My turn: Election facts and fiction

Democratic party official's allegations deserve response

Posted: Wednesday, August 16, 2006

I am disappointed with the allegations leveled by Kay Brown, the communications director of the Alaska Democratic Party, in her Aug. 11 article published by the Anchorage Daily News.

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I served with Kay Brown in the Legislature. She was known to be well-prepared. Her article is not.

Ms. Brown's charges deserve a response. Regarding vote-counting machines, they are, of course, mechanical. Just like a pencil could break when the old paper ballot system was used, a machine could break. The division has procedures on how to protect votes if any machines fail. The machines do not have wireless components that can be avenues for hacking and the federal Elections Assistance Commission isn't about to decertify them.

The state's Accu-Vote optical scan equipment, purchased during Democratic Lieutenant Governor Fran Ulmer's tenure and used for the first time in 1998, has been proven accurate during four statewide election cycles, several municipal elections, and five recounts. But Kay Brown now calls them capable of "massive misreporting." That's just not true.

Both the optical scan and touch screen units have gone through extensive testing by bi-partisan boards. Earlier this month, the division conducted a fully successful internal mock election.

Kay Brown expresses concern about "transparency" of elections. On April 20, Whitney Brewster and employees of the Division of Elections provided all-day access to the touchscreen machines at the Alaska Capitol. I was there. This demonstration to the House State Affairs Committee was shown statewide on Gavel to Gavel. The division has provided additional demonstrations across the state and has made them available in the elections offices for people to use them. To my knowledge, not once has Kay Brown questioned the division about their integrity until now.

What she is really saying is that she trusted Fran Ulmer with the equipment, but now somehow she doesn't trust me. She must surely recognize that during my term as lieutenant governor this same equipment was used to re-elect her associate Jake Metcalfe, the chairman of the Alaska Democratic Party, to the Anchorage School Board and Democratic Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich. She's not complaining about those results.

Bi-partisan co-chairmen Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, Lloyd Cutler and Robert Michel oversaw the results of the National Commission on Federal Election Reform, convened following the 2000 elections. Bi-partisan support for the Help America Vote Act in 2002 requires all states to deploy electronic voting machines; and legislation I cross-sponsored with former Rep. Joe Green requires the state to purchase machines to enable blind and disabled voters to vote a private ballot.

Kay Brown and the Democrats are suing the state for confidential information. What they are after in their lawsuit is not just an electronic database "containing ... votes." She wants the user IDs, passwords and modem numbers that the division uses. The division has offered the voter data to the Alaska Democratic Party in an Excel format, but that is not what it wants. Think of it this way - they want the map to the museum that shows where all the security devices are, just not the key to the front door. That's why the division and I have resisted their demands.

Kay Brown suggests a number of "reforms." If Ms. Brown is really serious she would not have presented these for the first time just 11 days before an election. As a former legislator, she understands how to revise Alaska statutes. Asking the division to implement new procedures without proper vetting and testing, and contrary to the law, is unrealistic, and causes me to doubt if her suggestions were really offered in good faith.

As the chief elections official for Alaska, I assure voters that the Division of Elections will continue to follow the law. I am confident in our voting equipment and ability to conduct fair and honest elections.

• Loren Leman, the lieutenant governor is the first person of Alaska Native ancestry to be elected to statewide office in Alaska.

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