Home > Humboldt County Elections > Humboldt Election Transparency Project Gets Grant

Humboldt Election Transparency Project Gets Grant

Boxes of Humboldt County ballots from the June 2008 election await scanning. Photo by Tom Pinto.

[Press Release]

The United States Election Assistance Commission has awarded a grant to the Humboldt County Elections Department to further develop and document the processes and software used by the Humboldt County Election Transparency Project.  The $25,000 grant was one of only twelve awards nationwide under the EAC’s Testing and Auditing Grant Program.  Five of the awards went to state-level Secretaries of State and Boards of Elections, including California’s.

The Election Transparency Project was developed by Registrar of Voters Carolyn Crnich, community volunteers and election integrity advocates with the goal of allowing the voters to audit their elections by viewing digital images of the voted ballots. Open source software developed by project member Mitch Trachtenberg was instrumental in the discovery of a problem with the Premier/Diebold election tabulation system, which led to nearly 200 votes not being included in the Presidential Election report of November, 2008.  On further investigation by California Secretary of State Debra Bowen, additional serious problems were discovered with the Premier/Diebold system’s audit logs, resulting in that version’s decertification.

The award to Humboldt County will be used to develop better reporting capabilities for the software as well as producing a training manual to assist those conducting election audits in Humboldt and other counties interested in using the Humboldt approach.

“It’s encouraging to see the federal government recognizing the value in the work we’ve been doing.  We’d love to see more jurisdictions publish ballots for independent counting.  This increase in election transparency imparts greater accuracy and confidence in our election results,” said Tom Pinto, a founding member of the Transparency Project.

Crnich and the Transparency Project have previously been honored for their efforts by the Grace Institute for Democracy and Election Integrity whose mission is to improve public transparency in election processes by developing innovative ways for public citizens to oversee their own elections.

The US Election Assistance Commission grant program aims to develop and document processes and best practices for coordinating quality and cost effective logic and accuracy testing and post-election audits.

  1. tra
    May 23, 2011 at 11:54 am

    Congratulations to everyone involved in the Humboldt Transparency Project. And a special Humboldt Herald comment thread Congrats to Mitch!

    Ensuring that votes are fully and accurately counted — and that the public at large can be confident that these votes are fully and accurately counted — is absolutely vital for democracy.

    Wouldn’t it be great if this innovative approach was adopted statewide, and eventually nationwide?

  2. Charlie Bean
    May 23, 2011 at 12:09 pm

    Good Job Carolyn and others locally working on this project!

  3. Mitch
    May 23, 2011 at 1:38 pm

    Thanks, tra.

    A couple of people not named in the press release are Kevin Collins (our unofficial leader), Scott Menzies, Sherry Skillwoman, Claudio Mendoca (sp?), Parke Bostrom, and Mark Konkler, all of whom have put in volunteer time feeding scanners.

    I know I’m leaving people out, and I apologize for that.

    The simple idea behind the Transparency Project is that once ballots are cast in secret, they should all be scanned and the images made available (using digital signature technology where necessary to prevent undetected tampering), so that anyone who wants to count them can, whether using computer software or their own eyes.

    This federal grant will be helpful in getting the Transparency Project ideas more well-known. The Grace Institute has also provided valuable funding to help spread the Transparency Project idea beyond Humboldt.

  4. Plain Jane
    May 23, 2011 at 2:11 pm

    Congratulations to the Transparency Project and a big thanks as well! “It’s not who votes that counts but who counts the votes” is especially true today with privately owned programs in voting machines capable of changing votes. Remember when election fraud only happened (mostly) in commi-fascist / third world countries?

  5. Walt
    May 23, 2011 at 3:12 pm

    Mitch, is there a way to make your system work with e-ballots? How many jurisdictions use them?

  6. Carolyn Crnich
    May 23, 2011 at 3:13 pm

    Thanks, Plain Jane.

    I wish every jurisdiction had community members who didn’t just gripe about everything government is doing wrong, but offer up reasonable solutions to make our processes better. I am so lucky to have problem solvers as constituents.

    The goal of the Transparency Project is to make the VOTERS – not just computer scientists and statisticians – confident that the results of each election have been accurately counted and reported.

    “It’s not who votes that counts but who counts the votes.”

    I appreciate the confidence the voters have placed in me by making me “the one who counts the votes” – but I like it even more that I am not the ONLY one who counts them.

    Thanks, Mitch Trachtenberg for making your tools available to all of us.

  7. Mitch
    May 23, 2011 at 3:32 pm


    Unless an election system leaves an auditable paper trail, there is no legitimate way to determine whether its results are accurate. Something like the Transparency Project could, in theory, be used on the printed receipts from electronic voting machines. A far better solution is to stick to optical scan voting systems, where the ballot IS the paper trail.

    Fortunately, California’s intelligent and responsible Secretary of State, Debra Bowen, has outlawed electronic voting machines that don’t provide auditable paper trails. The nation should follow.

    The most frightening and significant fight will be over internet voting, which is a complete disaster waiting to happen. Top computer scientists, including the MIT professor behind the encryption system used to protect credit card transactions today, have said flat out that internet voting cannot be made secure using the internet that exists today. That’s not preventing corporate America from pushing it as the latest in convenience.

    And, at the risk of turning the Herald into a bit of a mutual admiration society, I hope county voters recognize how lucky they are to have a transparency advocate like Carolyn Crnich in charge of elections. Many jurisdictions, perhaps most, do not.

    May 23, 2011 at 3:37 pm

    This is a grant funded project which seems appropriate and serves the need of the citizenry for validation of a constitutional process (the right to vote). Good job to those who were involved in this opportunity to be on the leading edge of “election innovation” for a fair election process that can be validated. Thank You to Carolyn and crew.

    I will input that even though criticism occurs more than solutions, it is obvious that before a solution, generally speaking, the problems must be acknowledged through discovery and communications/explanations of the problem….which is critical no matter how its sliced.

    Jeffrey Lytle
    McKinleyville – 5th District

  9. Black-Flag
    May 24, 2011 at 5:47 pm

    yea, like we are to think ballots are really counted and not used as crap paper? You mutants are far too easy to take the bait of kind words, I’ll sell you queers a bridge in mid town NYC if it will make you feel better….get a grip-

    Anti-social being
    Human discharge
    A fascist regime

    We’re fighting in the streets
    Trying to be free
    They say the regime will save us all
    It’s anti-social and gonna fall!

  10. Mitch
    May 24, 2011 at 6:01 pm

    Black Flag,

    Have a nice day! Think kittens. :)

  11. skippy
    May 27, 2011 at 1:33 am

    Congratulations to the Transparency Project and to you, Mitch.

    Both yours truly and the news were slow on this matter until Heraldo righteously hit me upside of the head with timely truthiness today:
    here’s the Times-Standard article on the record to prove it.

    …oh, and volunteers are needed:

    “For his part, Trachtenberg said the Transparency Project is dependent on volunteer work, and he urged folks to contact the elections office to sign up to scan ballots in the wake of the county’s next election.

    ”The largest part of any project like this is grunt work,” Trachtenberg said. “We’re always looking for additional volunteers.”

    Thanks for representing, Mitch. Well done.

  12. Mitch
    May 27, 2011 at 7:01 am

    Thanks, skippy.

    I realize many people in Humboldt and elsewhere are cynical about voting. Still, I think it’s of vital importance that the votes that are cast are counted accurately and in ways that the electorate can recognize are accurate. That means paper ballots that can be verified.

    California fought back the tide of unverifiable voting machines, largely thanks to Secretary of State Debra Bowen. But the next wave — internet voting — is still a very serious threat.

    Because of the need for anonymity in voting, internet voting is a much harder technical challenge than online banking. Top experts in computer science, including the MIT professor who invented the cryptography scheme used in financial transactions today, say internet voting cannot be made secure using the internet as it exists today.

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