Public should be able to see election records

By Editorial Board
Published April 27th 2008 in  Arizona Daily Star
Our view: Technology shouldn't negate the people's right to check voting results Pima County seems to have learned some lessons from the monumentally botched handling of voting during the Presidential Preference Election in February.

The county is also planning steps to enhance the security of its election system, but it is fighting to keep its election results database confidential.

First the good news. On Monday, the county announced that its first Poll Worker Academy will begin in May. Officials hope to train 2,400 potential poll workers by August, according to a memo from Brad Nelson, director of the Pima County elections division.

After a six-hour class, each pupil will taken a written test. Those who fail will either be assigned limited roles on the next election day or won't be allowed to work in a polling place, Nelson said.

Those who pass the written test will become "Certified Poll Workers" and will undergo more training before the Sept. 2 primary election for state and county offices.

Nelson said county elections staff also is working on an on-site survey of all 400 potential polling places to assure that each is "adequate to serve as a polling place" and accessible for disabled voters.

We applaud the county's efforts: These two changes alone should go a long way toward improving the voting experience.

During the February primary, some election workers were so slow in verifying voters' identities that lines extended out the door while voting booths stood empty. Some workers were befuddled by identification requirements and the procedure for casting provisional ballots. Problems with optical scanners, and
confusion about polling places and eligibility to vote turned the day into a nightmare for many voters.

Unfortunately, what happens after the next election day is still in dispute. The county and the Pima Democratic Party were in court on Monday arguing about access to elections databases.

The Democratic Party sued in an effort to obtain more than 1,100 election-result databases and in December, Pima County Superior Court Judge Michael Miller ordered the county to release the databases for the 2006 primary and general elections.

The county argued that if its databases are routinely released along with passwords and embedded software, then eventually hackers will get enough information to figure out a way to sabotage the system.

Miller said the databases fall under state public-records law and that political parties could not fulfill their duty to monitor the election without access to them.

The county complied, releasing those election results and also results from the

Regional Transportation Authority vote.

On Monday, the Democrats asked Miller to require the county to release databases in time for objections to be raised before the election result is formally finalized. Miller did not rule.

Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said early this month that he would ask Secretary of State Jan Brewer to redefine the records as computer programs, which are not subject to public-records law.

Brewer said in an interview Monday that while she believes that Pima County "is taking the right position on keeping the database information confidential" because of security concerns, she does not have the authority to redefine the database as a program.

"The Legislature would have to do that," Brewer said.Huckelberry has recommended about two dozen changes to enhance election security, including having consultants check out the county's computer system,
hand-counting more ballots, dividing control over elections-tabulation hardware and software so that county employees can't change software after it's certified by the secretary of state, and improving ballot-verification procedures and chain-of-custody records.

Meanwhile, the county supervisers voted 3-2 in January to ask county employees to figure out how to make scans of actual ballots and put them online on the night of an election. Given that nearly 400,000 ballots would have to be scanned, we fear this solution would be too time-consuming and expensive.

We appreciate the county's concern about assuring the security and integrity of the voting system: If voters aren't confident that their vote will be counted and that elections are not rigged, then our system of government would be undermined, even unraveled.

But the public has a right to review election results as it always has. The use of computer programs hasn't changed that.

We hope through its continuing work to improve the voting process and enhance its system of security, the county will find a way to share results without risking the integrity of the system. The law is the law.