Marin County Election Integrity Progress Report 10/30/06

[A model example of what concerted citizen action at the local county level can accomplish]

Date: October 30, 2006 3:04:59 AM PST

Subject: Marin County election integrity update
This update is going out to folks interested in Marin County election integrity issues. I wanted to keep you abreast of the progress we are making in securing our local elections and ask you to please take action (see item 2, below).

1. Progress Since May 2006
2. Take Action
3. Election Integrity Volunteers Needed
4. Remaining Issues of Concern
5. Learn More About Election Integrity Issues

1. Progress Since May 2006

With help from many of you who wrote emails and attended Board of Supervisors meetings, the Registrar of Voters office has implemented many of our requested reforms:

- Reduced recount costs, though they are still high. In November 2004 a recount of the Marin Healthcare Board race was quoted at about $160,000, or about $1.49 a ballot. In November 2005 a recount of the Fairfax Town Council race was quoted at about $15,500, or about $4.06 a ballot. However, after recount costs were reduced, a recount request for the Secretary of State primary race (Marin County ballots only) in June 2006 was quoted at $31,931, or about $0.47 a ballot. This is a notable improvement, though it is still high and unaffordable in some cases. For example, the entire No on Measure R campaign (SMART) is being done under $35,000. The new recount pricing would be unaffordable for them. (I estimated a countywide recount assuming a 70% turnout would cost approx. $49,000.)

- Posted recount costs on the web. These can be found in the Recount Procedures at, although it is vague.

- Expanded the hand-count audit to 3%. The California Election Code requires a 1% hand-count audit of the ballots as a check on the accuracy of the voting machines, but mathematicians have determined 1% is not sufficient to detect fraud. We asked the Registrar, Elaine Ginnold, to increase the percentage audited. She has asked a researcher at U.C. Berkeley to study the issue of what an optimal percentage for a manual tally would be. The researcher has also agreed to study the issue of what percent spread between winning and losing candidates should trigger a recount of the contest. In the meantime, Elaine has agreed to expand the audit to 3% of precincts for this November's election, a temporary measure until the study is completed. To give you a feel for the degree to which this is a safeguard, election integrity advocates have calculated that if a hypothetical 15% of precincts had fraud, a 3% audit (6 or 7 precincts) would have a 63-69% probability of finding it.

- Absentees will be audited in same manner as poll site ballots. Elaine Ginnold has agreed to include absentees in the 3% hand-count audit, auditing all races by precinct. Auditing by precinct is important so the public can compare the results of the hand tally with the official election results, which are reported by precinct.

- Randomly select precincts for audit. The county has a set of 10-sided dice they are using to select which precincts will be included in the post-election hand tally audit. The public is notified in advance of the date and time of the selection, so we can attend and observe. For the November 7 election, the random selection of precincts is tentatively scheduled for Monday, Nov. 20 at 8:30 a.m. at the ROV's office, rm. 121 of the county Civic Center, with the hand-tally audit to commence afterward. The 10-sided dice method was developed by a team of researchers at UC Berkeley.

- Established a Marin County Election Advisory Committee so the public can give input to the elections process. Members are: Greg Brockbank, Linda Bagneschi Dorrance, Susan Clark, Shirley Graves, Julie Grantz, Richard Hill, Mark Kyle, Anne Layzer, Donald Linker, David O'Connor, Donald Pino, Sherry Reson, Carlos Sanchez, Cat Woods, Patrick Connally, John Young, Carl Carter, Jeanne Leoncini, and Barbara Gaman. Two subcommittees have been formed: 1) Election Integrity and Voter Confidence and 2) Voter Outreach and Education. Members of the public are welcome to attend all meetings. The next meeting of the full advisory committee will be Dec. 8, 9:30-11:30 a.m.

Close races: Elaine also said she will consider doing an automatic machine recount during the canvass period if the percentage spread between a winning and losing candidate is equal to or less than 0.5%. The recount would be done on a different machine than the one used on election day, and the ROV (Registrar of Voters) will consider hand counting additional precincts in the contest if time permits.

Reforms we requested but did not get are:

" A public hand recount of recent close races, including the Nov. 2005 Fairfax Town Council race and the Nov. 2004 Marin Healthcare Board race.
" Expansion of the post-election hand-tally audit to 5%.
" Charge at most a nominal cost for recounts, and build recount costs into the cost of an election, to be paid for by the agencies requesting the election services.

2. Take Action:

Email the ROV and Board of Supervisors thanking them for implementing many of our requested election integrity reforms, and ask them to further reduce recount costs. Below is suggested text you can cut and paste. It's important to send a "thank you" to let them know we appreciate their responsiveness and encourage them to follow through on their commitments.

Send it to:,,,,,,,

Suggested text:

Ms. Elaine Ginnold, Marin County Registrar of Voters:

I recently learned about the various actions the County is taking to enhance election security and wanted to thank you for your responsiveness to community concerns. Measures such as expanding the hand-tally audit to 3% of precincts, auditing absentees by precinct, randomly selecting precincts for the audit, and establishing an elections advisory committee are very encouraging.

Please consider further reducing recount costs in time for the upcoming election. I appreciate that you have already reduced recount costs considerably compared to the past. However, at approximately $0.47 per ballot for a countywide race, recounts are still unaffordable in some cases. For example, the entire No on Measure R campaign (SMART) is being done under $35,000. A representative from that campaign confirmed the new recount pricing is entirely unaffordable for them. (At approx. $0.47/ballot a countywide recount assuming a 70% turnout would cost about $49,000.)

Please let me know what you plan to do. Thank you again for the positive steps you are taking to secure our elections.

Best Regards,
(your name and city)

3. Election Integrity Volunteers Needed

" Marin County election monitors: Email if you would like to help observe: the processing of absentee ballots, the polls on election day or evening, the post-election canvass, or the 3% hand tally audit. If you are working on behalf of a candidate or measure in a close race, you might be especially interested in observing the 3% hand tally, which begins at 8:30 a.m. on 11/20 (tentative) at the ROV's office.

" Phone bank for Debra Bowen, Sec. of State campaign: Sign up for phone banking at Electing Debra Bowen to CA Secretary of State is the most important thing we can do right now to enhance election security across the state. Watch her debate against Schwarzenegger-appointed Bruce McPherson at, click on Voter Guide.

" California Election Protection Network: CEPN has a host of different committees you can sign up for. Register at or email

4. Remaining Issues of Concern

Following are some remaining election integrity issues that still need to be resolved (partial list). Some of these issues are being discussed via the County's Election Integrity and Voter Confidence Subcommittee:

" Security of absentee ballots - Voting by absentee ballot has additional vulnerabilities that poll site voting does not. For example: it is difficult for election monitors to observe all aspects of the absentee process since it occurs over several weeks; insufficient/unknown security at post office, post office subcontractors, and mail houses; possibly en-route ballot disappearances/add-ons; concern about the possibility of selling votes; etc.
" Implement recommendations of the Brennan Center Task Force on Voting System Security - See
" Need to trust the insiders - The method of administering elections in California requires that we trust the insiders (the county ROV and elections staff). While we hope we can trust the elections staff in most counties, it would naïve to think we can trust all elections staff in all counties all the time. Many election integrity advocates want a return to hand-counting paper ballots at the poll site, and/or rigorous audits of machine counts before the ballots leave the poll site.
" Make copies of ballots available to public at no charge. This way folks can conduct unofficial recounts themselves at no charge. Adds a critical layer of transparency.
" Need to better understand County's security and chain-of-custody procedures for absentee ballots, memory cards, the central scanner, post office, mail houses, printers, reporting results to the Secretary of State, storing ballots and poll site scanners at the elections office, security seals, etc.
" Election-integrity problems in the state election code.

And more.

5. Learn More About Election Integrity Issues


Was the 2004 Election Stolen? By Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Rolling Stone, 5-1-06,

Will the Next Election Be Hacked? By Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Rolling Stone, 10-5-06,

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Linda Bagneschi Dorrance
Member, Marin County Election Advisory Committee and Election Integrity and Voter Confidence Subcommittee