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Recount doubt watch: Hennepin County

Welcome to the first edition of “Recount doubt watch,” dedicated to vetting items that sow doubt about the integrity of Minnesota’s election system.

The claim: Hennepin County’s failure to wirelessly transmit precinct results compromised security, as did letting single couriers transport optical scanner data.

Source: Powerline

The case: According to an unnamed election judge, “What happened on election night was Hennepin County set up the wrong IP address for all the machines in the county. There was no way to transmit the results to a secure off site location. Instead all the precinct’s needed to pull the electronic cards out of the machine, along with the tape, and head to City Hall to consolidate and then have them sent to the County. This means that one person had all the voting results and ballots in their possession for that precinct.

“So it certainly dropped the level of security a level. So in my mind the process was not followed, and the integrity of the procedure was flawed, if not corrupted.”

The response: Jill Alverson is Hennepin County’s auditor. She says several things are wrong with the judge’s testimony.

First, the county didn’t “set up the wrong IP address for the machines” on Election Day. The flaw was discovered during public testing — in front of partisan observers — days before the election. The IP flaw only affected the ability of each machine to clearly identify itself wirelessly, and did not affect tabulation.

Fixing the non-vital flaw so close to Election Day would put the card at risk. So Hennepin County used its backup plan: cards would be delivered to eight county collection sites, where the data was transmitted via county-secured laptop over analog phone lines.

The implication is that somehow not wirelessly transmitting the information reduced security. However, the technique is about speedy results, not security, Alverson says. Hennepin is the only county in the state to send returns over the air. The backup plan is one that the rest of the state regularly uses. So it’s not weird or bogus, unless you believe the rest of the state is corrupt.

Another pillar of doubt: a single judge/courier compromises security.

That does sound like a weak point, but consider what happens before the courier sets off. Three tapes get run before the machines are shut off. In the presence of partisan judges, one copy of the tape and the memory card are placed in the envelope, which is shut with a special seal. The judges sign the envelope.

Everyone who touches the envelope — only election judges, city officials and county staff can do so — signs a log. A county staffer with ID receives the info and transmits it.

For the ultra-paranoid: remember there are multiple copies of the tape than can be cross-checked if anyone messes with the envelope’s contents.

A few hours after the Powerline item went live, another judge wrote in (why don’t these election officials use their names?) to say there are two couriers. Alverson says city clerks may decide on a single-courier model to get info to their city halls.

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Comments (11)

  1. Submitted by Annalise Cudahy on 11/11/2008 - 04:53 pm.

    Thank you. The claim always sounded bogus to me because in Ramsey County we lock up EVERYTHING and it is sent in a special truck to the Courthouse with more Deputies guarding it than you can imagine. So if there is any discrepancy at all it only shows up on election night. End of story.

  2. Submitted by Chris Johnson on 11/11/2008 - 06:43 pm.

    Spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt with baseless accusations? Who would stoop so low? And why?

    Thanks for riding herd on this story, David, and presenting your reading audience with factual evidence.

  3. Submitted by Reggie McGurt on 11/12/2008 - 11:58 am.

    Can you look into this claim, also made by Powerline:

    “Hot off the press, the first apparent evidence of fraud. Last night at around 7:30, a precinct in Mountain Iron, St. Louis County, mysteriously updated its vote total to add 100 new votes–all 100 for Barack Obama and Al Franken.”

    All of the sources I’ve seen all note the 100 vote increase for Franken only, yet Powerline, MN Dems Exposed, etc keep saying that Obama saw a 100 vote bounce too.

    Powerline’s post is here:
    http://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2008/11/022024.php

  4. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 11/12/2008 - 12:34 pm.

    Thanks for digging into this. The additional detail is helpful.

    I have to say, though, the whole tone of your otherwise is that the idea of ANY problem in the process is such a ridiculous notion.

    Where do we go for any journalistic skepticism when it comes to reviewing processes run by Democrats? We have to drag the press kicking and screaming to do legwork. The Strib hasn’t dug in at all on this yet.

    Maybe the right wouldn’t be so paranoid if we felt journalists were performing their watchdog function on both sides.

  5. Submitted by David Brauer on 11/12/2008 - 01:30 pm.

    JB –

    Thanks for the comment. The tone is reflective of all the stuff so far that’s thrown out and not sticking. I am fully happy to acknowledge problems if they can be substantiated, not just speculated upon or inferred.

    I think everyone is watching these processes very closely. I’m specifically addressing the specific objections brought up by non-Democrats, including the Mountain Iron transcription error, but at this point there are only accusations and not proof. The best the Coleman camp has done so far is show the Mountain Iron tape was off by two days. That’s troubling, but not fraudulent. And that’s what’s being alleged.

    Feel free to forward other stuff to dbrauer [at] minnpost.com and I’ll do my best.

    Thanks also for reading.

  6. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 11/12/2008 - 02:00 pm.

    David,

    I enjoy reading your blog, you have your finger on the pulse.

    Perhaps I’m not clear about how you see your role.

    But by the time the claim is “substantiated” you’ve been scooped, haven’t you?

    Isn’t the idea that you use your “nose” for a story to see if there is any “there there”? And if there is then you print it?

    To completely beat this metaphor into the ground, it seems that the traditional Strib-pedigreed press never seems to think anything “stinks” in the DFL. So they don’t dig on stories.

    My personal theory is that everything most journalists think about their profession they learned from Watergate. So in that spirit, did Woodward and Bernstein wait until they had everything on a silver platter, or did they use their noses to unravel it bit by bit.

    Bob Woodward: The story is dry. All we’ve got are pieces. We can’t seem to figure out what the puzzle is supposed to look like. John Mitchell resigns as the head of CREEP, and says that he wants to spend more time with his family. I mean, it sounds like bullshit, we don’t exactly believe that…
    Deep Throat: No, heh, but it’s touching. Forget the myths the media’s created about the White House. The truth is, these are not very bright guys, and things got out of hand.
    Bob Woodward: Hunt’s come in from the cold. Supposedly he’s got a lawyer with $25,000 in a brown paper bag.
    Deep Throat: Follow the money.
    Bob Woodward: What do you mean? Where?
    Deep Throat: Oh, I can’t tell you that.
    Bob Woodward: But you could tell me that.
    Deep Throat: No, I have to do this my way. You tell me what you know, and I’ll confirm. I’ll keep you in the right direction if I can, but that’s all. Just… follow the money.

    WOULD SOME REPORTER PLEASE FOLLOW THE VOTES!!

  7. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 11/12/2008 - 02:49 pm.

    One more comment before I get shut off by MinnPost. This caught my eye–

    Tom Friedman of the New York Times put it this way: “Skepticism is about asking questions, being dubious, being wary, not being gullible. Cynicism is about already having the answers – or thinking you do – about a person or an event. The skeptic says, `I don’t think that’s true; I’m going to check it out.’ The cynic says, `I know that’s not true. It couldn’t be. I’m going to slam him.’”

    I think so many journalists are cynical about Republicans. So reporters abandon skepticism about Democrats in a claim made by Republicans.

  8. Submitted by David Brauer on 11/12/2008 - 03:03 pm.

    JB – don’t worry, you won’t be shut off.

    Skepticism is good. But at this point in the story, I think what’s lacking is the skepticism made about claims that are fundamentally unsubstantiated, inferred, or contrary to the facts.

    Yes, we should be skeptical of everyone, including this reporter. But at some point, you need to advance the story.

    The votes will be handcounted and everyone will be watching. They votes will be followed.

  9. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 11/12/2008 - 04:14 pm.

    In 1972 some Chicago Tribune reporters won the Pulitzer Prize for laying bare the voting fraud in their city.

    Probably wasn’t easy going against the Machine in those days, probably took some chutzpah.

    I just wish we had some reporters like that in this town that would do some digging into this election.

    I’m not saying that it would be as widespread as then, but it wouldn’t have to be. Just a couple of men or women that thought they were serving the greater good.

    In a race likely to be decided by 200 votes, you are telling me that all those 40,000 ACORN registrations are legitimate? That there aren’t 500 illegal votes that resulted out of that? It strains credulity.

    Or that when two Iron Range towns both call in 100 vote bumps for Franken (and no other candidate, except maybe Obama), with all the other statistical anomalies that an outstate journalist had to calculate for us, we should just wait and watch the vote? My friend, I believe that misses the whole problem.

    I’m telling you, there is a Pulitzer waiting for some reporter that would spend some time digging around. Opportunities like this don’t come along very often.

  10. Submitted by Tony Wagner on 11/12/2008 - 09:57 pm.

    JB:

    Your wish for some reporter to uncover massive vote fraud is interesting. But what if there isn’t actually any vote fraud? I know that seems improbable in your world, but I think it is equally improbable that any widespread, organized vote fraud or tampering is taking place under the watchful eye of not only newspaper and TV reporters, both local and national, but also campaign/party lawyers and activist bloggers, any one of whom would become an instant celebrity/hero for life for reporting it.

    Think about this for a second: neither Coleman nor Franken wants to cheat to win this election. They will posture and play games and release attack ads and file lawsuits, but I highly doubt that either of these men or their top campaign advisors want anything to do with actual criminal activity like vote fraud or tampering. If such a thing were uncovered — and we’ve already established the numerous parties who would benefit from such a revelation — it wouldn’t just cost them the campaign: it would quite literally cost them their careers. They would be Tonya Harding, to their opponent’s Nancy Kerrigan.

    Now, consider the other recently suspicious folk: the DFL partisan election worker, up on the Iron Range or around Hennepin County. Let’s assume that one rogue attempts to fudges some ballots or some numbers — that’s still an incredibly huge risk, with extremely stiff and clear criminal penalties. And unlike the candidates, such a rogue election worker would see virtually ZERO benefit. Are they going to tell their candidate or party what they did on their behalf, to collect some reward? Doubtful, and as I noted above, the campaigns would NOT be receptive to this — in fact, the campaigns and other election workers would probably benefit be reporting such criminal acts. And even most partisans understand the tangible difference between two politicians like Coleman and Franken is extremely minimal to the average citizen; certainly it’s not worth becoming a serious criminal.

    So, not only is there still no actual evidence of any criminal impropriety — despite much huffing and puffing and digging — but there is quite literally no one with a reasonable motive (balancing the risk) for such a crime! That’s not to say it’s impossible — that’s why all sides have representatives blanketing the process, which is perfectly fine — but it is highly improbable. And repeating unfounded accusations and demanding more journalistic “chutzpah” doesn’t make it any more probable.

  11. Submitted by chris hatch on 11/13/2008 - 09:30 am.

    @JB,

    it seems like you are guilty of the same thing that you are accusing ALL minnesota journalists with. You seem to be assuming that there has to be fraud occuring, so in the terms you mentioned, you are being cynical towards ALL democrats and the entire process.

    It seems to me that we need to let the recount process play itself out. The Coleman campaign is planning on having lawyers at every recount location in addition to observers (which seems like overkill to me) so any fraud/errors/whatever-you-would-like-to-call-it in the reporting of the numbers will not matter at that point.

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