APN Chat with Gail Buckner, Candidate for Secretary of State (UPDATE 1)
(APN) ATLANTA — In our continuing coverage of the 2010 Statewide and Congressional Elections, we sat down with State Sen. Gail Buckner, who is running again for Secretary of State of Georgia.
Buckner previously ran in 2006 and won the the Democratic nomination. Buckner ultimately lost to Republican Karen Handel in 2006. Handel is now running for Governor.
Also running for this seat for the Democratic nomination this year are Angela Moore, Gary Horlacher, Michael Mills, and State Rep. Georgiana Sinkfield.
Previous 2006 SOS Democratic Primary candidates are running for other offices this year. Darryl Hicks, who had been in a run-off with Buckner, is running for State Labor Commissioner. Scott Holcomb, who had received questionable donations in 2006 from a Choicepoint executive’s wife, is now running for State House District 82 to replace State Rep. Kevin Levitas, who is retiring.
APN readers will also recall that in 2006, elections integrity organization VoterGA endorsed Handel over Buckner because of Handel’s promises to deliver a voter verifiable paper audit trail for E-voting. Handel did not deliver on those promises, but VoterGA said that Buckner fought their efforts to seek elections integrity in the legislature.
Buckner served for 16 years in the State House before running for SOS in 2006. Buckner then ran for her State Senate seat in 2008, unseating former State Sen. Gail Davenport.
State Rep. Mike Glanton and Davenport are currently running for Buckner’s seat. Former School Superintendent candidate Carlotta Harrel is running for Glanton’s seat.
When asked why Buckner would choose to unseat a sitting State Senator to serve one term and then run for something else, Buckner said she wanted to address the crisis involving Clayton County school system.
“Me personally, I would’ve been better off if I had not served in the Senate; I could’ve been out campaigning,” for SOS, Buckner said.
APN asked Buckner 15 questions related to the Secretary of State’s office, particularly related to elections integrity. We are reaching out to each of the other campaigns to ask the same questions of the other candidates. Horlacher said he was interested in being interviewed. APN will attempt to reach out to the Mills and Sinkfield campaigns shortly.
So far this campaign season, APN has also interviewed Gubernatorial candidate David Poythress, SOS candidate Angela Moore, Congressional candidate Connie Stokes, and School Superintendent candidates Brian Westlake and Beth Farokhi.
CAN THE CURRENT GEORGIA E-VOTING MACHINES BE TRUSTED TO COUNT EVERY VOTE ACCURATELY ON ELECTION NIGHT?
According to the Georgia Supreme Court, they can. According to Gail Buckner, we should never let our guard down. I plan to audit the entire elections process, including the voting machines, and take corrective measures to address the issues that surface.
There is no set of standards to measure the electronic voting machines or elections process in general. As Secretary of State, I would be involved in the National Association of Secretaries of State, to work with Congress to develop standards, make sure we have the ability to not only meet but go above and beyond, and make sure our elections process in Georgia is safe and secure.
Do you agree with the Georgia Supreme Court’s ruling?
I would rather do my own independent research and study. I plan to put a commission in place, laymen and computer experts. Peel back the elections process, including E-voting machines. Everything done in a transparent way so citizens have access to everything we have.
We have to recognize, in past history, where voter fraud has taken place, it all involved paper. And technology is here to stay. We also don’t know which products will come on the market. If we need new voting systems, I would much prefer to develop that here.
DO YOU SUPPORT KEEPING THE CURRENT SYSTEM, ADDING A VOTER VERIFIABLE PAPER AUDIT TRAIL (VVPAT) TO THE CURRENT SYSTEM, SWITCHING TO OPTICAL SCAN, OR SOME OTHER OPTION GOING FORWARD? WHY?
I know I want to flesh out the current system, let’s get to the root of the issues. I don’t want to hear from Diebold. I want Georgia voters who have a vested interest in fraud-free elections to help provide this information. Having said that, I’m fairly certain I’m not in favor of adding paper cannisters to the existing machines. States have had a lot of problems, the paper would stick, the machine wouldn’t print.
DO YOU SUPPORT OPEN SOURCE SOFTWARE CODE?
I think we have the ability in this state to develop our own systems. If we do that, I think it would be reasonable to have a panel of citizens to have access to that [code].
HANDEL AS A CANDIDATE SAID SHE SUPPORTED VVPAT BUT DIDN’T DO IT. WHAT SPECIFIC STEPS WOULD YOU TAKE TO IMPLEMENT A NEW SYSTEM AND HOW LONG INTO YOUR TERM WILL IT TAKE? ONE YEAR? TWO YEARS?
I would hope to have decided within the first six months. There’s a full year before the next major election.
WHAT TYPE OF AUDITING OF ELECTIONS WOULD YOU SUPPORT? RANDOM AUDITING? HOW OFTEN, ETC.?
There should be random auditing, that should be part of the process.
HANDEL SAID IT WOULD BE TOO COSTLY TO CHANGE VOTING SYSTEMS. HOW MUCH IS TOO COSTLY FOR ELECTIONS INTEGRITY? IS THERE AN UPPER LIMIT?
Typically, when you make a major investment, it comes with a warranty that it will function properly. The feds helped get us here. The feds need to help get us out.
But would you cite the cost as a reason not to upgrade our systems?
I won’t use money as a reason not to.
DO YOU KNOW ABOUT THE BLANK VOTES IN THE COBB COUNTY SPLOST?
REGARDING THE COBB COUNTY SPLOST, THE INSPECTOR GENERAL REPORT SAID THERE WAS NO EVIDENCE OF MACHINE ERROR. ARE YOU SATISFIED WITH THAT ANSWER- WHY OR WHY NOT?
We will likely never know the answer to the question. We do know how complicated the process is, we need to be on top of our game. It could be human error, it could be machine malfunction, not calibrated properly.
In 2006, there were calls from a North Fulton precinct, when people voted for me, that Cathy Cox’s name came up [and Cox, then the SOS, was running for Governor]. How many times did that happen, and people didn’t pay attention and notice that? What happened to those votes?
I want to get into it even deeper. There were two sides in that case, the State and the Plaintiffs. The third side is, where do we go from here?
DID YOU SUPPORT HB 1215 IN THE GEORGIA LEGISLATURE TO GET OPTICAL SCAN MACHINES AND ELIMINATE DRE’S?
It did not come over to the Senate. I did not take a position.
DO YOU AGREE WITH GEORGIA’S NEW VOTER ID LAW?
I totally disagreed with the way it was implemented. I voted against Voter ID. I knew under that scenario, we would be disenfranchising legal eligible voters.
I heard people say they did not vote because they did not have the ID. It’s hard for people to connect with people who’ve never had a driver’s license.
We’ve never found a case in this state, adjudicated where a person was voting in-person fraudulently. Moving to picture ID should’ve been done slowly without disenfranchising people.
DO YOU AGREE WITH THE CURRENT BALLOT ACCESS LAWS FOR THIRD PARTIES AND INDEPENDENTS?
What is enough signatures? What is too many? What’s too few? I would take a look.
DO YOU AGREE WITH KAREN HANDEL IN THE FIGHT WITH THE US DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE REGARDING THE VOTER VERIFICATION SYSTEM?
No. She was using a flawed system, the driver’s license database. How many times does the Department of Justice have to tell you no?
HAVE YOU ACCEPTED ANY CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTIONS FROM ANY VENDORS DOING BUSINESS WITH THE SECRETARY OF STATE’S OFFICE?
No and never will.
WHAT SPECIFICALLY HAVE YOU DONE TO SUPPORT ELECTIONS INTEGRITY AND REFORM?
As a Member of the Senate, I introduced almost a dozen bills related to the elections process or ethics.
One bill was Saturday voting. There should be at least one Saturday during early voting. Some people head to work before 7am and head home after 7pm. I think it’s very progressive.
Locals would have to pay overtime. You can solve that by closing the office the first Monday or Tuesday and roll that money forward.
One bill was to cut in half the number of days before an election that you can register to vote. Now you have to be registered to vote 30 days before the election. With this law, it would be 15. They would have 15 more days.
Brian Kemp [who was appointed Secretary of State after Handel’s resignation] liked it so much, he dropped it in his bill. It did pass. I’m trying to get a ruling on whether it takes effect immediately or whether it takes effect on July 01.
I’m interested in helping people to vote and enjoy the experience.
Another bill was to add three people to the State Elections Board appointed by the Supreme Court. They would have had to have served as a local elections director or a retired probate judge that oversaw elections.
Right now all we have are political appointees. We need people involved who’ve been boots on the ground in the elections process.
Another bill was voting centers. You could vote anywhere in the state at a designated voting center, if you have to go out of town. Universities would be perfect for that. There are other states that have voting centers.
I’d like to see us engage more young people in the elections process, not hold class on elections day so college students can work the polls.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that Buckner received reports that votes for her were flipped for Karen Handel. The reports were that in fact the votes had flipped to Cathy Cox, who wasn’t even in that race.
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