San Juan Superior Court Judge Don Eaton issued a letter March 27 ruling VoteHere MiBT (Mail-in Ballot Tracker) is an integral part of the voting system, and required to undergo certification by the Secretary of State. State law prohibits voting systems not certified under the legislature’s program of public examination and expert testing.
The court did not say that the county must discontinue use of the ballot tracker software during the pendency of the case, though that may come up at a later date.
The letter is in response to a citizen suit originally brought by Orcas Island residents Tim White and Allan Rosato in 2006. The two seek to remove the unique ballot bar codes.
The VoteHere MiBT, is a paperless election tracking, processing and auditing software package. A series of processing station time stamps are used to track each ballot from the time it was sent to the voter to the time it was counted.
White and Rosato decided to pursue the suit after intensive sampling of MiBT tracking data posted online by San Juan County in 2005. They say they documented anomalies suggesting inconsistent, impossible and changed ballot tracks for some ten percent of voters: ballots counted before they were received, two ballots accepted from the same voter, ballots received and counted though never sent out, and dozens received and signature-accepted but not counted. The two became even more concerned when, after they presented their findings and the election was certified, much of the inconsistent tracks were suddenly “fixed” with new entries—and then returned to its original confused state two months later.
San Juan County Prosecutor Randy Gaylord says the software works much the same way as the United State Postal Service, UPS or FedEx track the location of packages. “The ballots are tracked, without ever looking at how the ballot is voted,” said San Juan County Prosecutor Randy Gaylord.
Gaylord said that the court did not rule that any ballot had ever been linked to any voter. “In the seven years this case has been underway, the secrecy of every ballot has been maintained."
The ballot tracking system is not linked to the software used to count ballots. “San Juan County uses ballot counting software that is certified by the Secretary of State’s Office,” said County Auditor Milene Henley."
For Rosato, the issue struck to the core of his confidence as a voter: “Not only was the code for this proprietary software not available for public inspection, it hadn’t even gone through the voting system certification process. So how were we, as voters, to know—first of all, that the software was working properly—and second, that it wasn’t being used for other purposes, such as manipulating votes or linking voters to their votes?”
The plaintiffs say the case is spiced with charges that Secretary Reed awarded millions in no-bid contracts to the tiny company, VoteHere, whose chairman and chief lobbyist, Ralph Munro, was Reed’s mentor and campaign chair. VoteHere’s principals also included several U.S. intelligence power brokers, including Robert Gates, former U.S. Secretary of Defense and head of the CIA.
White is ready for change. “We sustained this effort to expose and block the push-button election rigging and secret ballot snooping capabilities we documented. The gavel is down for San Juan and other counties to stop using this rogue voting system. It’s past time to remove unique bar codes from our ballots and to open up this ‘black box’ voting system to public certification testing. Judge Eaton affirmed citizen rights to know how our votes are counted.”
Seattle public interest attorney Knoll Lowney represents White, Rosato and the Green Party of San Juan County, where the voting system was first deployed. Lowney said "It is unfortunate that a lawsuit was required to force the Secretary of State and San Juan County to protect these voters' confidence in the voting system. Every voter should have an equal right to vote on a certified system and these voters were denied that protection."
Henley says record-keeping is essential to fair and accurate elections and to avoid fraud or mistakes. "The ballot tracker software helps to ensure that no ballots are lost and that all valid ballots are counted, and adds confidence to elections," she said.
It is expected the court ruling will be finalized into an order in several weeks. If a trial is held, the Plaintiffs will need to show that ballot barcodes are linked to individual voters.
Judge Don Eaton's March 27, 2013 letter.