Buckner Defends Votes, Promises Reform; Handel Opposes VRA
(APN) ATLANTA — With the General Elections in Georgia only days away, an elections integrity advocacy group has issued a controversial endorsement of a Republican candidate for Secretary of State (SOS), Karen Handel.
Their non-partisan assessment of all SOS candidates finds Democratic candidate Gail Buckner to have the least favorable record on elections integrity, while Handel has one of the best, Garland Favorito, member of Count Paper Ballots (CPB), told Atlanta Progressive News.
Favorito is a key plaintiff in the VoterGA lawsuit, which has been covered extensively by APN. He is also a key contact for many state legislators in elections integrity issues.
Buckner defended her voting record when questioned by Atlanta Progressive News and has promised, if elected, to have a statewide paper trail in place by 2008 which would be the ballot of record in Georgia.
HANDEL SUPPORTED VOTER ID, OPPOSED VOTING RIGHTS ACT RENEWAL
Meanwhile, Buckner and former Secretary of State candidate Angela Moore raised serious questions about Handels record, particularly on Voter ID and the Voting Rights Act (VRA) Renewal.
“I voted against it [Voter ID] twice. The first time because it was a poll tax. The second bill which happened last session, I voted against that one too because reading the bill, listening to the discussion, there was no way that law would be implemented in a reasonable manner and it was clear we would be disenfranchising people,” Buckner said.
Atlanta Progressive News has confirmed Karen Handel voted against supporting the VRA Renewal while serving as Fulton County Commissioner, not once, but twice. The votes are referenced in a public online video of the August 02, 2006, session. Handel was the only person to have voted no when the Commission passed resolutions urging US Congress to renew the VRA (last August), and applauding the members of the Georgia delegation who fought to renew the VRA (this August).
“For any election official who doesn’t understand the integrity of the Voting Rights Act, how could you want them as your Secretary of State?” Gail Buckner said in an interview with Atlanta Progressive News.
CPB ENDORSEMENT HAS LIMITED, BUT IMPORTANT, SCOPE
It is important to note the CPB endorsement process did not consider issues other than elections integrity. Thus, candidate positions on Voter ID and the VRA were not considered and were outside the purview of the CPB scorecard.
However, Buckner’s record on elections integrity issues alone is troubling for many advocates, Favorito said, adding several organizations had attempted to work with her throughout her tenure as a State Representative.
“Really, no one I know of in the Legislature opposed what we were doing with the exception of Buckner and [Bill] Stephens. They were the ones who opposed the statewide audit trail implementation,” Favorito told Atlanta Progressive News.
CPB takes issue with three separate actions they say Buckner has taken. Two of the actions are a matter of public record; the third is a subject of dispute between Buckner and CPB.
By contrast, Karen Handel does not have a legislative record on elections integrity, except inasmuch as the Commission may have reviewed election matters. Handel was not, therefore, reviewed by CPB based on a legislative history. Instead, CPB says they endorsed Handel based on her strong statements in support of their agenda, which they say Handel promoted in her campaign materials.
SOME BLOGGERS DISPLEASED
Some Democratic bloggers do not express faith in Handel’s words, however.
“All y’all have been and will continue to be pimped by these alleged Voter Reform Republicans. I hope I’m wrong – but I suspect they will suffer from amnesia once Karen “[Katherine] Harris” Handel is elected,” Catherine Smith wrote on BlogForDemocracy.
Smith wrote “Credibility is a terrible thing to waste,” about CPB.
Favorito, who said he is friends with Smith, said “I respect Catherine’s opinion. We talked about this.” He said other people should not be upset with his organization for “exposing a legislator’s voting record.”
“Catherine could be proven right,” about Handel being a Republican hack, Favorito said, “but I have no indication of this at this time.”
Favorito also believes the group’s endorsement of Handel actually enhances its credibility as nonpartisan. “You need to take the Ds and Rs out of it, and say who’s in support and who’s not,” Favorito said.
Incidentally, Smith attacked Atlanta Progressive News for questioning campaign contributions received by Scott Holcomb, a former candidate for this same office, just a few months ago. At the time, Smith posted a picture of a rabid dog to characterize her impression of APN.
BUCKNERS RECORD QUESTIONED
At the same time, however, Buckner has made promises too, and CPB cautions voters to scrutinize Buckner’s record in comparison to her promises.
CPB said they did not go back to Buckner when preparing their scorecard findings to see if she changed her position.
Buckner says her position has not changed, but that her opposition to specific legislation has been misinterpreted as opposition to the general concept of a statewide paper trail as an official record of voting.
However, “How she voted is her platform,” Favorito argues. “If she told us she supported all of this now, theres no way in common sense we’d believe her.”
BUCKNER OPPOSED KARLA DRENNER AMENDMENT
While Buckner is proud to have supported the pilot project bill, SB 500, where there will be paper record in three precincts this November, she opposed State Rep. Karla Drenner’s amendment which would have implemented the paper trail statewide. The amendment received moderate support but did not pass. The pilot project itself passed unanimously
“The issue with the different bills… several of them were too complicated. They mandated intricate things that had to happen,” Buckner told Atlanta Progressive News.
“There was just no way this could be implemented [by 2006]. This was not feasible. If these other bills passed, we wouldn’t have ANY paper ballots on Tuesday [not even the pilot in 3 precincts]. Because, it would’ve been held up in court like Voter ID.
“The purpose of a pilot project is to see how it would work. It has turned out to be an opportunity. Other states have had problems where the paper has jammed,” Buckner said. Buckner could not name any specific states where this occurred.
Buckner saw the pilot as a reasonable alternative, “rather than spending $30 to $70 million to buy machines we likely couldn’t have been able to use,” she says.
However, Favorito, who worked with Drenner on her amendment after no Republican would take it up, said the date on the bill was open for negotiation, and Drenner was willing to accept a date of implementation as much as 18 months out.
Yet, “That’s what her resolution said . The bill itself specified 2006, but her amendment has no date in it. This is why I think they’re so confused,” Buckner responded.
Favorito also questioned Buckner’s argument as to whether statewide audit trails would actually face a court challenge. “Everyone else in Georgia is for it. No other group is a plaintiff in standing to challenge the law,” Favorito said.
“Citizens would likely file suit that the bill could not be reasonably implemented,” Buckner said.
However, it is clear electronic voting itself was forced upon the citizens of Georgia without much time, preparation, or indeed, auditing.
So why hold paper ballots–which have been the voting mechanism since the beginning of our Democracy–to a separate standard?
For one thing, Buckner points to a large increase in the Georgia population. Second, she says at the time E-voting was implemented, there was cooperation between the SOS and Governor’s Offices; this has not existed since Perdue came into office, she said.
Moreover, she says the botched implementation and forethought of E-voting is exactly the reason legislators should be more careful now.
“We have to hope we’re not going to create a new problem when trying to solve an existing problem. We should learn from our mistakes,” Buckner said.
BUCKNER SAID TO OPPOSE HB 790 IN COMMITTEE
“Her questions she asked on the bill [in Committee] were–she was basically taking the opposition viewpoint in the Committee Meeting with her questions,” Favorito said.
Furthermore, “What bothered me, when we took the same procedures in HB 790 and added them to the pilot project, which wouldn’t have cost a nickle, she opposed adding them to the pilot. So she opposed them for the 3 precincts, much less the 3000 precincts. She voted against precinct audits for the pilot project,” Favorito said.
“It’s one thing to have the paper trail, but you have to audit the machines to make sure the votes counted correctly. She [Buckner] was the only one to support the pilot, but not the precinct audit,” Favorito said.
Buckner, however, says she does not recall these items coming up in meetings. She said she has verbally asked for copies of the minutes from the Republican leadership and is preparing a written public records request to find out more about what transpired.
HB 790 never made it out of committee.
BUCKNER RIDICULED SB 591 IN PRIMARY DEBATE
Angela Moore brought up Buckner’s opposition to the substance of SB 591 during the Primary debate, she said.
At the time, Buckner scoffed at Moore’s support for a statewide paper audit trail as the ballot of record saying it would cost billions of dollars.
Buckner admits to this exchange but says, “That was a facetious comment made to what I felt was to a question that had no basis to it. There was no dollar amount that would be assessed because there was no fiscal note attached to the legislation.”
It is now clear Buckner misspoke; the printers would likely cost in the tens of millions, not in the billions.
SB 591 also didn’t make it out of the committee. Favorito said SB 591 and HB 790, which were much stronger bills than SB 500, did not make it out of the committee due to adamently negative testimony by statewide elections official Kathy Rogers and the opposition by State Sen. Stephens. Favorito believes many Republican legislators would not oppose Stephens because of his plan to run for SOS. Stephens was defeated in the Republican Run-off by Handel.
ANGELA MOORE ENDORSES BUCKNER
Angela Moore, a former Democratic candidate for Secretary of State, has endorsed Gail Buckner. Moore received the third most votes in a crowded field of Democratic primary candidates. Moore was endorsed by US Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-GA) as well as the Board of Directors of Atlanta Progressive News.
Favorito told Atlanta Progressive News Angela Moore received one of the highest rankings on their scorecard of all candidates, and the top ranking among Democrats.
“I’m not supporting someone who’s not passionate about a paper trail,” Moore told Atlanta Progressive News, adding, “Before I decided, I sat down with Gail after the Primary and asked her a lot of questions.”
Buckner entered the crowded Democratic Primary very late in the campaign season and surprised many by going into a runoff with Darryl Hicks, another late-comer. Buckner was said to have campaigned much among the religious community. Buckner ultimately defeated Hicks in the Run-Off.
“Gail is 100% for a paper trail,” Moore said.
“I love them dearly,” Moore said of the elections integrity advocates, “but I think they’re not reporting it right. Garland has never really given Gail a chance to explain.”
BUCKNER PROMISES REFORM, INTEGRITY
Buckner says she regrets the divisiveness among all parties.
“We all want the same thing, which is fraud-free elections, where every vote is counted and counted correctly,” Buckner said.
Indeed, Buckner says she is open to the idea of going back to paper ballots altogether, if it’s safer and less expensive than retrofitting printers to old machines or buying new machines.
“As Secretary of State, I plan to do my own independent research and everything will be on the table, and when we get to the point when I’m ready to make a recommendation to the Elections Board then we will have the greatest confidence anyone would have. There’s just too much frustration going on right now. We’ve got to get to the bottom of it, we’ve got to restore confidence to the elections process,” Buckner says.
About the author:
Matthew Cardinale is the News Editor and National Correspondent for Atlanta Progressive News. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article may be reprinted in full at no cost where Atlanta Progressive News is credited.