ANALYSIS: SOS Candidates Shift towards Paper Trail

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(APN) ATLANTA — Some of the candidates in the Democratic Primary for Georgia Secretary of State have shifted towards supporting a paper trail to supplement electronic voting over the course of the campaign this year.

Atlanta Progressive News is the only news organization to have conducted full-length interviews with all five candidates in the Democratic Primary, including State Sen. Gail Buckner, Gary Horlacher, Michael Mills, Angela Moore, and State Rep. Georganna Sinkfield.

Not all candidates stated in their interviews that they would support some type of paper evidence. In fact, Angela Moore and Gary Horlacher were the only two to strongly support either a paper trail to work with current DRE machines or a switch to optical scan machines; and were the only ones to acknowledge there was a fundamental problem with the current system.

Mills equivocated in the APN interview over whether there was a problem, adding that it would be irresponsible to scare voters unnecessarily, but said he supported either one of the above solutions.

Meanwhile, Buckner originally told APN it was still unclear whether there was a problem but that she would conduct an audit to determine that. Sinkfield, finally, seemed convinced that there was no problem at all. Neither stated that in their opinion a solution was even necessary.

If the candidates had to be rated on the quality of their interview responses alone, the order would be: Moore with the strongest answers, followed by Horlacher, Mills, Buckner, and Sinkfield last.

However, in a recent debate by the Atlanta Press Club on June 27, 2010, almost all of the candidates–including Buckner and Sinkfield–stated they believed it was necessary to have a paper trail, suggesting that either the candidates had shifted in their position towards supporting greater elections integrity, or that they were pandering to the audience in an attempt to not be outdone by the other candidates on stage.

In addition, several minor controversies have been brewing in this race. First, Buckner’s response to a previous accusation by Horlacher. Second, a new accusation by Horlacher concerning failures by other candidates to file timely ethics disclosures concerning their personal finances. Third, a debate between Mills and Sinkfield over Mills’s APN interview response concerning ballot access. Fourth, a critique by Mills concerning Horlacher’s discussions with a private firm over a possible contract with the State of Georgia.

CANDIDATES SHIFT TOWARDS PAPER TRAIL

Two candidates, Buckner and Sinkfield, shifted towards supporting a paper trail, from the time of their APN interview to the recent debate.

Moore’s answer in the debate was consistent with her answer in the APN interview: that she wants to get Georgia universities to create new software and hardware to allow our current E-voting machines to produce a paper trail.

Horlacher was also consistent in continuing his support for a paper trail.

Buckner, however, clearly shifted her position. “Georgia does need a paper ballot… We don’t know what technology is on the horizon, but Georgia citizens have expressed their desire to have a paper ballot.” Previously, all she had said is that she would conduct an audit of the system and take appropriate action.

Sinkfield also shifted positions. In her APN interview, she did not state she was in support of a paper trail. In the debate, however, she said, “I support creating a verifiable paper trail,” but expressed doubts about implementing one.

“However, given our circumstances, in this state, we own the machines, we paid for them. And also given the economy that we’re under I doubt we’ll be able to replace those machines at this time. I also found there is no equipment that fits our machines to have a verifiable audit. So therefore, I’ll be willing to look at whatever is available electronically and all the new data coming forth and see whether or not that will work,” Sinkfield said.

Mills continued his position of being open to change without wanting to acknowledge there is a problem with the current system. “It is critical we do not have a knee jerk response and say our machines are fallible, we don’t have a paper receipt, let’s throw them out… But we must not throw the baby out with the bath water. And so we’ll study it, come up with a plan and a time, and we’ll implement it.”

BUCKNER PROVES HISTORY OF SUPPORTING SATURDAY VOTING

Previously, in an interview with APN, Horlacher accused Buckner of only beginning to campaign on adding Saturday voting after he brought it up during at an earlier debate on the campaign trail.

However, Buckner and one of her supporters provided evidence to show that in fact she had supported Saturday voting since at least 2006, when she previously ran for Secretary of State and became the Democratic nominee.

Buckner mailed APN a copy of a press release dated June 13, 2006, in which she advocated for Saturday voting. Buckner also included a copy of an Associated Press article dated August 05, 2006, which states, “Buckner said she would like to add Saturday voting to Georgia’s new early voting provision.”

“I can say with clarity that Senator Gail Buckner spoke on both of these ideas [Saturday voting and adding members to the State Elections Board] during a meeting of the Floyd County Democrats at the West Rome Shoney’s during the Summer of 2006. This was roughly 4 years before Gary Horlacher entered the race,” David McLaughlin of the Kudzu Vine online radio program said in an email to APN.

Incidentally, Fulton County will be holding one day of Saturday voting this year and they are calling it Family Voting Day. It is this Saturday, July 10, 2010, from 8:30am to 5pm, at six early voting locations including the downtown Fulton County Government Center.

HORLACHER RAISES QUESTIONS ABOUT CANDIDATES’ ETHICS DISCLOSURES

In a June 18, 2010, article on the Atlanta Unfiltered website, Jim Walls revealed that neither Mills, Moore, nor Sinkfield had filed their ethics disclosures on time.

“We can’t say for sure for sure how much these three earned last year. That’s because they have neglected to file the disclosure report required of candidates for secretary of state. The disclosures were due May 7 — a week after they qualified to run for secretary of state,” the website reported.

Horlacher also challenged Buckner during the recent debate that she had not filed her disclosure on time. She did file a disclosure in January 2010. The law technically requires that she file a new disclosure within seven days upon qualifying for the Secretary of State’s race. However, Horlacher acknowledged that the ethics office waived that requirement for Buckner because she had essentially filed early.

“She filed a statewide form in January, so she’s good,” Stacey Kalberman, Executive Secretary for the State Ethics Commission, told Politifact Georgia, a new fact-checking website dealing with Georgia elections that is affiliated with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper.

The same cannot be said for Mills, Moore, or Sinkfield, however; they were simply late.

MILLS, SINKFIELD DEBATE BALLOT ACCESS

Sinkfield questioned Mills about his response in his interview with APN during the recent debate.

“Mr. Mills, you have previously stated that you support excluding third party and independent candidates from simply paying a qualifying fee for running for office rather than gathering signatures. However, each of us was able to pay a qualifying fee. Can you explain why you feel it is appropriate or not to deny access to otherwise qualified candidates based on their party affiliation?” Sinkfield asked.

“I’ve never said that,” Mills responded.

“Well, it comes from, the source is the APN interview, and it was based on all interviews with all of us,” Sinkfield said. “And it definitely states that you would not have persons of other parties to pay a qualifying fee.”

“I think you may want to re-read that interview because that was never asked,” Mills said.

To be sure, APN did not word the question in the same way as paraphrased by Sinkfield. That is, APN did not ask whether independent candidates should be able to pay a qualifying fee instead of collecting signatures. The question was whether the requirement of obtaining signatures from five percent of registered voters in a non-statewide jurisdiction was too high or whether it should be lowered.

“I don’t think 5% is too high,” is what Mills did say in the APN interview, so therefore, by logical extension, he would not support an independent candidate simply paying a qualifying fee [even though he did not use those words specifically].

“In fact, the only time I’ve been asked about getting a name on the ballot is the number of signatures that we have fair or not and I’ve said that’s something we need to investigate,” Mills said during the debate.

However, Mills did not say during the APN interview that it needed to be investigated.

“Furthermore, I also have been the only candidate to say we need to look into including more people in the process,” Mills said during the debate.

However, Buckner has also spoken about increasing voter participation. And it is also unclear why, if Mills has put such an emphasis on increasing voter turnout, why he would not be more concerned about the same voters having a wide array of meaningful choices in terms of the candidates on the ballot from which to choose.

In addition, Horlacher unveiled a new ballot access proposal in a phone interview earlier today with APN. He proposes a primary for independent candidates which would function differently that a normal primary. He proposes that any independent candidate obtaining more than one percent of the vote in the independent primary would automatically qualify for the General Election ballot. He proposes that that would replace the petitioning requirement, thus saving candidates and elections officials a lot of time and money. There are obviously several technical questions concerning this proposal that would need to be worked out, but it is an intriguing idea.

MILLS CRITICIZES HORLACHER ON DISCUSSION WITH FIRM

Finally, Mills criticized Horlacher during the debate for stating that he approached an executive at the firm, NCR, which makes automatic teller machines and recently relocated to Georgia, about the possiblity of them engineering a paper trail solution for E-voting in Georgia.

Horlacher said in his interview with APN, and repeated during the debate, a story of how an NCR executive said he thought it was a great idea.

“I’m sure the NCR executive was thrilled to hear a potential leader of the Secretary of State’s office is offering contracts,” Mills said.

A contract such as the one suggested by Horlacher of course would have to be put through a competitive bidding process starting with a request for proposals.

(END/2010)

About the author:

Matthew Cardinale is the News Editor for The Atlanta Progressive News and is reachable at matthew@atlantaprogressivenews.com.

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Our syndication policy was updated June 2007. For more information on how to syndicate Atlanta Progressive News content, please visit: http://www.atlantaprogressivenews.com/extras/syndicate.html

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