Re: [Harp-L] SPAH election results

Hi Richard,

My apologies; I haven't been on Harp-L in a couple of weeks and I didn't get your email. Answers to your questions below:

--- In harp-l-archives@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx, Richard Hunter <turtlehill@...> wrote:

> 1)  What were the actual vote tallies for the candidates?

Winslow Yerxa: 209
Bob Cohen: 36

> 2)  How do I, as a voter, know that my vote was counted?

Honestly, you have to have a little faith. In the case of paper ballots, it's not practical to either send reply by mail or call everyone who voted to let them know we got the vote. For email, an auto-reply was suggested early on, but was turned down because we chose to keep the email address a "black box," cut off to access by the board until it was time to count the votes. An auto-reply opened up several potential problems, like a feedback loop from people with out-of-office responses, etc. 

It may sound unsatisfactory, but in reality how do you ever know for sure your vote was counted in say, a national election? You don't. Your absentee ballot could have gotten lost in the mail. Your electronic vote could have been accidentally deleted. The truck carrying your county ballot box could have driven off a ravine. As long as we want to keep everyone's vote secret, it's pretty complicated to make your vote truly verifiable. 

> 3)  Can you please tell us what measures were taken to preserve the integrity of the vote--e.g., who counted it, under what circumstances, how many ballots were rejected for various reasons, and how was the count validated?

The mailed ballots were all sent to SPAH's CPA offices (our CPA is not a board member). The email ballots all went to the email address mentioned before. A non-SPAH member was put on the Election Committee and that person was in charge of creating the email address and safeguarding the username and password. On July 3rd—the day we agreed to count the votes—he simultaneously sent that username and password to the other two members of the Election Committee, me and Cynthia Dusel-Bacon, and to Gene Hansen. 

I met with Gene, in person, at the CPA's office, and we sat down and counted all the ballots, one by one, in front of the CPA. First the mailed ballots, then the emailed ballots. We checked every ballot for content, and then checked the voter information against a list, provided the day before by Roger Bale, the Membership Director, of all the current SPAH members. If someone wasn't on the list, I put their name and any contact info they gave (but not their vote) in an email to Roger to double check that they were actually not SPAH members. 

Of the 268 ballots we received (57 by mail and 211 by email) we invalidated 23. One ballot was sent in blank, 3 people voted twice (we just counted those ballots once), one person voted for one candidate then later voted for the other candidate (we didn't count either ballot), 10 people who voted hadn't paid their dues and were therefore not current SPAH members, 3 people voted who aren't and were never SPAH members, 3 people sent in votes without identifying information and 1 email came in after the voting period was over.

> I'll add a fourth question to the three above: where are the ballots that were cast, and are those ballots available for inspection by, say, the candidates, or the SPAH membership, or some other third party not connected to the current SPAH administration?

The emailed ballots are all still in the email account. The number of votes present at the time the username and password was sent out was recorded immediately and changed only to reflect the deletion of SPAM emails (and the recovery of some valid votes from the SPAM folder). No invalid votes were deleted. The mailed ballots are all at our corporate office.   

> Need I point out that there's plenty of potential for abuse in a system in which none of the above questions have answers?  Please note: I'm not questioning anybody's integrity.  I'm pointing out that in a well-run system, there's no question about the integrity of the election, because the procedures are in place to ensure that errors aren't easily made.  What were the procedures used to count the votes in this case?

I would like to think that we set up a process well run enough to put doubts about integrity to rest. I wouldn't suggest that our system was perfect, but it was good enough that I, the rest of the election committee and the rest of the SPAH board felt the results would be above suspicion. Of course, it's impossible to be completely above suspicion—there will always be people who may doubt the process no matter what you do. Even in the best run elections in the world, there are people who cast suspicion on the results. That isn't to say such questioning isn't valid, but I think we should be realistic about our expectations. If there is a specific issue with how the election was run, or a particular doubt the results, I'm all ears. 

> While I'm on the subject, I'm disturbed that my vote, which was made via email as per instructions from SPAH, had to be accompanied by my name and address, which means that anyone counting the votes had my vote right there with my name and address.  That's not tops. 

There was a good reason for that, which I felt we had explained in the election procedures. In order to make sure there was no ballot stuffing, we needed to be able to verify that votes really came from the voters. Having your contact information there made it possible—had it been deemed necessary—to verify with you directly that your vote was really yours. That may change in the future as we move away from the need for mailed ballots, but for now, there has to be a way to discourage ballot stuffing while still keeping the process available to as many SPAH members as possible.

I should mention, as an aside, that we did look into 3rd party companies to handle the vote count. Unfortunately, none of the many companies I contacted were willing to handled mailed ballots and their online systems required the creation of usernames and passwords for every voter. SPAH has a large number of older members who don't use computers much, if at all. Disenfranchising those voters was a non-starter for us. It would not have been fair to them, especially as many are our longest-standing members. As we had to handle the mailed ballots ourselves anyway, it seemed only fair to handle all of them. Everyone's votes were counted by the same two people, and neither of us is sharing that information with anyone else, nor do we care how any individual voted. 

I'd like to point out two more things: While this is technically the first time we have ever had two people running for office, there is and has always been a write-in option, meaning that there has always been the possibility of members voting for whoever they like. And second, until this election, all ballots were sent in by mail directly to the SPAH PO Box and counted by someone on the Board, meaning that someone has always known who voted and how. 

For this election, we instituted email voting, we shielded the votes from the Board until the last minute, and the votes were counted by two of us, in view of our CPA, who is not otherwise affiliated with SPAH. This was the most accessible, above-board election SPAH has ever had, in my personal opinion, and we spent a great deal of time and handwringing trying to make sure that was the case. I don't claim the procedure was perfect, but I honestly believe the election was handled well by any reasonable standard. Again, I'm always open to suggestions for how to do it better. We took a great deal of feedback into account during every step of the process leading up to the vote, and as there will be another election in 3 years, there's lots of time for more feedback before the next one.

One last thing, as this is not really a Harp-L issue, if you (or anyone else) have any further issues or questions, feel free to email me directly: jplpagan@xxxxxxxx



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