Defend the Vote invites voters across Illinois to become a Vote Defender.
How many times have I heard... "Sharon, how can I help. What can I do?" I take these words very personally because I feel the emotions behind them. It is disheartening to our Republic when we do not have faith in the integrity of the vote.
Defend the Vote is launching the first ever mobile audit of Illinois Polling Places. The Hand Held Audit. We have described the project on the new VoteDefender.com website.
Illinois has a global reputation for corrupt elections. It is time to clean up elections in Illinois, and this is what our project is designed to help accomplish!
During the month of April, we invite you to participate in testing our ground breaking Hand Held Audit. The Hand Held Audit allows Illinois voters, election judges, and pollwatchers to assess and report on their election experiences at the polling place. These forms are web-based so all that is required is an internet connection. They can also be submitted on paper.
In April 2013, our election judge forms are set up to assess polling place security in Suburban Cook County, Chicago, and McHenry County. In the future, we are planning to build forms specific for every election jurisdiction in Illinois. This is an ambitious goal, but we believe we have found a way to achieve it and that is why we need your help!
To submit a form, you must first register and login. This is required for security purposes. After registering and logging on, go to the FORMS menu and select the report that you wish to fill out and submit.
Additionally, we need voters across Illinois to submit feedback about their voting experience. To do this, click on the Voter Audit Form. To make sure anyone can send us a report, we have developed a short Incident Report form that can be filled out by any registered member of the Vote Defenders' website.
These forms can be submitted during the election or immediately following the election. If you lack an internet connection, you can print the forms, fill them out and mail them to Defend the Vote, 1 West Surrey Lane, Barrington Hills, IL 60010. For now, this will print out as multiple pages.
Your efforts will make a difference! All information that is collected will be shared with Argonne National Laboratory and compiled into a formal security assessment of Illinois elections. This assessment will be used to make changes!
This is a test run, and we ask your patience if you find flaws. Please help us improve this application by providing feedback, especially about issues you may have with the form(s). Positive feedback helps too! :-) Our second generation of this audit will immediately inform users what to do when various election issues arise. We anticipate expanding this audit across the entire state in 2014!
IMPORTANT: We will not include any information that identifies the user who submitted the form in our report. If you are an election judge, your feedback will not impact your service.
Thank you for participating in the Vote Defenders project and for helping to clean up elections in Illinois!
Director - Defend the Vote
So jump right in, you are the solution! A security culture in elections requires the participation of everyone.
And really, how EXCITING to know, your feedback will actually make a difference and help to change elections in Illinos!
Today, when you vote, take your cell phone or mobile device along with you and audit your polling place. How well do they follow the rules? What is your voter experience! We want the good, the bad and the ugly!
(Already voted? You can fill out the form after the election too! The sooner the better :-)
The Republican Club of Evanston is hosting Sharon Meroni and Defend the Vote at their monthly luncheon meeting.
Defend the Vote's Director, Sharon Meroni, will discuss recent discoveries from ongoing Defend the Vote investigations. For the first time, Sharon Meroni will introduce to the public, Defend the Vote's innovative Hand Held Audit. Bring your cell, or hand held device for a demonstration! Paper copies will also be available!
This month the meeting will be held at The Mather, a retirement community in Evanston, Illinois. The event begins at 11:30 and includes luncheon. The cost is $23.00 a person, wine $3.00 a glass.
Reservations must be made in advance. Availability is limited.
Reservations can be made with the Republican Club of Evanston
With the way technology is growing these days, nobody should be surprised about the cyberattack identified in Florida during an August 2012 primary election. Or that’s what law Professor Candice Hoke, founding director of the Center for Election Integrity at Cleveland State University, seemed to be saying: “This has been in the cards, it’s been foreseeable,” she told NBC News.
The cyberattack case in Florida, which involved 2,500+ phantom requests for absentee ballots being sent to the Miami-Dade County elections website using a computer program, was closed in January without a suspect being identified. The large number of requests were sent from IP addresses apparently originating in Ireland, England, India, and other oversea locations; but every internet newbie knows how easy it is to hide your IP address using a proxy.
Although the cyberattack was obvious enough to be caught by software and election workers this time, the ease with which information can be accessed and manipulated on the internet is a concern for election security. What if the cyberattack had happened in lesser volume, or from more believable IP addresses? According to an article written on NBC News, “other experts contacted by NBC News agreed that the attempt to obtain the ballots is the first known case of a cyberattack on voting, though they noted that there are so many local elections systems in use that it's possible that a similar attempt has gone unnoticed.”
So this may not be the first case of a cyberattack on our elections, but it’s the first case of a cyberattack that was obvious enough to be caught… With no suspect to show for it, and no way to track them down.
3/18/13 Update: This morning, a couple of us are headed to Springfield to video tape the Board meeting and to speak about a variety of concerns related to absentee voting, the nursing home vote, the fact that Cook County fails to legally seal voted ballots... And then a few points about election judge training and our mobile audit.
If you are interested, the Board Agenda is Here. We will be in Springfield, and will record Chicago's portion from there. I do not expect Defend the Vote to speak until after 12, likely 1ish. One never knows when they will FINALLY get to the end of the meeting and then, perhaps... if they are in the mood, and the topic is not frivolous, they will allow us to speak.
Agenda: March 18, 2013 Illinois State Board of Elections
1) Absentee Report
2) Ongoing Concerns Regarding Nursing Home Voting
3) Ongoing Concerns with the lack of security over Cook County’s Unsealed Ballots
4) Election Judges in Illinois
5) The Mobile Audit
It really would be funny if it were not so sad. I will update this story later on Monday with the actual changes made to the "rules"
In this clip Illinois State Board of Elections Chairman McGuffage is talking about how he wants to suppress public comment at the meetings... least a bunch of voters should dare to arrive all asking for their right to speak for up to 10 minutes...
HORRORS! The people are expressing opinions about elections!
Factually, how often does the public come for public comment? Not often, and most often it is Defend the Vote's statements they are trying to suppress. Don't believe Chairman McGuffage's statement about when the public applies the Board will let them talk. Defend the Vote has asked to be placed on the agenda 4 times, and to date the request has been denied. The Board even refused to place us on the agenda to formally respond when our letter was presented during the January meeting. Instead they said I was to respond during the public session following the presentation...
This is why we have decided to broadcast the Illinois State Board of Elections meetings. Suppressing the public's involvement in their elections will no longer go unnoticed in Illinois!
Editor's note: This is part two in a series of 4 responses from Defend the Vote directed at the Illinois State Board of Elections letter on January 17th, 2013 regarding election security in Chicago and Suburban Cook County. These links may be useful. Sharon Meroni's Letter, Ken Menzel's Response, and The Problems with Chicago (Article 1)
Cajoling the Illinois State Board of Elections into securing and better legitimatizing the vote has been an experience not unlike raising a sullen adolescent: they pout when you’re right, sneer when they think you’ve made a mistake, and drag their feet to make the changes that will ultimately better their lives. Or, in Suburban Cook County’s case, the security of our vote. In a recent response to Defend the Vote’s November 19th letter to the Illinois State Board of Elections, Kenneth Menzel, Deputy General Counsel of the Illinois State Board of Elections, did all of that and more. “Our review of the matters found a couple of relatively small points which the election authorities indicate have already been or would be simple to address for future elections,” Menzel writes in the introduction of his five page response to Defend the Vote’s letter.
It seems counterproductive for anyone in an administrative role over our elections to trivialize a security upgrade as ‘small,’ especially when you consider what some of those changes did for Suburban Cook County’s elections. But what has changed? Let’s go through it issue by issue, and you can be the judge of how significant Defend the Vote’s efforts have been.
Illinois law has required the ballot box to be opened to the public’s view on Election Day morning for as long as we can remember. This traditional security check is an important way of legitimatizing the vote in the eyes of the public; it signifies the ballot box has not been padded with extra votes and proves its lock is secure. The first issue raised for Suburban Cook County addresses an argument that Defend the Vote has been having with them since March 2012, when we discovered they were instructing poll-workers to lock ballot boxes the night before the election. Their lackluster response was to add the following to their manuals: “If asked, allow pollwatchers an opportunity to check equipment.”
Not exactly what we were looking for, especially when you consider the tone accompanying the Illinois State Board of Elections’ answer to Defend the Vote’s inquiries; their scorn sets a dangerous precedent. How many will ask to look inside the ballot box if they’re being told their effort doesn’t matter, or made to feel they’re just being a bother?
So we pushed again and got an answer, but it’s still not what we’re looking for. The Illinois State Board of Elections agreed that Cook County's wording for ballot box management was unclear, but their solution is even more unclear; like the sullen adolescent who doesn’t want to admit you’re right, their efforts in revising the manual have been lackluster at best.
In order to better explain this, let me give you a little background: the ballot scanner separates the ballots into two compartments within one ballot box, one containing write-in votes and the other containing the rest of the ballots. Currently, the manual has election judges sealing the box for write-in votes the day before the election. Election judges must use their x-ray vision to look through the box and verify it’s still empty without opening it on Election Day, which is when they seal the ballot box for the rest of the ballots.
What’s the point in these confusing instructions when increasing election security is as simple as making a small change, going back to tradition and asking election judges to check and seal both ballot boxes on Election Day? Especially when Illinois law clearly requires
“the ballot box shall be publicly opened and exhibited:”
Sec. 17-3. (a) Before voting begins, the ballot box shall be publicly opened and exhibited, and the judges shall see that no ballot is in such box; after which the box shall be locked and the key delivered to one of the judges, and shall not be again opened until the close of the polls. This paragraph (a) applies whenever permanent type ballot boxes are used, and does not apply when non-permanent type ballot boxes are used in accordance with section 15-1, paragraph (b).
(b) When non-permanent type ballot boxes are used in accordance with section 15-1, paragraph (b), prior to the commencement of voting and before any ballots are deposited therein, the judges shall examine each sealed ballot box, show it to those present and insure that it is in fact sealed and empty; the sealed slot shall be broken open before those present and the box inspected to insure that it is empty and such ballot box shall not be removed from public view from the time it is so inspected until after the close of the polls. The sealed opening on the side of the box shall not be unsealed or opened until after the close of the polls.
(Source: P.A. 77-6.)
Important though tradition is, (and Illinois law) that isn’t the only thing Defend the Vote is concerned about where Suburban Cook County is concerned. Through our efforts, they changed their election procedures to include seals on the paper ballot scanner memory devices. These memory devices are the electronic record of the vote, which should make them a security priority; but before we got involved, Suburban Cook County’s idea of security for them was flimsy at best. They were storing the memory devices in the back of the ballot scanner unsealed, allowing for anyone who knew how to open the machine to tamper with election results.
With Defend the Vote’s help, these memory devices are now lawfully sealed and stored with a chain of custody from polling place to processing center. A small change that makes a big difference.
Speaking of, did you know that a large percentage of our vote is still done by paper ballot; both on Election Day and before, through absentee voting? These paper ballots obviously play a big part in the election… In fact, when combined with the candidates and voters they represent, the ballots are the election, and the government isn’t finished with them after Election Day. The ballots are often recounted—such as when counting machines fail at the precinct, as well as in the 5% audit that is done after every election—and Illinois law requires they remain under seal for two years after the election they were cast in.
So, the security surrounding these very important documents must be top notch… Right? Ha, got you! Currently, Suburban Cook County is placing our unsealed ballots into a sealed but unlocked ballot transport case containing other election materials, which requires this case holding our paper ballots to be re-opened without the bipartisan supervision of election judges. Furthermore, their so called ‘sealing’ of our ballots involves a flimsy plastic seal on the transport case and the election judge signing an unattached piece of paper that verifies the legitimacy before transport, which is far from what Section 24B-10 calls for:
“(1) Two ballot boxes shall be provided for each polling place. The first ballot box is for the depositing of votes cast on the electronic voting system; and the second ballot box is for all votes cast on other ballots, including any paper ballots required to be voted other than on the Precinct Tabulation Optical Scan Technology electronic voting system. Ballots deposited in the second ballot box shall be counted, tallied, and returned as is elsewhere provided in this Code for the counting and handling of paper ballots. Immediately after the closing of the polls, the judges of election shall make out a slip indicating the number of persons who voted in the precinct at the election. The slip shall be signed by all the judges of election and shall be inserted by them in the first ballot box. The judges of election shall thereupon immediately lock each ballot box; provided, that if the box is not of a type which may be securely locked, the box shall be sealed with filament tape provided for the purpose that shall be wrapped around the box lengthwise and crosswise, at least twice each way, and in a manner that the seal completely covers the slot in the ballot box, and each of the judges shall sign the seal. Two of the judges of election, of different political parties, shall by the most direct route transport both ballot boxes to the counting location designated by the county clerk or board of election commissioners.”
Deputy Counsel Menzel's response to Defend the Vote lacks credibility when he quotes the very same law as we do, while failing to note that Suburban Cook County does not comply with theses laws for sealing the ballots. Menzel also knows that the ballot transfer carrier is not locked. A procedure Cook County Clerk David Orr changed after we complained that the ballots were not sealed in March 2012. Up until last March the ballot transfer cases were completely unsealed but locked with a small lock that had a universal key. For the November election , Orr then exchanges the lock on the ballot transfer bags with flimsy plastic seals.
Either way, your ballots are not legally secured under David Orr's Administration.
The law sets an expectation for security that our investigations prove Suburban Cook County isn’t meeting, and Defend the Vote intends to file another formal complaint with the Illinois State Board of Elections at the Monday, March 18th meeting. If you can be there, come and let your election administrators know that the security of your vote isn’t small or insignificant to you!
The journey to better protect our vote has been a strange one, filled with scorn and barbed words better fitting a teenager, but Defend the Vote isn’t giving up! Join us in reminding the government that it’s the People who rule, and help Illinois’ corrupt elections grow into what they were meant to be: transparent, accountable, and secure.
Despite its best efforts to shake us, we are far from done with Suburban Cook County. Stay tuned for a follow up article that asks a security-defying question: Does Suburban Cook County tally absentee ballot votes prior to Election Day? And in then in Part 4 - Nursing Home Voters Rights -Why is Illinois Board of Elections is "staying in contact" With Suburban Cook County?
An eighty-six year old woman living in Minnesota was recently charged with felony voter fraud for voting twice in the 2012 primary election. After discussing the incident with St. Peter detective Travis Sandland, Margaret Schneider remembers voting twice: once using an absentee ballot on July 13th, and again in person on Election Day.
Furthermore, she doesn’t deny it. "It had been awhile and I didn’t even remember," Schneider said. "I was shocked to death because I thought my absentee ballot was for the president."
Detective Sandland’s report acknowledges that the letters “A.B.,” standing for absentee ballot, were next to Schneider’s name in the voter roster book. This raises a very interesting question: if the election judge knew that Schneider had already voted via absentee ballot, why was she allowed to sign the book and vote again?
Perhaps more importantly, why are election authorities targeting an 86 year old woman who has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease instead of acknowledging the real issue: their methods of training election judges has failed, and prosecuting Margaret Schneider isn’t going to do anything to fix it.
On November 19th, 2012, Defend the Vote’s Sharon Meroni testified at the Illinois State Board of Elections board meeting. As part of her testimony, Sharon gave the Board members a letter outlining Defend the Vote’s findings from the recent November election; not all of it good, but she felt it was important to alert the election Board of the security oversights going on in their jurisdiction.
The Board’s response is lengthy and policy changing. We will cover it in segments, beginning with a glimpse into election problems with Chicago.
In her letter, Sharon pointed out three key issues with the way Chicago runs their elections: absentee ballots were not being legally authenticated, nor are they stored sufficiently, and both Suburban Cook County and Chicago are tabulating their ballots before 7pm on Election Day. The government’s response in some cases was astoundingly fast, but in others… Not so much. As always, it falls to the people to get the job truly done.
When new absentee ballot applications came into 69 W Washington, election workers would compare the signatures on the applications to the voter’s registration record. So far, so good… But when the completed absentee ballots were received, the election workers compared those signatures to the absentee ballot application; not to the registration record, as required by law. Through this error, they were bypassing an important security checkpoint against voter fraud and making the elections legally questionable: should a ballot with the wrong signature slip through the cracks during the application process, there would have been no way for anyone to catch it if election workers continued comparing signatures on the absentee ballot to signatures on the application.
Thankfully, Chicago agreed that this was a big issue. They changed their faulty procedures on the same day we raised the issue, and re-authenticated every absentee ballot for the November 2012 election at our request. Now that’s what I call getting your government to work for you!
But Defend the Vote’s mission to clean up absentee voting in Illinois isn’t always so easy. Our findings also pointed at Chicago’s absentee ballots not being sufficiently stored; more specifically, election workers are using the same piece of duct tape to re-seal absentee ballot boxes when they’re finished with them. I know that duct tape can hold anything together, but even it loses its stickiness when re-applied… So what’s keeping the boxes filled with your absentee ballots secure?
That’s right. Absolutely nothing, and nothing is being done to change that. The Illinois State Board of Election’s response to this complaint was downright alarming: “Article 19 of the Election Code, which governs absentee balloting, does not set forth specifics as to precisely how voted absentee ballots are to be stored after they are returned and are in the possession of the election authority.” Are you aware that the Illinois Election Code doesn’t specify how your absentee ballots are stored? More and more people are voting by absentee ballot every election, yet the Illinois Board of Elections is doing nothing to fix their sloppy oversight.
Additionally, Defend the Vote alerted the Board that Suburban Cook County and Chicago are tabulating ballots prior to 7pm on Election Day. This is a very serious charge with devastating political impact should either Party receive preliminary voting results. Though they deny tabulating the ballots before the end of an election, electronic sessions produce a total when they are closed out of. We will discuss more about this in the following article, “The Problems with Suburban Cook County”.
Voting in Illinois may not be perfect, but we’re getting there. Join Defend the Vote on our journey to clean up election security in the state that is infamous for having the most corrupt elections in the US, and rest assured that your vote will really count come Election Day! We are a not-for-profit organization that looks to the public and corporate sponsorship for donations to fund our projects. Defend the Vote is making a real difference in Illinois. Become part of the progress by donating today!
Defend the Vote launched a handheld audit prototype on Friday, February 22; focusing on the nursing homes in the 2nd Congressional District. Auditors employed by Defend the Vote went around to nursing homes in Chicago, Suburban Cook County, and Will County and recorded their observations of voters and the voting process into a web-based audit questionnaire.
Nursing home audits involve pollwatchers visiting and evaluating a nursing home based on the overall voting experience. Without being a disturbance, Defend the Vote auditors observed the voters as they voted and interviewed willing voters after their ballot was cast.
Nursing home voting is scheduled to take place between Friday, February 22nd and Monday, February 25th in Illinois. Election administrators choose their own voting days based on need and availability; voting in Chicago took place on Friday and Saturday, and the other counties did their voting on Friday.
There are four counties involved in the 2nd Congressional District: Chicago, Suburban Cook County, Will County, and Kankakee County. The last, Kankakee, was a 2 ½ hour drive away with only nine nursing home residents to audit. With the Midwest snowstorm weighing in the balance, our auditors skipped that county and focused on the other three.
We are honored to announce that Argonne National Laboratories is partnering with Defend the Vote in our efforts to audit the State of Illinois. They are involved in synthesizing the data, and are participating in the audit review that will be released later this year.
With our first handheld audit a success, Defend the Vote is trucking into the future. Keep an eye out for developments of our Election Day Audit Form, launching on February 26th!
Here is a list of all Illinois candidates running in the Special Primary Election on February 26, 2013.
Defend the Vote has been working to develop a hands on and real-time security-based reporting system for elections. This involves fraud reporting and security reporting. We have our prototype ready to go and will begin deploying it tomorrow in the 2nd Congressional race in Illinois.
It's new. Time is short. The impact unknown until we try!
With what we know, irregularities will happen. We want to make reporting and following up easy.
Our investigations in November revealed serious security flaws in Suburban Cook County. (The reports are almost complete) For instance, complete neglect of the rights of nursing home voters has been the status quo under Cook County Clerk David Orr. Amazingly, even the Illinois State Board of Elections agrees with that! ( Did ya know, they actually agreed to supervise them....) And, our report on absentee voting will be out shortly....
So, the time is short, the product in prototype... but let's venture into a race where a single vote could separate the winner from the losers. This is the type of race where fraud is so tempting.
Where does election fraud take place? Always at the point of access where the perp has motive and access which provides the opportunity. The level of fraud committed is situational.
More on this tomorrow...
Pew Charitable Trusts - "an independent nonprofit organization that applies an analytical approach to improve public policy, inform the public, and stimulate civic life" - has created the nation’s first Elections Performance Index. Based on the recommendations of Professor Heather Gerken’s Democracy Index, this elections performance index ranks a state’s election performance based on 17 measurable factors; such as “polling location wait times, availability of voting information tools online, the number of rejected voter registrations, the percentage of voters with registration or absentee ballot problems, how many military and overseas ballots were rejected, voter turnout, and the accuracy of voting technology.”
Professor Gerken explains that while the EPI isn’t perfect, it is “best understood as a baseline for measuring election performance going forward.” She points out that indices “allow us to spot, surface, and solve problems by making election problems visible to everyone,” and even more important than that, “they allow us to judge state performance against a realistic baseline – how a jurisdiction compares to its neighbors – rather than relying on a crisis to tell us there’s a problem.” Using this EPI, Professor Gerken explains that we’ll be able to see the impacts of policy changes, such as with the military and overseas voting process. Furthermore, it will help pinpoint problems in troubled areas; making it easier for low-performing jurisdictions to lobby for the help they need.
But don't take her word for it! Pew has made their research available to the public via pewstates.org for the 2008 and 2010 elections. North Dakota came out on top for the 2010 election with an overall EPI of 82%; with 2008's previous winner, Washington, coming in second with an overall EPI of 76%. Sadly, it's not all good news. Mississippi came in last in 2010 with an overall EPI of 37%; and two of our most populated states, New York and California, were close behind with overall EPIs of 45% and 48% respectively. Our home state of Illinois was in the lower half of the states scored in 2010 with a less than impressive EPI score of 60%. Notable indicators that helped contribute to Illinois' low score are: "high rate of registrations rejected, high rate of provisional ballots rejected, high rate of absentee ballots unreturned, and a high rate of military and overseas ballots unreturned."
It looks like we've got our work cut out for us in making elections more secure, but knowing our weaknesses is half the battle!
A Democrat woman from Hamilton County, Ohio candidly admitted to a Cincinnati Channel 9 reporter that she voted multiple times in the last presidential election. Melowese Richardson was an official poll worker who registered thousands of people to vote, yet that wasn’t enough for her when it came to President Obama’s last election. She is accused of voting for him multiple times.
Amazingly, Melowese doesn’t believe she has done anything wrong. She excuses double voting herself by claiming she was unsure her absentee ballot would arrive in time to be counted, so she voted in person to make sure that it was. Additionally, there is the case of a granddaughter who reportedly gave Melowese permission to send in an absentee ballot for her, yet she too went into the polls and voted in person on Election Day. Melowese excuses this by saying her granddaughter probably forgot, or was too excited to wait.
Furthermore, three absentee ballots were sent from Melowese’s household for three different people; yet the ballots had been filled in with similar handwriting. She explains this by saying one of the three people lives with her, the other is her brother who stays with her from time to time, and the last is a woman that she has power of attorney for. When prompted, Melowese asserted that in her mind, the votes had all been done legally.
While she was unaware of the legal developments against her until approached by the Channel 9 reporter, Melowese ends the segment by saying she will fight the voter fraud case. “Absolutely I’ll fight it. For Mr. Obama, and for Mr. Obama’s right to sit as President of the United States,” she tells the camera passionately.
But who’s going to fight for our right to a clean and fair election?