Bill to Split Vote Tabled

December 14, 2014 -- HB 5974, a bill to split Michigan's Electoral College vote, was set aside for the rest of the lame duck session, but might be resurrected next year.

MERA thanks all the Michigan Election Coalition members who provided testimony opposing HB 5974, and MEC Executive Director Sharon Dolente, whose leadership helped to assure strong and varied testimony. MERA looks forward to working together in the coming year with the same enthusiasm and energy.


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Walt Sorg Testifies on Bill to Split Michigan's Electoral College Vote

November 17, 2014 -- Walt Sorg, MERA Council member, testified for MERA before the Michigan House Committee on Elections and Ethics. The bill, HB 5974, would split Michigan's electoral college votes for president:

"We are opposed to HB 5974 because of the long-term damage it could cause to Michigan’s political influence in the nation, and because it could add needless expense to our presidential elections.

"Influence in Congress comes from the combination of the number of members, and the seniority of those members. Michigan’s gradual loss of influence in Congress caused by population shifts was drastically accelerated this year with the retirement of four senior members: Representatives Camp, Rogers and Dingell; and Senator Levin.

"HB 5974 would diminish Michigan’s national influence even more. The bill effectively puts 1-to-5 electoral votes in contest rather than 16. This reduces Michigan’s influence in electing a President to that of a third-tier state such as Utah, Nebraska or Hawaii and gives far more influence to smaller states such as Indiana, Minnesota and Iowa.

"It also makes the possibility of expensive statewide recounts far more likely because a shift of just 1.5% [as specified in the bill] could switch an electoral vote.

"MERA’s research on aging tabulators, published earlier this year, showed that this is close to the average margin of tabulator error, so unless we hand-counted the entire state we would be allowing the aging machines to influence the election of the President of the United States.

"The bill sponsor has stated that his purpose is to encourage national candidates to pay more attention to Michigan. Even when candidates do not campaign in person, they invest heavily in Michigan to the tune of tens-of-millions of dollars.

"Michigan could lose the bulk of those campaign expenditures simply because the “Return on Investment” is reduced. Instead of spending that money in the hope of winning 16 electoral votes, they would be facing the same media costs for a potential gain of 1-to-5 electoral votes.

"The fact that this change away from winner-take-all is being promoted by the national chairman of one political party, and only being discussed in some states which share a common political profile, suggests the true objective is something other than improving the integrity of the electoral process. If states such as Texas, Oklahoma or Arkansas were also considering this change we would give it more credence.

"As a unilateral action this bill only serves to reduce Michigan’s national influence and the impact of Michigan’s voters on national policy. We urge its defeat."

Additional testimony from the hearing can be found here.

Facing Michigan's Election Cliff

(Lansing, January 8, 2014) -- The credibility of Michigan voting results is endangered by a system relying on aging machines utilizing unreliable technology. These machines produce tabulation error rates large enough to change election outcomes, according to a report from the Michigan Election Reform Alliance (MERA).

Facing Michigan’s Election Cliff cites widespread machine breakdowns along with MERA-conducted random audits showing significant tabulation error rates. It recommends the state transition to a “more transparent, accurate, and verifiable tabulation system” for future elections, possibly even returning to manual vote counts.

As an interim measure, MERA urges “implementation of a program of random hand count audits to verify the accuracy of machine-produced results.”

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Ypsilanti, MI 48198-1246

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“The costs of doing nothing are high, while the costs of addressing the problem are small in comparison, with a high rate of return. Investing in a dependable, efficient vote tabulation system would result in savings of real dollars, an enhanced public perception that Michigan’s elections are fairly and equitably administered, and the certainty that our elected officials are indeed the ones for whom the majority voted.”

Michigan voting relies on optical-scan tabulators. Physical limitations of the technology make the system’s accuracy unreliable, subject to paper jams and misreads of ballots.

MERA has conducted sample audits in both the 2008 and 2012 general elections. (See citizen audit of Allegan Co. elections) Both were presidential elections which have the highest voter participation. The 2008 audit of state election board results in 17 precincts found machine error rates of 0.09% to 0.48%, with an overall average of 0.26%. In a separate ballot count audit, three precincts from the November, 2012 general election showed discrepancies of 0.33% to 0.45%. (More than a dozen races at the sate and county level were decided by a margin of 1% or less.)

“This is not a partisan issue,” noted MERA Statewide Coordinator Jan BenDor. “Everyone has a stake in having the most accurate election counts possible. The current system simply cannot be trusted to tell us the true winner in close races.”

The report also documents large numbers of machine breakdown reports during elections. In 2012, there were at least 783 documented service requests for tabulators. Each service request adds expense and uncertainty to the process. Adding to the confusion and expense has been the introduction of electronic poll books which have replaced printed precinct voter registration lists.

“The 2012 voter hotline reports included numerous complaints about delays caused by failed” electronic poll books, the report notes.

Next Council Meetings

When: Sunday, January 18, 2015. 1-3 p.m. On-line video conference.

Sunday, February 15. 1-3 p.m. On-line video conference.

The public is cordially
invited to attend.

Click here during the meeting time to join a MERA Hangout. You may need to install a plug-in in your browser. The Google Hangout page will alert and guide you.

Current voting systems were purchased utilizing federal funds under the Help America Vote Act at a cost of more than $43-million. Replacing the old equipment would cost an estimated $65 million (including maintenance contracts).

MERA reports that “private meetings on replacing election equipment have been taking place among the Bureau of Elections staff and a small group of hand-picked Clerks. These meetings have included visits to “warehouses” where participants are given sales

demonstrations. Such meetings do not pass the smell test for an equal opportunity procurement procedure, and can hardly be considered a public and transparent decision making process.”

Instead, MERA urges the state to institute an open, public process to consider new vote counting approaches. The system must combine accuracy, security against fraud and manipulation, generate an audit trail, and allow for manual recounts.

MERA suggests a return to hand-counted elections would be more accurate, and also cost significantly less than replacing expensive equipment with newer machines.

See also:
The "Night Shift" interviews MERA's Jan BenDor on the Election Cliff.
The Michigan Election Reform Alliance (MERA) is a non-profit, non-partisan, pro-democracy, grassroots organization dedicated to the realization of election processes that consistently uphold the principles of democracy to ensure the confidence of voters and maximize representation of all citizens of the United States of America.

The full Election Cliff report, is available at:
http://www.michiganelectionreformalliance.org/ElectionCliff.pdf.