsettled trades there. Towards that end, DeepCapture has analyzed the data that the SEC released last week. These graphs show their fine progress in that regard.

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