APN Chat with Michael Mills, Candidate for Secretary of State
(APN) ATLANTA — In our continuing coverage of the 2010 Statewide and Congressional Elections, we sat down with Michael Mills, who is running for Secretary of State of Georgia.
In 2006, Gail Buckner won the the Democratic nomination and she is again running for the position. 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, 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.
Michael Mills owns a consulting practice called PR1776. He graduated with an MA in Communications from Georgia State University in 1999, having written a thesis on increasing youth voter turnout.
Mills has written a book called Battling Democracy’s Decline and has an interest in increasing democratic participation.
Mills started an organization in 2002 called Vote for America, which focused on increasing voter education and turnout. He has served as Communications Director for former Lt. Governor Mark Taylor, and as a Legislative Aide to Lewis Massey, former Secretary of State.
APN asked Mills 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 has already completed his interview; article forthcoming. APN will attempt to reach out to the Sinkfield campaign, even though she entered the race at the last minute.
So far this campaign season, APN has also interviewed Gubernatorial candidate David Poythress; SOS candidates Angela Moore and Gail Buckner; Congressional candidates US Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA), Vernon Jones, and Connie Stokes; School Superintendent candidates Brian Westlake and Beth Farokhi; and Fulton County Commission District 6 candidates, Joan Garner and Keisha Waites.
CAN THE CURRENT GEORGIA E-VOTING MACHINES BE TRUSTED TO COUNT EVERY VOTE ACCURATELY ON ELECTION NIGHT?
No existing system we have can be 100 percent accurate. There is potential error in all systems we use.
I would create an Elections Task Force on day one. We have to look at the machines, are they the most secure option? If not, what is it?
How are they deployed locally? How are they stored? We’ve got to make sure [the machines] are stored, deployed, and maintained accurately.
The technology- all technology can be prone to breaking down, to error and fraud. My campaign has reached out to Georgia Tech to see if it’s something we can engineer.
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’m open to whatever provides the most security, accuracy, and accountability. There’s very little proof in studies that one is drastically more accurate than another. That’s why we need an audit.
Some studies say optical scan is the best in terms of an audit trail. If we stick with the current system, I do want a paper accountability mechanism.
We have to be careful not to get into conspiracy theories. Before we throw the baby out with the bathwater and jump to a new system. It would be irresponsible of me to alarm citizens unnecessarily that the system’s not working, then we’ve disenfranchised and kept people from the polls.
DO YOU SUPPORT OPEN SOURCE SOFTWARE CODE?
We need to be open to all options. We need to know what the code is. There’s some level of propriety protected under law, but if we’re going to have some level of confidence in our elections system, we need to know how it works.
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?
That Task Force is step one. No more than a six month process. Bring the community, public and private experts in…
Candidates this time who say they’re for the VVPAT, I’m fairly sure they don’t know what they’re talking about.
You use it as an audit trail, only in the case of a problem. I will work with experts to get feedback.
Optical scan is one for one. Your paper is actually read by a machine. It’s reading paper to count your ballot.
With the VVPAT, the cote is recorded on the DRE. The paper is separate. You’d see two votes. You’d cast your vote on the DRE, and look at your vote to see [if it matches]. But we’re not counting the paper ballot unless there’s a problem. With VVPAT, there have been accuracy and printer problems in other states.
WHAT TYPE OF AUDITING OF ELECTIONS WOULD YOU SUPPORT? RANDOM AUDITING? HOW OFTEN, ETC.?
Random auditing is the right option. I want to go with the guidance of the elections division.
HANDEL SAID IT WOULD BE TOO COSTLY TO CHANGE VOTING SYSTEMS. HOW MUCH IS TOO COSTLY FOR ELECTIONS INTEGRITY? IS THERE AN UPPER LIMIT?
We must have confidence in our elections systems. I’m not satisfied with a 63% voting rate. If I got a 63 on a test when I was in school, I’d get my hide tanned when I got home.
If people do not have confidence in the system, we absolutely have to spend what is necessary to ensure accuracy of the election system.
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?
I’m confident the report analyzed all aspects and brings a fair conclusion.
I’m troubled by a few hundred blank ballots. There’s clearly an error in the system. I’m not privy to the research and data, so before I go second guessing…
DID YOU SUPPORT HB 1215 IN THE GEORGIA LEGISLATURE TO GET OPTICAL SCAN MACHINES AND ELIMINATE DRE’S?
I don’t want to eliminate any options. I would’ve said I’m not in favor of eliminating DRE’s as an option, especially when that is our current system.
DO YOU AGREE WITH GEORGIA’S NEW VOTER ID LAW?
I’m comfortable with it. I absolutely want to make sure, I don’t think it’s too much to ask of voters to show ID at the polls.
We need to make sure… [it doesn’t become a barrier to access].
The challenge is, there are certain limits on what can be used and it becomes a burden. The Georgia Voter ID card, the Secretary of State’s website doesn’t tell you how do you qualify for one? How do you get one?
There are very few cases of intentional voter fraud in Georgia or the US. I don’t see a reason to eliminate forms of ID.
I’m different from my opponents… We must empower citizens to participate. We do not have a K-12 program on civic education in Georgia. We will come up with a quality core curriculum K-12. We spend all our time preventing people uneligible from going to the polls. We don’t spend enough time to empower eligible citizens to participate.
DO YOU AGREE WITH THE CURRENT BALLOT ACCESS LAWS FOR THIRD PARTIES AND INDEPENDENTS?
I don’t think 5 percent is really too high… I don’t know what the threshold should be.
DO YOU AGREE WITH KAREN HANDEL IN THE FIGHT WITH THE US DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE REGARDING THE VOTER VERIFICATION SYSTEM?
No, I don’t agree with Brian Kemp or Sonny Perdue who’s bringing a lawsuit. The Help America Vote Act requires state-run databases. Adding additional barriers I have a problem with. We can check it ourselves, it’s not required under HAVA.
HAVE YOU ACCEPTED ANY CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTIONS FROM ANY VENDORS DOING BUSINESS WITH THE SECRETARY OF STATE’S OFFICE?
WHAT SPECIFICALLY HAVE YOU DONE TO SUPPORT ELECTIONS INTEGRITY AND REFORM?
My entire career has been about empowering people to participate in a secure, safe system. We’ve brought thousands of people into the electoral process through Vote for America.
We organized thousands of volunteers to have a conversation with voters. They filled out a pledge card- I’m going to vote. We had voter guides, worked with the League of Women Voters, businesses, churches. Voter turnout went up 7 percent in Metro Atlanta, in 11 counties.
About the author:
Matthew Cardinale is the News Editor for The Atlanta Progressive News and is reachable at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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