NC Ballot Printing mess-politics or excuse to gut Public Confidence in Elections Act?

Using theory of Occam’s razor, I would say that some media are generating alot of heat but little light. The less simple explanation is that our State Board of Elections Administrative Board is being batted around for political purposes. A second, even worse motive is that special interests want to gut the Public Confidence in Elections Act and lower the nationally acclaimed standards for voting vendors and systems. What questions did the media forget to ask? And what are the answers? Here’s a couple of articles and our comments follow:

Ballot printer charges more, has big advantage
August 5, 2010 Raleigh News & Observer
By Benjamin Niolet and Michael Biesecker – Staff writers
A New Bern company has a near monopoly on ballot printing in North Carolina, and the work is costly.

Printelect charges rates that are much higher than those paid by the handful of counties that have found an alternative printer…


Vendor’s ballots costly to counties
August 6, 2010 Raleigh News and Observer

It’s difficult to calculate what Printelect has made from the state. Wake, Durham and a few other counties have found ways to use a different printer, and their costs are half what other counties pay. In 2008, Printelect charged Franklin County as much as 33 cents per ballot. Mecklenburg paid 30 cents. Durham and Wake, two of the few counties that have found an alternative to Printelect, paid 15 cents and 13 cents, respectively…

The above articles infer that Gary Bartlett “picked” ES&S to be the sole voting vendor. That just isn’t true. The article also infers that PrintElect has a monopoly on ballot printing. The above prices, from .13 and .15 cents are extraordinarily low, the prices of .30 and .33 are still good compared to what some other states pay.

New Mexico and other states have a similiar situation where there are few ballot printing companies so prices are more difficult to negotiate. Robert Adams, Deputy Clerk of Bernalillo County New Mexico advises in an email August 6, 2010 that:

“If it is 100 percent pre printed ballots (absentee, early and eday) the per ballot cost for everything provided by AES is $1.26 per ballot.”

The cost of ballots in New Hampshire is about $0.23 for a one-page optical scanned ballot using 80 or 90 pound paper and paper sizes ranging from 11″ to 17.”

The fact is, the State Board of Elections certified 3 different voting vendors in December 2005. I filed a lawsuit against the NC SBoE to challenge the certification of Diebold, ES&S and Sequoia (conditionally). The Electronic Frontier Foundation and Donald Beskins represented me.

[ ] The court ruled with North Carolina State Board of Elections and the vendors were certified anyway.

The NC Coalition for Verified Voting opposed Diebold because Diebold went to court to gut the standards of verified voting law.
[ ]

Our activists around the state, republican, democrat and otherwise urged their counties not to buy Diebold.
[ and
[ December 17, 2005. Warren County NC GOP chair urged the local BOE against buying Diebold. Cited improper certification, questioned ties of SBOE members to Diebold. “Dont Buy Diebold” ]

Diebold fled our state at end of Dec 2005.
Sequoia couldn’t meet federal standards and bowed out. ES&S stayed, and their local rep PrintElect DID meet the standards

The NC Coalition for Verified Voting takes allegations of undue influence on our SBoE very seriously. There’s no gain from a 10 minute ride on a yacht. Its just not enough to constitute “influence”, and if the State BoE wanted to favor one particular vendor, they wouldn’t have certified 3 to do business in North Carolina. Additionally, the choice of vendors was by the vote of the 5 member bi partisan State Board of Elections, after a vote, and following the state’s open RFP process. Vendors had to meet state and federal standards to even be considered. Our new state law in 2005 set standards as well as criminal and civil penalties for voting vendors and their CEOs. Diebold didn’t like those standards.

The current vendor has acted responsibly and that has been for the better of our voters and our elections. Other states have not faired so well.
[See database of election problems around the country at ]

We would like to see price of ballots come down, but first we need ballots that are printed properly. Other entrepreneurs can open up printing services if they wish to meet the demand, but that can’t be mandated by law. There is no law requiring counties to purchase their ballots from ES&S or any other voting vendor.

Do we want to out source ballot printing to China next? Changing voting machine companies won’t change the ballot printing situation nor will it improve the quality of our elections.

Competitive bidding for printers has to be very carefully conducted with long lead times (say in the off year) to be effective. Printer tolerances are generally measured in small fractions of an inch. Mistakes are easy to make and hard to recognize with the naked eye. Switching printers in an election year means you might discover printer problems too late in the game to fix them in time for an election. After one or two other printers have blown it, dependable printers tend to get the inside

Ballot printing issues ultimately led to disaster in the Florida 2000 election. From the August 2007 Dan Rather report:

“Sequoia produced the punch card ballots used in the 2000 election in Florida and also markets high-margin electronic vote machines. The company, according to the report, is alleged to have altered its ballot production process for one or more Florida counties and began printing ballots on cheaper and what seven former employees claim to be defective paper along with conspicuously inadequate production specifications. Employees are quoted extensively as having alerted the plant manager to potential problems to the point of refusing to sign off on production runs, but were repeatedly rebuffed.”

Thanks to the high standards mandated in 2005, we have weeded out weak and sloppy vendors and mandated accountability. Our statewide undervote rate for president was just under 1% in 2008, down to nearly 1/3 of what it has been in previous elections. In other words, a higher percent of voted ballots for President are being counted than before.
[See Study By Professor at Bard College NY ]

Without the high standards passed in August 2005, North Carolina could have become the next Bush V Gore in 2008, as the election was very close. After 2005 we no longer have: Diebold (14,000 votes not counted on election night in Gaston Co 2004), Unilect (4400 votes lost in 2004), Microvote (salesman bribed former Meck Co Election Director), Hart Intercivic (caused huge undervotes in Catawba County).

Since 2005, we’ve had good elections. In 2008 Obama and McCain were 14,000 votes apart. Our election audit shows the count to be accurate.
[See An Assessment of the Recount and the Certification of the Election Result for the November 2008 Election ]

The problems that would have caused such a disaster had been weeded out in 2005 by the standards in our Public Confidence in Elections Act.

I believe that the State Board of Elections Administrative Board has operated at interest of voters. In 2008 the State BoE ensured that all counties provided extra voter education regarding NC’s quirky straight ticket voting law.

Gary Bartlett (was one of only a handful of State Election Officials) who urged the Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, to have the Department of Defense act as a Voter Registration Agency. The SBoE offered their resources and materials to help the DOD do so. Finally, the DoD for the first time ever agreed to act as a Voter Registration Agency this January 2010.

On Oct 8, 2009 the NC State Board of Elections sent a letter to Robert Gates, Secretary of DOD enlisting their cooperation. An excerpt:

“I request that the Department of Defense, in its operation of military pay/personnel offices in North Carolina, agree to be designated as a voter registration agency. This designation would allow military citizens helped by your agency to be offered the same voter registration services given by state and county public services agencies to the persons they serve. “

I could name other instances of where the NC State Elections Administrative Board has acted in the best interest of our voters, or has acted in an impartial manner, but time does not permit.

Related articles: Printelect Of New Bern: Is It A Monopoly?

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