COMMENTARY: Transparency sought in Delaware voting system purchase

Common Cause Delaware has been closely following the state of Delaware’s work to purchase a new voting system. For the past 18 months Common Cause has attended election system demonstrations, met with state election officials and state legislators, held public forums and worked with the media in our effort to be a voice for transparency and election integrity.

CCDE was able to obtain the voting system bids from the Office of Management and budget in late July. Those bids came to the Department of Elections in January of this year, and at that time only the names of the vendors were released to the public. After our requests to see the content of the bids were rejected, we made a FOIA request for the information contained in the bids so all Delawareans would know the possible options for our new voting system.

Many states are replacing their aging voting systems and Delaware is one of only five states that still operate with machines that have no paper trail. Delaware first used the voting machines in 1996 and we will be voting on those same machines in the 2018 elections.

The Office of Management and Budget rejected our FOIA request and Common Cause then appealed that finding to the state attorneys general in June of this year. When Chief Deputy AG Goldstein found that OMB was erroneously withholding the information, we immediately asked for the records to be released but OMB then claimed they must redact the documents for proprietary information and that they would not be available until mid-July.

Common Cause did not receive the bid information until July 30. These months of delay meant the public and our organization were unable to use the information during the legislative session when decisions about how much Delaware can afford to spend on the new system were being made.

On Aug. 15 Common Cause released the bids to the public and media in the interest of transparency. During the week prior, Mike Jackson, Director of OMB, penned a memo declaring that the state was already in negotiations with one of the vendors and expected to make a recommendation sometime in late August or early September. There will be an opportunity for public input at that time.

Unfortunately this is at the very end of the process and there have been few opportunities for the public to provide meaningful input during the past eighteen months. All of the work to review, score and negotiate with the vendors has been done behind closed doors. There are between $10 and $13 million appropriated for the new system and we still have no idea what our new system might look like.

(State election commissioner Elaine) Manlove states the voters of Delaware want a system similar to what is currently used. Such DRE systems have come under increasing scrutiny because of the potential for hacking and computer or software glitches. We believe Delaware and all voters deserve a secure, reliable and cost-effective voting system.

Common Cause recommends that first; voters should mark, verify and cast paper ballots to create a permanent and verified record of each vote. Second, the computer-generated election results must be checked in a manual post-election audit in which a statistically significant percentage of the ballots are checked manually to give high confidence to election results.

The state has the opportunity to make a choice that will protect our votes and voter information. It will be up to the state to demonstrate that the voting system that they recommend has the security and technical specifications necessary to do that. We also hope that the voting public gets a chance to voice their concerns and preferences in time to impact this historic decision.

Jennifer Hill is program director/lobbyist for Common Cause Delaware.

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