Monday, October 30, 2006

The numbers I was talking about tonight...

Here is a breakdown of what I was talking about in my sales tax statement.

No matter what, any increase will be off of a smaller base, so therefore no matter the percentage increase, property taxes would always be less:

Property Tax Rates:

Year w/o sales tax w/ sales tax savings
2007 $ 5.00 $ 4.35 $ 0.65
2008 $ 5.10 $ 4.44 $ 0.66
2009 $ 5.20 $ 4.53 $ 0.68
2010 $ 5.31 $ 4.62 $ 0.69
2011 $ 5.41 $ 4.71 $ 0.70
2012 $ 5.52 $ 4.80 $ 0.72
2013 $ 5.63 $ 4.90 $ 0.73
2014 $ 5.74 $ 5.00 $ 0.75

In the example above, we impliment the sales tax in 2007, or we don't. The difference is $0.65 per 1000 0f the tax rate. We then increase both by 2% per year.

In this example, it will will be 2014 before the rate with the sales tax catches up to where it was in 2007 without the sales tax.

In the meantime, the owner of a $100,000 house pays over $550 in extra property taxes.

There would have been real savings.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Northwestern Editorial: County Board Should Question Diebold

The Northwestern is right on in this analysis. Maybe we should have had a real forum and not a sales presentation:

Editorial: Final tally: County fails to deliver on high-tech election equipment

You buy a new DVD player. It's the one with high-quality images that will flow right into your older TV set. So, you get home, anxiously rip open the box, hook it up and press play.

The DVD movie inside is spinning and playing. But there's no picture to the TV screen. Something is wrong. It isn't working like the literature said it would, and it's not your fault.

Wouldn't you be a little miffed if that happened to you?

The problem Winnebago County and Wisconsin had with touch-screen voting machines is about just as frustrating… if you're willing to acknowledge something went wrong, that is.

On Sept. 12, Winnebago County voters and even county board members learned the hard way that the so-called "compatibility" of Diebold Elections Systems' touch-screen voting machines wasn't all that. County and municipal clerks statewide knew scanned paper ballots vs. touch screen ballots would not be compatible in the primary election and would require the manual entering of data collected by the touch-screens.

The touch screen election technology Winnebago County and other counties spent federally-mandated millions on wouldn't flow vote totals into county databases pooling all votes into results. So, clerks typed in the touch-screen totals recorded on paper records.

That's not how Diebold sold it to the full county board.

This morning, a county board committee will take up one skeptical supervisor's call to deny Diebold payment for 50 touch-screen machines. Supervisor Jef Hall argues voters didn't get what they paid for.

It's a debate worth having.

Winnebago County Clerk Sue Ertmer vouches for the system and Diebold. The Nov. 7 general election, she said, will work. Diebold's touch-screen machines will be tested ahead of time. They will "modem" vote totals over phone lines and flow those results into those tallied by conventional optical scan machines – the ones that swallow and tally most voters' ballots.

No hand tabulating. No potential human errors.

But there are still some questions worth asking this morning, including:

E Why didn't our clerks, Diebold or even the State Elections Board's executive director make clear that the compatibility issue would bog down the Sept. 12 election process? One is left to assume that they dared not broach a compatibility shortcoming when "compatibility" was Diebold's chief selling point to Winnebago County.

E Why did clerks in populous municipalities of St. Croix, Chippewa, Dunn and Waushara counties choose non-Diebold touch-screens to complement their Diebold optical scan machines? They have the same ballot-scan stuff Winnebago has, but, they chose a different company for touch screens. Apparently, they didn't buy or worry about Diebold's compatibility line.

There's been much ado about the electronic security of Diebold equipment. An election integrity watchdog has filed a petition with the State Elections Board asking all touch-screens be shelved due to their hack-ability, if you will.

But if Winnebago County's Diebold dilemma is taken seriously, it's not nefarious election hackers we need to worry about.

It's the sales pitches of companies selling us the goods.

Final Thought: There are fair questions to ask of the folks who sold us on the new voting technology we've got.

One correction to this, however. The meeting is this afternoon at 5:00PM, not this morning.


Thursday, October 05, 2006

Northwestern does story on my Diebold resolution:

Supervisor urges county to withhold Diebold payment

Company: Problems fixable for November

By Bethany K. Warner of The Northwestern

Winnebago County Board Supervisor Jef Hall is proposing that the county withhold paying Diebold Election Systems for the county's new touch-screen voting machines because they did not perform as promised during the September
primary election.

Hall, the supervisor for the district that includes much of the central city of Oshkosh, wants the county to sit on the payment for the touch-screen voting machines because those machines did not communicate as promised with the county's existing optical scan voting machines following the September primary election. The county board agreed in June to spend $288,000 for the 50 machines.

After polls closed for the primary election in September, the county clerk had to add by hand votes cast on the touch-screen machines to the totals generated from the county's older optical scan machines.

Hall said that shows that the county was sold on the Diebold system with promises that were not true.

"If we were sold something on a fraudulent basis," Hall said, "I don't think we should pay for them until the time they do as we were told."

The problem on election night, state elections board officials said in September, was that a key piece of technology that allows the two systems to tally results together had not yet received federal or state approval for use in elections.

But the company and local election officials on Monday insisted that the problems were a one-time glitch that stemmed not from the technology, but rather from the design of the primary election ballots. That problem can be corrected for the Nov. 7 election, they said.

David Bear, a spokesman for Diebold Elections Systems, said the optical-scan and touch-screen machines should communicate with each other if the ballots are designed properly. Bear said he was unaware of any additional piece of voting or counting equipment waiting on approval.

"I don't think so. It was a matter of having to layout a ballot to have a special need for write-ins," Bear said.

The problem that delayed final vote totals after the primary should be corrected by November, said Winnebago County Clerk Sue Ertmer.

Ertmer said Diebold has told her that the machines will communicate without a problem with the November ballot. That ballot is currently waiting for state approval.

Ertmer said she knew that results in September would have to be hand-tabulated but acknowledges she did not alert the county board to that fact.

The money for the voting machines will ultimately be reimbursed to the county by the federal government. The county selected Diebold's touch-screen machines to meet a requirement of the Help America Vote Act to provide voting machines that improve access for disabled voters.

Hall's request goes before the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee on Friday.

"They don't live up to their commitment and I think we should hold them to that in Winnebago county," Hall said.


Monday, October 02, 2006

Is this a proper agenda?

From the next Aviation Committee agenda?

5. Discuss & Approve City of Oshkosh Easement Request

Should it really say that they are going to 'approve' on the agenda? 'Discuss and vote' maybe, but I believe 'approve' is not correct.

Deibold Payment on Friday Judiciary Agenda

Here is the agenda.

The meeting is scheduled Friday @ 5:00.

County Exec Mark Harris' Statement on Not Vetoing the Board Resizing

Because of the high interest and controversial nature of resolution 89-92006 (Reduce size of Winnebago County to 36 members) I am taking the unusual step of issuing this press release to explain why I am not vetoing the resolution.

There are four primary issues, which I considered in order to make my decision.
1) Was the Board action consistent with the provisions and intent of the 2005 Wisconsin Act 100?
2) Would the districts created by the reduction of two board seats create an indefensible disparity in population?
3) Was the Board’s vote so inconsistent with the sentiments of the underlying districts or so injurious to the County to warrant reversal of a majority vote?
4) Is there any redress for the citizens whose efforts to reduce the Board have been blocked without a vote of the electorate?

Under the rules of construction one must assign a reasonable interpretation to the language of a statute and all language must be assigned some meaning. Act 100 seems to deliberately provide for a race to the courthouse scenario. It provides “If the number of supervisors in a county is decreased by the Board or by petition under this paragraph, no further action may be taken by the board or by petition … until after enactment of the next decennial supervisory district plan.” Clearly the Boards action was within the rule in the statute. Had the petition to reduce the Board to 19 been completed and filed with the Clerk first, Board action would have been blocked.

It is believed that a 36 district plan that can not change ward boundaries would have a population deviation of as much as 15.8%. This is clearly beyond the 10% that is generally regarded as a safe harbor for minor deviations and it creates a prima facie case of discrimination. However, in the recent case Frank V Forrest County 336F.3rd 570 an 18% deviation was upheld. The deviation here arises from
the provisions of a poorly drafted state statute that does not allow changes in underlying wards. It is unlikely that the districting would loose a challenge unless the statute is found to be unconstitutional. If the statute were thrown out then no change in districts would be allowed between decennial census.

On close examination it appears that the majority of Board members who voted in favor of the reduction to 36 districts represent rural or northern districts. In those districts there is little apparent interest in reducing board size. There seems to be strong sentiments against a reduction of board size in many rural districts. Further I cannot identify any significant injury to the County from their action.

The citizens that seek a large reduction in and reform of the Board can further their cause through electing reform minded candidates in the 2008 and 2010 elections. Even the sponsors of resolution 89-92006 support the continued efforts of the temporary committee and are willing to give fair consideration to board reforms to improve efficiency. They do not however support a large reduction in the Board and believe that their districts oppose such reductions.

While I would have preferred either a reduction to 25 board members or allowing the citizens to proceed with their petition drive, I do not find sufficient justification to cast a veto.