Bill Howell sold out the Republican Party and doesn’t even get his 30 pieces of silver.[read_more]
As previously reported, Speaker Bill Howell last month secured a rules change from the State Board of Elections that allowed him to pour significant resources into 100% electronic absentee ballot applications. Howell’s opponent, Susan Stimpson, filed a lawsuit to block implementation of the rule, both for this election and permanently, alleging impropriety in the way the change was handled in the middle of voting and that SBE exceeded its authority in making the change at all.
Howell, in the meantime, continued unfazed. According to a Washington Post report on May 5, the Virginia chapter of the National Association of Realtors made a $40,000 donation to Howell’s campaign to sponsor online advertising. VPAP reports the donation as having been made May 1. For those in Stafford and Fredericksburg, this has translated into a month of seeing Howell advertisements on almost every webpage with a geo-targeted ad system. According to TBE’s friends in Stafford and Fredericksburg, after the campaign launched its electronic absentee ballot application portal around May 15, the ads were almost exclusively dedicated to driving people to apply for absentee ballots electronically.
This appears to have been one of the worst decisions ever on how to spend campaign cash.
There are smart digital buys, such as Ed Gillespie’s epic $100 spend on Facebook, and then there is the Howell campaign’s effort. If we’re just making a reasonably fair guess, between the coding of the form and setup of the system, half a month of ad buys, and related mailers or door hangers printed, a conservative estimate for the cost of Howell’s online electronically-signed absentee ballot program is somewhere in the neighborhood of $20,000.
According to the Stafford Electoral Board, that whopping investment resulted in just 12 successfully-submitted electronically signed absentee ballot applications for the Stafford portion of the 28th District, which makes up the vast bulk of it, plus another 5 for voters in other parts of the county.
You read that correctly. Just twelve (12). And we are reliably informed that not all of those are even voting for Howell. Assuming conservatively that there is a proportional return on investment from Fredericksburg’s absentees that still only means that well fewer than 20 people were engaged by this effort.
This all tells us three things:
- Bill Howell is not very good at spending other people’s money wisely. Clearly. This is an embarrassment.
- Bill Howell has a problem if all his paid staff and thousands of dollars of ad money can’t engage more than 20 people in his district with this effort. That he is even trying like mad to expand the universe of potential voters this way, and changing his message on taxes in the last month of the campaign, suggests a candidate in a tough race, not a cakewalk. He is not getting the traction certain people believe he is, particularly since Stimpson has been dropping a mail piece every day and is now up on local radio. He’s vulnerable.
- Judas was expensive compared to Bill Howell, whose end run around his own legislative body in a desperate attempt to secure advantage for himself will likely cost the Republican Party big time this year and next. That is, unless Susan Stimpson’s lawsuit is successful. Though this paltry number of votes is unlikely to change the outcome of this race, we hope Stimpson’s action can vindicate the rule of law and put this issue back in the hands of the General Assembly, where it belongs.
When you have eleventy gazillion dollars, what’s a couple of million spent for twelve votes?
If hundreds had used the electronic ballots, you all would have screamed that Howell pressured SBE to help steal the election (which was your last line of attack, oddly enough). Now that those of us who said this wasn’t a big deal and wouldn’t have a massive impact are proven correct, you shift the attack to saying it was a waste of money.
The Bull Elephant staff, as usual, is consistently inconsisnent.
I grant that the majority of people don’t know or care much about the application of electronic technology to the voting process but it will be coming our way in the years ahead and it’s best to at least have some grasp on what it is vs what it is not and how it can be used recklessly, as in the Howell case, in my opinion. If you are not interested you can stop reading here.
The core structure of any “real” electronic election production system will be the signature verification component. In fact if you are familiar with the systems currently in use in various lines of business, such as banks, financial institutions, insurance, retail, customs and healthcare centers around the globe this is the technology BACKBONE of the whole process. The typical high end production signature verification software in use today generally encapsulates more than 100 techniques to extract and analyze characters and traits pertaining to a given signature online and will often flag problems in realtime. These systems are build around a client profile module that maintains signatures, information and account constraints related to an authorized individual, in any absentee ballot example a “district voter module”, comprised of elgible voters and their relevant information, who are permitted to vote in that specified district, and a “database componemt” of existing signatures of corresponding validated voters who are currently authorized to cast ballots. This type of system would also generally come with a ton of support urtilities from import/export tools, list publishing, to the high end systems with their biometric authorization management access. ***This is an electronic signature validation system.*** I’m not sure what Howell’s staff ginned up on his web site but it’s certainly not electronic signature technology for absentee ballots or anything else, I can assured you. He has just muddied the waters on the pro and cons of this type of voter automation and created a needless security issue.
Stimpson is a legend in her own mind. It is no surprise that Tim Edson is running her campaign of ugliness. When you are a empty skirt and can only whine about nonsense to deflect attention away from your own lack of experience in the complexities of governing it demonstrates your weakness as a candidate.
I observed during the Lt Governor race Stimpson making sure everyone saw her walking side by side with Howell in Richmond. She looked like his hand puppet as she was smiling as if saying,”Look at who I am with”.
Whether your a fan of Speaker Howell or not, the last thing we need is another ideologue as a candidate. We saw how well that worked with EW Jackson.
so you’re admitting that whatever you allege Howell intended to accomplish with the electronic absentee ballot piece was a failure on Howell’s part. So you do realize that if Stimpson loses on Tuesday that this invalidates any claim that the SBE ruling adversely affected the race, right? With friends like the folks on this blog, Stimpson doesn’t need an opponent…or a proctologist for that matter. Never miss an opportunity to shut yer pie hole.
Commenting on a prior post, Patrick Murphy estimated Howell’s online system probably took a few hours and a couple hundred bucks. See https://disqus.com/home/discussion/thebullelephant/why_the_sbe8217s_actions_on_absentee_ballot_applications_were_improper/#comment-2042330996
He provided details. You say $20,000 is “a conservative estimate,” with no details. Where did you get that number from?
They’re including advertising costs in their figure, while my estimate only included the system itself (because you can spend whatever you have in the bank on advertising).
Still, you’re correct to question their math. Howell’s campaign could’ve spent $100 promoting the system or $100,000 — there’s no way anyone outside the campaign could possibly know. Like many other flaws with this post, it’s an arbitrary guess designed to incite rather than inform.
I’m glad he wasted a ton of money and drained resources. Still, I hope the courts step in and puts an end to this. It is a TERRIBLE idea. The potential for fraud is enormous.
What enormous potential for fraud? There seems to be zero difference between electronically submitting an application with an electronic signature and electronically submitting an application with a scan of an ink signature.
There doesn’t seem to be a difference because there is no difference — unless you’re the kind of person with an overwhelming anxiety about technological progress and an unbridled fear/animosity for anyone with greater technological ability than you posses.
If you’re that kind of person, the sky is indeed falling, liberal hackers will steal elections, democracy will cease, freedom will be extinguished, and America will be destroyed.
All because we started allowing people to use the same kind of technology they use to sign their name on a terminal at 7-11 when they buy Pall Malls to apply for an absentee ballot. After all, it’s only a few more steps from there that SkyNet becomes self-aware.
Patrick, you have a fundamental misunderstanding. We’re not talking about graphical representations of a signature. We’re talking about someone (who knows who that might be) just typing in a name and calling it theirs, and then potentially having the ballot mailed to an address other than the one on file with the registrar. There is no identification value in a typed name, in contrast to what you’re talking about. You don’t see a difference there?
Steve, what is the difference between forging an electronic signature and forging a physical signature?
Not much, I’ll concede, on an individual basis. But when you’ve got a stack of applications with physical signatures that start to look vaguely similar, you can stop to investigate. I’ve invalidated petitions on this basis. You can’t do that with the kind of electronic signatures applied here, which are just typewritten names.
Clearly we’ve not done as good a job as we should have in making this point, which seems self-evident to me. Thanks.
What seems self-evident to me is that the barrier between “legitimate application” and “massive voter fraud” according to those who oppose this policy change is changing up physical signatures just a little bit.
“what is the difference between forging an electronic signature and forging a physical signature?”
Manually filling out forms, signing them, and then mailing them takes time. You need a significant number of people involved in this type of process in order to make it worthwhile.
A computer, however, can electronically sign thousands of forms in seconds. All you have to do is feed it a list of people who haven’t voted in a few years and you suddenly have a few thousand applications for absentee ballots filled out and ready to go. Plus there is no paper trail. No physical signature to compare. Nothing to signal that this was not a legitimate absentee ballot request.
Steve, I was still thinking about the system I built (using a graphical representation of a signature drawn using a finger on a touchscreen or cursor) that David had referenced in a comment just prior to mine. Sorry that wasn’t clear, I was on a quick late-lunch break from helping Republicans win.
With my system, I don’t see a difference because there absolutely isn’t one.
I would wholeheartedly agree with that, Patrick. Then, my only issue would be that any implementing regulations be done transparently, and well prior to 3 weeks before an election.
I’m sympathetic to the fact Stimpson’s campaign was caught unprepared and it’s not an entirely unreasonable argument, Steve. However, I think it really depends on whether there were any changes to regulation or merely a clarification of existing regulations. There’s a big difference.
Regulations absolutely shouldn’t be changed during an election process, we can definitely agree on that. But, if I’m working on a campaign and preparing to do something that could be illegal, shouldn’t I ask if I’m about to break the law?
I actually ran into that situation back in 2012 while I was running a congressional re-elect campaign. We were just about to do something and realized the FEC didn’t specifically allow or disallow what we were planning, so my candidate went to a FEC meeting and asked for a clarification. Under their interpretation of law, what we were planning wasn’t legal, so we had to abandon the plan. They didn’t change any regulation to make it illegal, just cleared up the legality of something that couldn’t have been contemplated when the prior regulations were decided.
Actually, it is not the same technology they use at 7-Eleven. It is different. The voter does not sign their name using a stylus at their home. They simply type their name and the computer generates at unique key. There is no way to tell if the person requesting the ballot is legitimate. Unlike the digital signature pad at 7-Eleven, their is no handwriting to compare. There is no way at all to determine if the request is legitimate or not.
“If you’re that kind of person, the sky is indeed falling, liberal hackers will steal elections, democracy will cease, freedom will be extinguished, and America will be destroyed.”
You seem rather flippant about the idea of technological interference in the voting process considering the report that was issued earlier this year where it was demonstrated how easy it was to access the wireless network at polling places, allowing access to the voting machines. http://elections.virginia.gov/webdocs/VotingEquipReport/
As someone who has experience with software development, I am not averse to the use of technology in elections, but I do not hold to some Pollyannaish idea that people will not seek to take advantage of technology to alter the outcome of an election.
I see you completely understand the technology. All electronic debit and credit card system’s input actual signatures that can, given indication of fraud be compared to valid on file customer/client signature handwriting, again using sophisticated software to validate and confirm with very high degrees of accuracy. This requires specialized software on BOTH ends of the process. Typically electronic remote absentee ballot inputs are JUST ascii keyboard strokes based on the English alphabet that encodes 128 specified characters into 7-bit binary integers that are transmitted and decoded back to characters on the receiving end. NO actual signature is ever generated or able to be validated. Someone could print your name on the back of a milk carton (except in this case thousands at a time) and forward it as your absentee ballot and it would be just as reliable in confirming that it is actually you preforming the requested action. The vast majority of individuals claiming no problem with this absentee ballot workflow process don’t have a clue what it entails or what they are actually talking about. The bane of today’s world, you don’t need to understand something to be fervently supportive or opposed to it – no understanding required. This is the nasty can of worms Speaker Howell has opened for the Virginia election process.
Like I told Steve, I was talking about the online absentee ballot application system I developed enabling users to physically draw a signature with their finger on a touchscreen or a cursor, a system David referred to in a previous post. Sorry that wasn’t clear, I was taking a quick lunch break (like I am now).
I was being flippant because this is a dumb argument to have less than a week before the primary. We have better things to do.
“There’s collecting, cleaning, and sorting the voter data.”
Any candidate or campaign in VA has access to either the RPV or DPVA databases where that information is already collected. I could pull you a list of people who hadn’t voted in the last 3 or 4 years in a couple of minutes.
“Then obtaining at least the last four digits of each voter’s social security number.”
Any data that would be used to verify that is already in the hands of a government worker, which means it can easily be obtained, especially if you are a Democrat.
“Then setting up a physical network of mailing addresses to receive mailed ballots”
Since the applications go to the different registrars all over the state, I really only need about a dozen addresses to send ballots to. Not that hard to do.
“Then writing a program to propagate each form with an individual’s data, while figuring out how to algorithmically select a valid reason for requesting an absentee ballot”
The form is already digital. Use Adobe Acrobat to create a fillable form, then write a program to pull data from an excel spreadsheet to fill the form and insert the digital signature. The valid reason code will always be “out of town,” which is what about 99% of people list anyway. This would take about a week. Hell I have used report builder software to recreate forms from scratch and save them as PDF’s in just a couple of weeks.
The point you are missing is that this is a “write once, use many” system. Your manual system, while vastly underestimating the time involved (it would take at least 45 seconds to simply print the form and re-scan it, much less fill it out and sign it) takes that amount of time each and every election cycle. Once the system I designed is in place, it can be used over and over and over. Your manual system could maybe generate about 100 forms manually in an hour. I could generate thousands in seconds, year after year, with no physical signature to signal that it didn’t come from the voter.
“Since there’s literally zero black market for election or voter fraud”
Yet it occurs every year. Go figure.
Loudoun: There is no “unique key” with this. It’s just someone typing a name. Patrick: it’s not susceptible to massive, coordinated fraud campaigns. It’s susceptible to lots of little frauds (like the member of my committee who came to me asking what was to keep him from electronically signing for his homebound mother and having the ballot sent to his address instead).
Lots of little frauds are very unlikely to change the results of an election, Steve.
We should absolutely prosecute anyone committing fraud under existing laws, but I don’t believe we should prohibit something when it’s potential for abuse isn’t likely to change the results of an election. Just enforce the laws.
To paint an analogy, it’d be like saying, “we’re closing the freeway because some people might speed.” It’s the wrong response to a potential problem.
And he could also ask what’s to keep him from forging his mother’s signature. Unless there is a reason to investigate, nobody will ever compare those signatures. Those little frauds are just as likely with a live signature as with an electronic one and there is almost no way to stop them without shutting down absentee voting.
There is no greater potential for fraud with an electronic signature.