On Local Government

Conny’s last hurrah
by Bob Pinzler
Published February 21, 2008

From 1995 to 2007, Conny McCormack was in charge of elections in the largest county in the United States, Los Angeles. There are over four million people registered to vote in around 5,000 precincts, which have to be staffed with (allegedly) trained poll workers each election. It is, without question, a daunting task.

However, perhaps because of her belief in the “specialness” of the county, or just a level of orneriness that was often aimed at her Registrar of Voter (ROV) colleagues around the state, Conny was not known for “playing well with others.” One former ROV called her a “queen bee who doesn’t understand why she can’t attract any other bees to her hive.”

She bristled at being required to meet standards set for lesser mortals, including Secretaries of State (SOS), who are ultimately responsible for the integrity of our elections. In 2003, she was caught using uncertified software on Diebold early voting touch screen machines. Her response was that she had been doing this kind of thing throughout her career, so she should be left alone. Gulp!

Then, when our present Secretary of State Debra Bowen, dared to conduct a complete review of the security of all certified voting systems, McCormack became typically miffed. In fact, Elections Systems and Software, the manufacturer of the Inka-Vote system equipment she chose to replace the chad-burdened punch card system following the Florida debacle in 2000, didn’t bother to reply to Bowen’s request for review.

McCormack didn’t help at all. In fact, she fumed and fussed throughout the entire process. Ultimately, the system was permitted to be used with some added security safeguards. But, that isn’t the end of the story.

When Inka-Vote was introduced, it had a major flaw. It is the only paper ballot in California that does not have the name of the candidate on the paper stock upon which the votes are tallied. Until 2008, this wasn’t a problem, although it makes checking one’s vote a bit awkward, since you have to compare the number of a filled-in oval with its position on the master “butterfly ballot” listing.

The flaw became a huge problem in this past Presidential primary, however. Independent (non-partisan) voters were permitted by the Democratic and American Independent parties to vote in their primaries. However, for their votes to count, the voter had to fill in an oval which indicated their preference. A large majority, estimated at 100,000 voters, didn’t bother. Since the names of the candidates do not appear on the ballot, and because the Democratic and American Independent candidates were, idiotically, positioned in the same numbered ovals on the punch cards, these votes were invalidated.

Acting Registrar Dean Logan, who took office only about four weeks prior to this primary, is trying to figure out what to do, although solutions are not obvious. He is not a novice when it comes to controversy. Logan oversaw the 2006 election in King County (Seattle) when misplaced votes were found that enabled Democrat Christine Gregoire to defeat Republican Dino Rossi by 129 votes.

The Board of Supervisors will be considering a permanent replacement for McCormack. They need to look for someone who understands that an Registrar of Voters’ job is to run unquestioned elections, not be a thorn in the side of the people responsible for election integrity. ER