Monday, May 29, 2006

Court Commissioner Hiring in Progress:

Court commissioner hiring process on track
By Jim Collar of The Northwestern

Concerns about potential backlogs and delays in the local court system appear to have been alleviated.

Winnebago County is now in the process of seeking out a new court commissioner, as a position will open once Karen Seifert takes the bench in Circuit Court Branch Four in August. Just weeks ago, the county judiciary was prohibited from advertising and filling the job opening until the County Board of Supervisors tackled the 2007 budget.

Judges feared the delay would significantly slow access to the courts given an already understaffed courthouse.

They now hope to hire in June.

Judge Scott Woldt said that if all goes to plan, a new court commissioner should be able to step in once Seifert puts on her black robe. Time remains of the essence, as any private attorney hired for the position would have to close his or her practice.

"That's why we started now," Woldt said.

Court commissioners are hired by the county to handle certain hearings and duties including family court, juvenile hearings, bond hearings and preliminary hearings. They don't have the full authority of judges, who are employees of the state.

County Executive Mark Harris initially chose against filling the vacant position until the county could assess all of its needs in what is expected to be a painful 2007 budget process.

While the county board couldn't prematurely designate funds for the position next year, supervisors did vote this month to seek a new commissioner and support the position for next year.

Woldt said the vote of confidence should allow the county to find qualified candidates. Harris concurred.

"We got what we needed and that was a commitment from the board," Harris said.

Dealing with Deibold flaws...

From Technology Marketing:

Hench, like dozens of other election officials who will be overseeing the use of Diebold machines, received a letter earlier this month informing her that the company had identified a potentially devastating flaw, which could let someone with access to the machine insert a virus into the system.

"It's like holding a loaded gun to your head and saying, 'Well, unless you pull the trigger there's not much risk,' " said David Dill, a Stanford computer science professor who has studied the Diebold machines. Computer experts are not reporting the specifics of the flaw, not wanting to tip off potential hackers on how to corrupt an election.


Thursday, May 25, 2006

Some recent coverage of electronic voting:

Newsweek has a story here:

Will Your Vote Count in 2006?
'When you're using a paperless voting system, there is no security,' says Stanford's David Dill.

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the voting booth, here comes more disturbing news about the trustworthiness of electronic touchscreen ballot machines. Earlier this month a report by Finnish security expert Harri Hursti analyzed Diebold voting machines for an organization called Black Box Voting. Hursti found unheralded vulnerabilities in the machines that are currently entrusted to faithfully record the votes of millions of Americans.

How bad are the problems? Experts are calling them the most serious voting-machine flaws ever documented. Basically the trouble stems from the ease with which the machine's software can be altered. It requires only a few minutes of pre-election access to a Diebold machine to open the machine and insert a PC card that, if it contained malicious code, could reprogram the machine to give control to the violator. The machine could go dead on Election Day or throw votes to the wrong candidate. Worse, it's even possible for such ballot-tampering software to trick authorized technicians into thinking that everything is working fine, an illusion you couldn't pull off with pre-electronic systems. "If Diebold had set out to build a system as insecure as they possibly could, this would be it," says Avi Rubin, a Johns Hopkins University computer-science professor and elections-security expert.

It continues to point out that a paper-trail is needed. That is why Diebold added the recipt printer to the side of the machine. However, as seen in recent use in Pennsylvania, this printer becomes easily jammed, therefore removing the paper trail.

Appleton Post-Crescent has a story here:

New voting machines cast doubt
Systems' security worries counties, municipalities

When they go to the polls in September, disabled adults — no matter what their handicap — will be able to vote independently on new machines mandated by the Help America Vote Act.

But there is much disagreement among counties, municipalities and watchdog organizations about the security and reliability of the votes they will cast.

The state Elections Board has certified four voting systems for use in Wisconsin, starting with the September partisan primary. Using federal money, Calumet County towns and municipalities have opted for machines manufactured by Diebold Election Systems. Waupaca and Outagamie county communities, with the exception of Appleton, are buying Sequoia Voting Systems machines.

Controversy has dogged both the Diebold and Sequoia systems.

Purported security defects with the Diebold machines worried the Winnebago County Board so much it voted last week to reject a $294,000 grant for their purchase. With some additional precautions, however, the state Elections Board says Diebold is secure, and it is the only machine compatible with existing equipment in Calumet and Winnebago county communities.

The only options are to buy the Diebold machines or scrap the counties' existing equipment at a cost thought to be so high no one has dared calculate it.

I am going to interrupt the story here - this is simply not true - we do not have to scrap the entire system if we go with a different type of handicap-accessible machine. The worst case is that we would have 2 totals from each location rather than one. One from the regular machines and one from the accesible machine.

"We've spent a great deal of money and the equipment we have has been proved over and over in recounts," Winnebago County Deputy Clerk Pat Rabe said. "We just had a huge school board recount in the city of Oshkosh and the results are the same."

Likewise, Calumet County Clerk Beth Hauser says Diebold is the only choice that makes practical or financial sense, and she has faith the municipal clerks will follow the state's security recommendations.

Meanwhile, problems with new Sequoia equipment delayed the results of a spring election in Cook County, Ill., for about two weeks. Kristofer Frederick, elections director for the state, looked into Chicago's problems and concluded most involved
administration and coordination. The Elections Board is developing general recommendations for running elections with the new equipment.

Outagamie County Clerk Nancy Christensen says the Sequoia vendor told her many Cook County poll workers didn't have any training.

I am going to stop the article here as well. 2 points - first is that the reason that the school board recount went so well is that we had ballots to count. If there is a printer error, there will be no voter-verified trail to prove voter intent.

2nd - the story quotes "the Sequoia vendor" as providing the information that the machine did not fail, it was the training. This is hardly a reliable source. He (or she) is not an impartial paprty in this. We have seen time and time again in the research of this that the Diebold company reps will say yht sysyems are fixed, yet another problem pops up again and again.

And the most troubling part:

The Diebold machine will print a paper record in the event of a recount. The Sequoia system records voters' choices on the touch screen and a small printer simultaneously. The elector is asked to verify that the two match, then confirm that the choices are accurate. After each vote, the paper advances so that subsequent voters can't see their predecessor's picks. The printed record replaces the ballot in the event of a recount.

The record needs to be printed immediately when the voter casts the vote, and in a secure way that can be saved for recounts and the public record. Anything else is not proper.

Only the ESS machines, which Appleton has chosen, use a ballot, a difference clerk Appleton City Clerk Cindi Hesse says is subtle but important.

"(Without a ballot) there is no actual ability to go over to review what a voter actually did," Hesse said. "The Common Council has given me the directive that a paper ballot in the case of a recount is a very valuable tool."

Amen for common sense - in Appleton.


Monday, May 22, 2006

Milwaukee Jounal Covers Election Problems

Diebold sent a letter to machine owners stating that it "has determined there is a theoretical security issue" and that the "alleged vulnerability could potentially allow unauthorized software to be loaded onto the system."
The probability that unauthorized software could affect an election is considered "low," the letter states, but Bear said Diebold is working on a fix.

Avi Rubin, a Johns Hopkins University computer science professor, notes in a paper written with a colleague that Diebold security issues are "easily the most serious voting machine flaws we have seen to date."

"Where possible, precincts planning on using these machines should consider making paper backup systems available to prepare for the possibility of widespread failures on election day," he said.

They also cover Winnebago County specificly - click here for the full story.


101 things to do this summer in or around the Fox Valley

Here it is! Enjoy!

Friday, May 19, 2006

Voting Machines Added to Legislative Committee Agenda

Here is the agenda. Make it if you can.

There are some supervisors working on a joint Judiciary/Information Systems meeting to discuss this. We are requesting an evening meeting at a location where we can accomodate a crowd.

Please let the chairs of these committees know you support this public meeting/forum:

Judiciary and Public Safety Committee:
Harvey J. Rengstorf
6716 Wentzel Shores Road
Winneconne, WI 54986-9571
(920) 582-4865

Information Systems Committee:
Patrick Brennand (click on his name to send him and email)
251 Ripple Avenue
Oshkosh, WI 54902-8830
(920) 426-5351

Northwestern: County Board Correct to Gather More Info on Voting Machines

I both agree and disagree with individual points made in the article, however, the opening is 100% correct:

Given the questions about Diebold touch-screen voting machines, the Winnebago County Board of Supervisors was right Tuesday to reject accepting a grant for the machines and schedule further hearings on the matter.

The objective of the board's Judiciary Committee over the coming weeks should be to replace rumor and innuendo with information and facts that the board can use to ultimately decide to accept or reject state funding for the machines.


Paper Malfuntion in Diebold Machines

An alert put out on May 16th on the Philedelphia Daily News - this focuses into the problems with the paper voter tape in the Diebold machines:

BREAKING NEWS: 100 voting machines broken

More than 100 voting machines are reported to be broken across the city, the Daily News has learned.

Apparently, the machines were broken when polls opened this morning -- they keep spitting out the paper tape that keeps the tally of the vote. It is the largest breakdown since we started using the new voting machines.


Diebold (manufacturer of the voting machines in question) faces informal SEC inquiry

Diebold faces informal SEC inquiry
Tue May 9, 2006 5:29 PM ET

NEW YORK, May 9 (Reuters) - Diebold Inc. one of the world's largest makers of automated teller and electronic voting machines, on Tuesday said staff at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission have begun an informal inquiry into how the company recognizes revenue.

North Canton, Ohio-based Diebold said it learned recently about the SEC inquiry and is cooperating. The company disclosed the inquiry in its quarterly report filed with the agency.

A Diebold spokesman did not immediately return a call for comment. SEC spokesman John Nester declined to comment.

Diebold has struggled with high manufacturing costs and lower demand in North America for its ATMs. It is incurring some restructuring charges this year as it tries to cut costs and improve profitability.


Thursday, May 18, 2006

More From the Northwestern on Diebold Touch Screens

I think that this is the key line of the story:

County clerks say that any system other than the Diebold touch-screen voting machine wouldn't be compatible with county equipment, would require manual vote tallies from each polling place and would thereby open the door to potentially significant human error.

Here is the issue. If this is a system for handicap voters (a minority of all voters) then I believe it would be OK to hand count those ballots, if this is the only way we can make sure we are using a system that will assure that the vote is cast and counted.

Human error can be corrected if the documentation (a reliable paper ballot to recount) is avalable. The problem with this machine is that it risks machine error - it loses votes - they cannot be recounted.

If there are going to be problems either way, lets select a system that will allow errors to be checked, not lost.


Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Some Info on the Diebold Machines:

The State of Wisconsin Approval Process - key to this is the following part of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA from here on out):

Section 301(3) of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) requires that every voting system used in a federal election:
be accessible for individuals with disabilites, including nonvisual accessibility for the blind and visually impaired, in a manner that provided the same for accesss and participation (including privacy and independence) as for other voters....through the use of at least one direct recording electronic voting system or other voting system equipped for individuals with disabilites at each polling place.

That is where the reqirement that we get some kind of 'touch screen system'.

Because we in Winnebago County use the Diebold Systen now, the product that was looked at was the Diebold TSX DRE.

This has been looked at by many different agencies. The one I quoted in yesterday's debate was the California Secretary of State (16 page report).

Some of the items I pointed out were:

From the data we estimate the Mean Time Between Failures (MTBF) of these machines to be approximately 15 hours under the conditionsexperienced during volume testing. It is unclear what failure rate this might imply for a real election.

We found the many software failures potentially more troubling than the paper jams. It seems likely that further changes to the AccuVote TSx software will be required. Under one possible interpretation of the standards, the failure rate observed during these tests was more than 10 times higher than permitted by federal standards (which require a 163-hour MTBF). The failure to detect this fact during the ITA’s testing process appears to be due to serious defects in the testing methodology specified by federal standards. One lesson of this analysis is that the testing performed during the federal qualification process is apparently inadequate to ensure that voting machines will be reliable enough for use in elections.

We found that there were 34 failures, spread across 29 distinct machines. We classified each failure into one of two categories: (a) printer jams, and (b) software failures, where the touchscreen machine crashed, froze, hung, or reported an unrecoverable error condition. The 34 failures broke down into 14 printer jams and 20 software failures, with 12 machines experiencing at least one printer jam (2 machines suffered from 2 printer jams) and 18 machines experiencing at least one software failure (2 machines encountered 2 software failures). One machine experienced both a printer jam and a software failure.

During a typical election, the polls are open for 13 hours. If the conditions during a real election were comparable to the conditions during the volume test, then we could use the MTBF to estimate the number of failures likely to be observed during an election. For instance, if we assume that we can recover from printer jams, but machines are taken out of service upon any software failures, then such calculations would suggest that almost 40% of machines would experience a software failure and need to be taken out of service, leaving only 60% of machines in working order by the close of polls.

Under these assumptions, some polling places would be left without any working machine by the end of the day. Obviously when the failure rate is this high, recovery from failures is a critical issue.

In general, we are concerned that the prevalence of software failures during the
June 20th test may indicate software quality problems in the TSx. It is possible that these failures are a sign of a large number of other latent software defects. As far as we know, there has never been another volume test of the TSx that tests the machine under realistic conditions, and generally at best spotty records kept of any failures that may occur during elections, so there is no way to know the extent or magnitude of the software quality problem.

Another vexing problem with recovering from software failures is that there is no clear, general way for a poll worker to determine whether the voter’s vote was recorded before the failure. We are very concerned that many of the software failures encountered in the June 20th test violate this crucial requirement. Some of the failures led to a crash after a ballot had been cast; some led to a crash before the voter had begun voting; yet the screens displayed after the crash gave no obvious way to distinguish between these two situations.
What can a poll worker do when they are called over after such a failure?
Recovering from printer jams generally involves opening up the printer unit and manipulating the paper tape. This is a sensitive operation. It is analogous to opening up a paper ballot box in the middle of an election and inspecting and manipulating the ballots contained therein. If not performed properly, this could endanger vote integrity and privacy.

I will have more as I have time. But this is the gist of what I went over last night.


Northwestern Coverage of the Diebold Debate

Winnebago County rejects grant for voting machines
Gannett Wisconsin Newspapers
OSHKOSH — The Winnebago County Board narrowly rejected a proposal to accept $294,000 in grant funding for touch-screen voting machines based on concerns regarding the integrity of the system.

The board Tuesday fell two votes short of the necessary 26 votes required to accept the funding for the purchase of 49 Diebold touch-screen machines.

Federal law will require each polling place to have a machine accessible to the handicapped by September.

While the law doesn't specify the type of machine, Winnebago County Deputy Clerk Pat Rabe said the Diebold model is the only one allowable in Wisconsin that's compatible with county voting systems.

"This is not optional," she said.

Supervisors Bill Wingren and Jef Hall came out strongly against the purchase of the Diebold machines based on issues including reported high failure rates and the potential that the machines could be hacked.

"It's not that electronic voting overall is bad," Hall said. "But this is a bad system."

The board briefly discussed reconsideration of the measure.

Instead, Supv. Harvey Rengstorf agreed to bring a similar resolution up for further
discussion with the county's judiciary committee to learn more about the system and gather additional public input. If passed, that resolution could come back to the full board.


Another step on the Hwy G/41 Interchange

Highway panel backs 41 interchange study
By Alex Hummel of The Northwestern

It would be years before drivers see the benefits, but Winnebago County's $72,800 for a study pinpointing a new U.S. Highway 41 interchange between Oshkosh and Neenah brings the project closer to reality.

The Winnebago County Highway Committee agreed unanimously Tuesday morning to use $72,800 from the sale of a Winchester highway garage property to match Neenah's funding for a key study to determine the need for and impact of a huge interchange at or near County Trunk G.

Highway and local government officials cite the need for a new U.S. 41 interchange between those at State Highway 76 and Breezewood Lane-Bell Street
because of traffic backups and the need to improve access to Neenah's southern industrial park.

Without the study, the project goes nowhere, county officials have stressed.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Tonight's Meeting

We voted to keep the Court Commissioner (advisory only) and voted down the Diebold machines.

Good meeting overall.

I will have a complete recap tomorrow.


Monday, May 15, 2006

Geek Alert - Here ia a great article on a way Winnebago County saves money and gives better service:

We saw a presentation on FoxComm at the last board meeting.

Here is a long, geeky article on it.

Harris on the Proposed 41/G Interchange

Here is the story from today's Northwestern.

A new U.S. Highway 41 interchange between Oshkosh and Neenah deserves serious study and an $80,000 dose of county support given its potential to bolster growth and jobs and untangle traffic jams, County Executive Mark Harris said.

Harris said he is "very much pushing" for the county to kick in $80,000 for such a study to match $80,000 the city of Neenah has already approved for it. For now, the county and Neenah are targeting County Trunk G as the location for what is estimated to be a $17 to $18 million interchange.

"The issue is that it's going to be harder and harder to get federal and state money for projects, and if the opportunity comes up and we don't have a study in hand that explains where the interchange should be and it's need, we'll miss out," Harris said. "If we have any hope of getting an additional exit along that stretch of 41, we need to have a study in hand."

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Fond du Lac County Exec Proposes Closing County Nursing Home

In a memo sent to Fond du Lac County Supervisors, the County Executive is proposing a shut-down of the nursing home.

See below for the memo, click here to see the evaluation of the dedicated staff.

Turn-Over Rate - Rolling Medows - FDL County Avg - WI Avg
Full-time Nurses (RNs) - 100% - 81% - 81%
Part-time Nurses (RNs) - 89% - 79% - 76%
Full-time Nurses (LPNs) - 100% - 71% - 79%
Part-time Nurses (LPNs) - 100% - 72% - 73%
Full-time Nurse Aides - 100% - 91% - 76%
Part-time Nurse Aides - 80% - 64% - 65%

As you can see, they provide a better continuity of care than private homes in FDL County and homes statewide.

TO: Fond du Lac County Board of Supervisors
FROM: Allen Buechel, County Executive
DATE: May 8, 2006


This is to inform you that on Tuesday, May 9, at 2:00 PM I will notify the staff and residents at Rolling Meadows Nursing & Rehabilitation Center that I am recommending that the facility be closed in September 2006. It is my intent to have the recommendation on the agenda to the full County Board at the May 16 session, following a review of the recommendation by the Facilities & Information Technology Committee on May 10 at 4:30 PM.

This is a difficult decision for all of us, and I know that it will be a difficult vote for you on May 16. I am making this recommendation after much deliberation and study. I have attempted to avoid doing so until now; however, it is a decision that must be made.

You may be contacted by family members of residents and/or employees about the closing. Please review the document that I had sent you or you may refer the call to me at 929-3155. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.

FDL County Supervisor Todd Schmitz is asking people to ask questions before this happens, below is his memo. I think the last question is the most important (so I bolded it):

Hello, Please contact your FDL County Supervisor and ask for public hearings and a real debate on weather we should cut more FDL County human services by closing Rolling Meadows (See County Exec Memo below). If you can please attend the Facilities and Technology Meeting scheduled for 4:30 today (it may be the only chance for the public to speak).

Legitimate questions must be answered before any supervisor votes: Has the lack of upkeep at Rolling Meadows hastened the decline in population and fostered a shift to more aesthetically pleasing but lesser skilled nursing, private enterprises? Are private care providers held to the same standards of care as public providers? Who oversees private providers and what are families' options for dealing with poor quality care that might be injurious or deadly? What are the turnover rates in the private sector for employees who provide the most intimate of care? Do low pay and poor benefits packages diminish the quality of care in the private sector? Who will be responsible for our elderly, should the private sector decide their facilities are not profitable enough?

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

May 16th Agenda Is Up

Click here.

Salaries will probably be the most controversial.

I do not agree with some members who may try to not increase only one positions's salary. It is unfair to punish one person you disagree with in this method. In my opinion, it is a politically elected position - if you disagree with the performance, run someone against and take the position. By cutting one position you are punishing future people for the current person's percieved failings. You really need to keep personalities out of this. In my opinion, it is all or nothing for these positions.

Whether to appoint/hire a new Court Commissioner may have discussion as well. My initial thoughts on this are here. I spoke with Karen Seifert about this last night, and still am predisposed to filling this position. It is a public safety issue for me. That is the last place you cut. I will try to get the study/letter/lobbying piece I recieved from the Winnebago County judges on this posted before the discussion. It was pretty enlightening.

I am going to find out more about the voting machines before the meeting and, if needed, will add an amendment to require a paper record ability for any machine purchased.

I would like to see the specifics of the Castle-Pierce contract and bid process as well.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Tour Schedule

The itinerary to the annual tour for County Board Members is out here.

This should be fun and informative. Well worth the vacation day from work.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

I'd Like to See This Happen

The interchange (U.S. 41-County G) also is seen as a way to improve traffic flow on U.S. 41. It would provide another exit and entrance point along a four-lane span between the Jackson Street and Breezewood Lane and Bell Street interchanges that often is tied up by accidents, rush hours and summer festivals and events.

However, there are many questions to be answered. I believe we really do need another interchange between Neenah and Oshkosh.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

County Court Commissioner

Here is an article about the open Court Commissioner position.

I see Mark Harris' line on keeping the position open to save money, however everyone I speak to in the courts says they are overworked. I tend to believe them.

I think if we are to cut, this would not be a good place to do it.

I have not seen the info that came to the Judiciary Committe yet, and need to look into this farther, but my gut tells me it is needed - and should have been in the budget for the entire year.

As I get more info, I will share it...

Also, sorry I do not yet have the notes from the May 2nd meeting posted yet. I have been swamped straight through. They should be up by Friday. It was mostly an informational meeting.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Agenda for May 2nd Meeting

The Agenda is here.

One of the things we are going to go over is:

Report on “Winnebago County Board of Supervisors Ethics Handbook” and open meetings law – John Bodnar, Winnebago County Corporation Counsel

I am going to have a few questions on this. I don't quite understand when you can or cannot discuss board business with people that are board members.

I am also looking forward to:

Report on Medicare Prescription Drug Program – Mark Weisensel, Winnebago County Supervisor of Elderly Services and Candace Corbett, Winnebago County Elderly Benefit Specialist

I have a lot of time and effort put in on this issue over the last few years. Ms. Corbett is an expert on the subject - I am interested in hearing from her.