Saturday, February 4, 2023 0 comments



I have cancer.

That diagnosis came January 5 of this year, and I can’t type it any more plainly.

After a routine process and colonoscopy, a cancerous tumor was discovered in my large intestine.  With surgery planned for this week, indications from other testing is that the cancer hasn’t metastasized into other organs in my body. 

Hopefully, the surgery will result in elimination of the cancer, but that won’t be known until after surgery.

Working 18 years in election administration, I suppose, it was my time.  I’ve written here before and often  of the physical toll elections take on the people who run them.

This blog was created as a behind-the-scenes account of election administration.  I would not be true to the intent of the blog to not discuss this so directly and openly.

My predecessor in Johnson County is a cancer survivor.

Both assistant election commissioners at the Johnson County Election office when I joined, both who had worked at the office for years, had new cancer diagnoses early during my tenure.

One of them eventually died while still serving as assistant election commissioner.  Another employee, promoted to the same position, found he had lung cancer in the spring of 2014 and died days before the November election.  The Sedgwick County Election Commissioner, who served at much of the same time as I was in Johnson County, also had cancer.

Thing is, with the talk of election officials facing abusive threats from election deniers, there is no denying that the real threat to election officials is the constant stress they feel when administering elections.

The personal threats add to that, of course, but that’s been going on since “Black Box Voting,” a book and HBO special that called out specific election administrators when, in my view, they were doing their jobs under the stress that occurs with election administration.  The “naming names” of career election administrators, nearly universally paid much less than their peers and colleagues in local government, was about the lowest blow someone could take.

Election administrators work at the expense of their own health to ensure the election is administered as close to perfectly as humanly possible. There is no “close enough for government work,” in elections.

The Internet and social media have fueled that stress, and long-term election administrators who have fought for resources often hear as a reason they are denied, “You’re doing a great job.”  Resources come after a meltdown or a crisis, and election administrators aren’t going to let that happen, even if the impact is their health.

Politicians, members of Congress, and former presidential candidates have fanned flames that cause more distress.

Recent blog posts here have tried to stay out of politics, but the political environment for election administration is very simply destructive.

Al Gore lost the 2000 presidential election and after what seemed like an excessive protracted contest, he walked away.  I wasn’t in election administration at the time, but I know I felt that he had created division in our country, and I wished he had exited sooner.

Now, after the last two presidential elections, his behavior seems much more admirable, to me at least.  I have no idea what 2024 will bring in terms of the final presidential candidates or the political factors leading to the election, but, Dear Reader, I think we all feel that the outcome will be contested by the losing candidate and party supporters.

That’s the backdrop local election officials will enter.  Many will decide to exit the profession this year because of that.  Turnover always occurs more in an “off” year, with experienced administrators leaving when they are needed most.  They leave because they know what is coming.

Local and state election official turnover nationwide is more than 30 percent annually.  We have some election offices in North Dakota, for instance, where the chief election official changed between the June and November elections in 2022, and even a couple cases where the top post changed twice in that time.

Bench strength in elections was lost long ago.  The need for Quick Start guides at the Election Assistance Commission, as well as training and patience for those new in the profession, has never been greater.

As an aside, I often think of the Maricopa County (Arizona) Recorder Helen Purcell, who lost in her primary in 2016.  Helen had decades of service and was well-respected among her colleagues.  Her term would end at the end of 2016, voters had told her they wanted someone different in the role, and she was left to administer an incredibly stressful 2016 presidential election. 

Imagine losing the primary in the summer, not for a legislative position, but the actual position of administering elections.  Imagine the disappointment and the fact that no one is going to lead the administration of, up to that point, was the most stressful presidential election in anyone’s memory.

That’s service right there.

She didn’t quit.  She probably should have.  I’ve never talked with Helen about this, but I have great admiration for her because of what she did in 2016.  And, I’m not attempting to stir anything up at all, but I do wonder if any of the storyline in Arizona, 2020 and beyond, would have been different if voters would have renewed her service in 2016.

Unlike Helen, many election administrators find their body quits on them before they quit the profession.

That, at least, is a piece of counter-point to the thought election administration leads to cancer.  Election administrators have generally been in the profession for a long time, leading to a simple fact that cancer arrives more frequently as people age.

When I started in elections in 2005, I replaced someone many regard as one of the greatest ever in the profession.  At my swearing in, I stated, “I’m coming to a position where the process is the star.”

Long-time election administrators treat the election process as a piece of art, always polishing or refining it.  New election administrators often are thrown into the job now without that existing process structure, or the wisdom to know when to avoid the temptation that they know better than those in the position before.

That’s the new cancer in election administration—the turnover.  There’s a new group of election administrators lining up with 2024 being their first federal election, let alone their first presidential election.  For the profession’s sake, we need a good number of them to still be leading elections heading in 2040, and that can only begin by providing resources, support, and protection to lead today.



Monday, October 31, 2022 0 comments

2000 Mules Review Posted on Amazon, but Later Removed, and Now It's Back! actually pulled my review of 2000 Mules.

Here is how it appeared before it was taken down, below.  My two purchases of the book were at the Bismarck Barnes and Noble, and the review was taken down because I was not a "Verified Purchaser."  I was surprised that I was able to upload it two weeks later, and it stuck.  The link on Amazon is here:

Friday, October 28, 2022 0 comments

No Modems Here!

A guy crossing the country these days in the name of voter fraud, Douglas Frank, recently visited North Dakota with some tall tales.

For one, he claims to have a device that will prove the ES&S DS200 contains a modem.

That device is a EMF Meter,Advanced GQ EMF-390 Multi-Field Electromagnetic Radiation 3-in-1 EMF ELF RF meter, 5G Cell Tower Smart meter Wifi Signal Detector RF up to 10GHz with Data Logger and 2.5Ghz Spectrum Analyzer.  I know, because our office has one.
I don't know if Mr. Frank knows how the unit works, but I'm not an RF expert, so I sought one out.

Our staff conducted a late-night call with Mr. Lung, not for any other reason than the fact he lives in Hawaii, and we wanted to respect his busy workday.  We learned quite a bit about RF technology and later made this video using the same device Mr. Frank carries to demonstrate that our scanners do not have modems.

Mr. Frank is welcome to join me at any time with any DS200 scanner in the state so he can see with his own eyes, with his own RF device, that our DS200 scanners do not have modems.  I type "join me," because I also will gladly show him three other ways to quickly demonstrate that the scanners do not have modems.

Mr. Frank also has falsely stated, citing a letter from the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) unrelated to certification in North Dakota, that "proves" our DS200s have modems.  As the former EAC Executive Director who certified many of the voting systems across the country, I am extremely familiar with the exact, and again unrelated proceeding, that Mr. Frank mentions.  He has not shown anyone the "North Dakota" letter, however, because such a letter never applied to North Dakota or was sent to North Dakota.


Wednesday, October 19, 2022 0 comments

Ballot Image Audits

 This is not a traditional post, but it does involve "behind the scenes" work of election administration.

There are various types of post-election audits.  Nearly every state--including North Dakota--have some type of post-election audit to demonstrate that the tabulation from the election was correct.

Here is a link to a short video that describes one method, and one I've been fond of since learning about it in 2017: 

Then, I was working at the Election Assistance Commission, not at a jurisdiction that could utilize the method you will see in the video.  The voting system in my previous jurisdiction, in Kansas, did not utilize ballot image scanners (they do now).

I'm putting this link here just as a way for readers to become familiar with another type of auditing process.

Monday, October 10, 2022 0 comments

Motels and Mules Update

 Editor's Note with the post from May.

I have since watched the movie 2000 Mules and even have a copy of the book, contraband because it was pulled by the publisher and now will be released October. 25.

I purchased my copy at the Bismarck Barnes and Noble on October 1.  It was the only copy, and they likely missed the memo to pull it from the shelves.

NPR also got a copy, and you can read the review by clicking this sentence.

Regardless, seeing the movie and reading the book, if anything, just reinforced how ridiculous the claims by True the Vote and Dinesh D'Souza are.  The book follows the movie, almost scene-by-scene, but includes a new final chapter.

Still, if anyone wants to embrace the concept in the book, summarized in that final chapter, I'm personally prepared to respectfully disagree but let them have that win.  From the book,

"Joe Biden is president because the Democrats stole the election from Trump, and they did it through organized cheating in the main urban areas of at least five key states."

If people really believe that--and I don't--take your stubborn mule-headed argument up with those urban areas. 

Why this is discussed in North Dakota, or Kansas, or nearly anywhere for that matter, simply reinforces my opinions in my May post.

Tuesday, July 5, 2022 0 comments

Oh, the Humanity!

Last week, the North Dakota State Canvass Board certified the results of the June 14 statewide election.

As a point of order, each county certified its results on June 27.  The state canvass certifies the roll-up of the 53 counties.

It’s typical to assume that November general elections are more complicated than the primaries because of the turnout and national awareness, but I think most election administrators find the primaries more exhausting—they usually are more complicated in terms of voting laws and involve more unique ballot styles.

One trending observation I’ve had, not just with North Dakota but nationwide:

In 2016, when Russian involvement was the election topic of the day, it was common to stress that elections were ran individually by more than 3,000 jurisdictions, creating a unique quilt of security.  The fact that the elections were ran separately provided a natural firewall against the ability for widespread outside interference.

That’s true, but it’s also true, for instance during my time in Kansas, that our voters in Johnson County had different experiences than those in Douglas or Sedgwick Counties.  We used different equipment and had different early voting options, for example.

In fact, a Congressional district crossed into Douglas County.  Douglas County was predominantly a Democratic county; Johnson was predominantly Republican.  We were allowed to provide early voting outside of our office (satellite locations). Douglas did not have this legislative authority.

I felt, and expressed at the time, that this legal disparity could favor a Republican candidate.  Over time, the law changed to allow more counties to have satellite advance voting.

That’s an example of a growing trend to do more to standardize the voter experience.  We aren’t McDonalds, but a polling place in, say, Cass County, should run the same as in Burleigh County—at least as much as possible.

The disparity also comes because elections represent a human business.

That’s been lost lately.  There may be no thing as a perfect election, as the election administrator cliche goes, because humans are involved.  That's not to say, however, we don't strive for perfection--zero defects was the phrase I stressed to our election workers when serving as a local election official.  Election administrators are always chasing the dream of a perfect election.

But, people make mistakes, and there were some anecdotally reported one-offs across the state in this election.  In fact, while we hear the refrain of getting rid of machines and hand-counting ballots, none of the issues reported in North Dakota involved voting machines.

That latest revelation and proof point, once again, that voting machines performed properly isn't what some activists want to hear or believe.  It leads me to believe—and hear me out, Dear Reader—that I think I’ve identified the ultimate win-win for those who want humans, rather than machines, counting votes. 

Machines have proven to have fewer mistakes than humans, yet some people steadfastly maintain they want hand-counting of ballots.

So, how about the voting equipment manufacturers create androids or robots that hand count the ballots?  Or, maybe, just turn the rollers on scanners into automated hands….

The bigger point is that calls for hand-counts, no machines, and other changes are really calls for election reform.  I’m not sure, exactly, what election reform truly means, but it has been a buzz phrase since the Help America Vote Act of 2002 was passed.

(It's hard to believe, as an interlude, that the battle cry related to elections at that time was that we needed voting machines for accuracy).

I do know the root of the need for election reform then—it was the 2000 presidential election, not decided on election night, leaving many to have reduced confidence in the election.

That confidence continues to erode.   It’s the old adage of, “Lose the game, blame the referee,” and the cycle has led to election law changes.

The feelings related to voter confidence, thanks to a myriad of social issues, social media, and federal government overreach, are real.  I submit that if there were no such thing as voter fraud—or concerns of election fraud—there would not be so many state and federal statutes related to the conduct of the elections.  

Thus, likely, the call for election reform, based on the number of  existing election laws, is a tale as old as time.  I can even hear Angela Lansbury singing the song in the background as I type, although most election administrators would appreciate a little more Beauty these days after the Beasts the elections of the last few years have represented.

Changes to election laws generally require some type of bipartisan support to get passed.  Even in statehouses where one party has overall control, factions within the party still often result in compromises and more moderate changes to the laws.

And here we are in 2022, where election reformers call themselves patriots looking out for election integrity, but they do as much, if not more, to erode voter confidence than the harm presumably caused by the issues to which they complain.  Personally, I think some of the concerns these individuals raise have validity, but back to Cliché Town, surely they know it’s easier to catch flies with honey than vinegar...

Shouldn’t we all step back and focus on the ultimate goal?  Don’t we all want predictable election processes, rooted in law?  Don’t we all have a responsibility to leave the elections process better than it was before us?  Doesn’t it seem that if there is a time for state governments to fund the necessary resources to make this happen, it’s now?

The narrative needle must move from chest-pumping election integrity phrases to meaningful election reform--true election administration modernization achieved by working together.  In my view, we could benefit from a “statute audit,” a comb through the statutes and a report to all stakeholders that shows areas of inconsistency or concern that could be addressed, thoughtfully, by the legislature to raise voter confidence.  Probably, all states could benefit from that, as well as the federal government.  That seems non-controversial.

Borrowing a phrase from a president before the 2000 presidential election, and turning it to apply here, “There's nothing wrong with election administration that can’t be fixed with what is right with election administration.”

Elections are ran by humans.  Humans pass laws.  Humans, as much as humanly possible, follow them.

It’s time to realize we have human—not machine—issues, and we must all address the human issues by being, well, human.

Friday, May 13, 2022 0 comments

Motels and Mules

This post is full of confessions.

First, I confess to not seeing the new documentary, 2000 Mules. 

I say this because I believe many people are speaking about the movie but also have not been willing to pay $19.99 to rent or $29.99 to buy the movie.  I suspect many who speak about the movie also have not actually watched the movie, although they may not be as forthright as me.

(I’ve seen one person who says this movie is “proof positive the 2020 election was stolen,” but whom I doubt has seen it, actually post a “See it Free” link, but the link doesn’t lead to anyone seeing it for free.” The trailer plays, and then the viewer is led to a paywall).

Still, we are a society on the go, so actually seeing a movie these days isn’t necessarily a prerequisite to reviewing a movie.  I’ve seen the trailer and the documentary videos about the movie. 

2000 Mules is cinematic portrayal of findings by the leaders of “True the Vote.”  I know plenty about True the Vote but my latest experiences with True the Vote have come from numerous open records requests they have made of North Dakota in the past two years.  These requests have been similar, and involved voter registration, which North Dakota does not have. 

That makes sense.  In fairness, the organization isn’t called True the Registration, or True the Voter.  Apparently, only the vote is in their truth wheelhouse.

2000 Mules reminds me of the movie 200 Motels by Frank Zappa.  I’m a Zappa fan, but like 2000 Mules, 200 Motels is an often-discussed-but-seldom-seen movie.  It’s a classic movie, but also one I have never seen.  I have the soundtrack, though.  (Zappa is long-dead but I suspect he knew as much about North Dakota voters as True the Vote).

According to Wikipedia, 200 Motels has been “dubbed a ‘surrealistic’ documentary.”

I assume the same can be said for 2000 Mules.

The premise of 2000 Mules comes down to the belief that ballot drop boxes stole the 2020 presidential election.  The dropboxes enabled ballots to be deposited and later counted, and apparently, the maker of 2000 Mules thinks counting ballots is evil.

True the Vote purchased location data tied to cellphones and created intricate backstories of how people crossed paths with dropboxes in five key swing states in the 2020 election.  This location data is combined with some security video showing people putting ballots in the dropboxes, sometimes as the dropboxes were overflowing, and ballots fell to the ground.  This juxtaposition apparently creates some sort of evil narrative.

You know how accurate location data is on your cell phone—Google tells me that I visited a water park 100 times last winter.  (That’s half of 200 Motels!)  Yet, I’ve never been to the water park.

I actually drove by it on my way to the gym down the road.  However, I’ve never been at that gym, so says Google. 

True the Vote claims that this data and images in five swing states prove that the wrong presidential candidate was elected.  Like 200 Motels, though, the storyline just shows unconnected nonsense vignettes, (so says Wikipedia of the Zappa movie).

In fact, while discussing how evil it is that these dropboxes have been fed ballots, the video supposedly raises the concern with the security of the dropboxes, essentially also suggesting that ballots could be taken from the boxes.  Again, unconnected nonsense.

The Associated Press did a good job pointing out that the movie stumbles.  Others have as well, and the very people that the movie is hoping to reach—media pundits—haven’t embraced the movie.  Beyond that, if the facts were so telling, and this was such a bombshell discovery, exactly why would that lead the creators to take several months and create a movie to make money, as opposed to exposing crimes to law enforcement?

The creators claim they did approach authorities and couldn’t get traction.  My suspicion is that no traction was gained because, at the AP says, nothing was proven.

My further suspicion is that the producers saw the money and a willing audience of pillow huggers who would applaud their actions and conclusions without really digging into facts.  It’s akin, in my view, to Bev Harris of Black Box Voting in the early 2000s. Once she had an HBO documentary, “Hacking Demoracy,” in 2006, her profile suddenly was nowhere to be found.  In fairness, she at least made her book available for free, to generate interest.  True the Vote, again, isn’t really True the Marketing.

(Bev Harris also was referenced as a grandmother.  Frank Zappa brought with him the Mothers of Invention.  Portraying yourself as a parent or grandparent is always a good marketing move when questioning elections.  The True the Vote leaders are married but whether or not they have any kids is not…..wait for it….apparent).

Fact is, dropboxes didn’t swing the election, at least the way the creators say.  The fact that communities across the country used private funds to install dropboxes didn’t make dropboxes evil.

While we are making confessions, I must confess that I am not necessarily a fan of dropboxes.  I do believe election offices should have night drops, but dropboxes have become a broad term ranging from night drops at the election office to remote ballot drop-off locations.  Somehow, dropboxes have emerged as yet another political wedge topic, where the Left feels dropboxes represent a constitutional right and the Right, well, actually read the Constitution.

As a local election official, I saw the value of having a 24-hour ballot drop off at our office.  People forget to mail ballots and bring them close to election day, and others feel more secure knowing the ballot was received.  They also don’t trust that the United States Postal Service will competently get their ballot delivered on time, and, as you can search and read in this blog, who would?

We are used to seeing several dropboxes in our everyday life.  They are blue, unattended, and at many street corners.  Older readers might reference these dropboxes by a different name--mailboxes.

Letters often are shoved into these mailboxes and then left unattended for hours before one official comes and recovers the contents, with no check and balance of another employee from another political party in attendance.

What I do like about the notion of election dropboxes is the implied confession, at least an admission, that this whole nationwide Vote At Home push is too much for the United States Postal Service to handle.  The dropboxes provide more assurance than the USPS that the ballots will actually be delivered correctly and expeditiously.  The USPS simply can’t handle the volume of mail that comes from nationwide voting.  Those who say otherwise likely could create a different organization than the creators of this video, perhaps naming themselves False the Vote.

The same people pushing voting at home pushed the dropboxes.  The same people who stress to you that vote by mail is safe and secure, and who tell you that election mail is just a tiny amount of the overall mail, also push dropboxes.  Remember those public service announcements from the USPS that said you must mail Christmas cards by December 15 to ensure they arrive by Christmas?

(One of the great things about the USPS and vote-by-mail, Dear Reader, is that, as evidenced by the question above without a typed answer, often the jokes write themselves).

But back to True the Vote’s problem with dropboxes.

I’ve tried 200 times—nay, 2000 times—but confess to not knowing their point. 

Is it that ballots were delivered?

It is that someone went and gathered ballots on behalf of voters to make sure the voters’ ballots were received?  They could have done this with stamps and a blue postal drop box. 

(And, in reality, the ballots likely would have arrived without a stamp; that’s a little piece of election mail regulations most people don’t know.  The USPS is required to deliver those ballots and charge the election office for postage).

Does True the Vote actually have proof that ballots were prepared illegally?  That seems to be the truth that needs to be sought.

In North Dakota, no one can get a ballot without an application.  The application requires proof of residency and proof of identity, and includes a signature requirement.  The ballots, once issued and returned, contain a place for the voter to sign, and these two signatures are compared.

Vote-by-mail state laws aren’t identical, but they are very similar in most states.  Some states issue mail ballots to all voters, but those are vote-by mail states on the West Coast.  Nearly all states require an application first, and signatures and other identifying information are verified North Dakota has famously been in the news lately for strictly following signature comparisons.

Maybe people who have seen the movie will be able to properly explain the conclusion we are to be left with.  For now, it appears to simply be, “Dropboxes are bad.”

If so, I suspect history will long remember 200 Motels over 2000 Mules.