Biesecker, NC State Board of Elections & so called vote vendor / ballot printer monopoly

Its really hard to stop misinformation once it becomes viral, even when the paper originating it later runs your op/ed correcting the misinformation. Even when I called the reporter originating the story but he wouldn't listen to what I had to say. So here's my blog on the issue with detailed documentation:

I blogged this on August 6, and my op/ed "Handle ballots with care" ran in the Raleigh N&O on August 13, the misinformation is still running in some papers today.

NC Ballot Printing mess-politics or excuse to gut Public Confidence in Elections Act?

Using theory of Occam's razor, I would say that some media are generating alot of heat but little light. The less simple explanation is that our State Board of Elections Administrative Board is being batted around for political purposes. A second, even worse motive is that special interests want to gut the Public Confidence in Elections Act and lower the nationally acclaimed standards for voting vendors and systems. What questions did the media forget to ask? And what are the answers? Here's a couple of articles and our comments follow:

Ballot printer charges more, has big advantage
August 5, 2010 Raleigh News & Observer
By Benjamin Niolet and Michael Biesecker - Staff writers
A New Bern company has a near monopoly on ballot printing in North Carolina, and the work is costly.

Printelect charges rates that are much higher than those paid by the handful of counties that have found an alternative printer...


Vendor's ballots costly to counties
August 6, 2010 Raleigh News and Observer
It's difficult to calculate what Printelect has made from the state. Wake, Durham and a few other counties have found ways to use a different printer, and their costs are half what other counties pay. In 2008, Printelect charged Franklin County as much as 33 cents per ballot. Mecklenburg paid 30 cents. Durham and Wake, two of the few counties that have found an alternative to Printelect, paid 15 cents and 13 cents, respectively...

The above articles infer that Gary Bartlett "picked" ES&S to be the sole voting vendor. That just isn't true. The article also infers that PrintElect has a monopoly on ballot printing. The above prices, from .13 and .15 cents are extraordinarily low, the prices of .30 and .33 are still good compared to what some other states pay.

New Mexico and other states have a similiar situation where there are few ballot printing companies so prices are more difficult to negotiate. Robert Adams, Deputy Clerk of Bernalillo County New Mexico advises in an email August 6, 2010 that:

"If it is 100 percent pre printed ballots (absentee, early and eday) the per ballot cost for everything provided by AES is $1.26 per ballot."

The cost of ballots in New Hampshire is about $0.23 for a one-page optical scanned ballot using 80 or 90 pound paper and paper sizes ranging from 11" to 17."

The fact is, the State Board of Elections certified 3 different voting vendors in December 2005. I filed a lawsuit against the NC SBoE to challenge the certification of Diebold, ES&S and Sequoia (conditionally). The Electronic Frontier Foundation and Donald Beskins represented me.
[ ] The court ruled with North Carolina State Board of Elections and the vendors were certified anyway.

The NC Coalition for Verified Voting opposed Diebold because Diebold went to court to gut the standards of verified voting law.
[ ]

Our activists around the state, republican, democrat and otherwise urged their counties not to buy Diebold.
[ and
[ December 17, 2005. Warren County NC GOP chair urged the local BOE against buying Diebold. Cited improper certification, questioned ties of SBOE members to Diebold. "Dont Buy Diebold" ]

Diebold fled our state at end of Dec 2005.
Sequoia couldn't meet federal standards and bowed out. ES&S stayed, and their local rep PrintElect DID meet the standards

The NC Coalition for Verified Voting takes allegations of undue influence on our SBoE very seriously. There's no gain from a 10 minute ride on a yacht. Its just not enough to constitute "influence", and if the State BoE wanted to favor one particular vendor, they wouldn't have certified 3 to do business in North Carolina.

Additionally, the choice of vendors was by the vote of the 5 member bi partisan State Board of Elections, after a vote, and following the state's open RFP process. Vendors had to meet state and federal standards to even be considered. Our new state law in 2005 set standards as well as criminal and civil penalties for voting vendors and their CEOs. Diebold didn't like those standards.

The current vendor has acted responsibly and that has been for the better of our voters and our elections. Other states have not faired so well.
[See database of election problems around the country at ]

We would like to see price of ballots come down, but first we need ballots that are printed properly. Other entrepreneurs can open up printing services if they wish to meet the demand, but that can't be mandated by law. There is no law requiring counties to purchase their ballots from ES&S or any other voting vendor.

Do we want to out source ballot printing to China next? Changing voting machine companies won't change the ballot printing situation nor will it improve the quality of our elections.

Competitive bidding for printers has to be very carefully conducted with long lead times (say in the off year) to be effective. Printer tolerances are generally measured in small fractions of an inch. Mistakes are easy to make and hard to recognize with the naked eye. Switching printers in an election year means you might discover printer problems too late in the game to fix them in time for an election. After one or two other printers have blown it, dependable printers tend to get the inside

Ballot printing issues ultimately led to disaster in the Florida 2000 election.

From the August 2007 Dan Rather report on the Florida 2000 election fiasco:

"Sequoia produced the punch card ballots used in the 2000 election in Florida and also markets high-margin electronic vote machines. The company, according to the report, is alleged to have altered its ballot production process for one or more Florida counties and began printing ballots on cheaper and what seven former employees claim to be defective paper along with conspicuously inadequate production specifications. Employees are quoted extensively as having alerted the plant manager to potential problems to the point of refusing to sign off on production runs, but were repeatedly rebuffed."

Thanks to the high standards mandated in 2005, we have weeded out weak and sloppy vendors and mandated accountability. Our statewide undervote rate for president was just under 1% in 2008, down to nearly 1/3 of what it has been in previous elections. In other words, a higher percent of voted ballots for President are being counted than before.
[See Study By Professor at Bard College NY ]

Without the high standards passed in August 2005, North Carolina could have become the next Bush V Gore in 2008, as the election was very close. After 2005 we no longer have: Diebold (14,000 votes not counted on election night in Gaston Co 2004), Unilect (4400 votes lost in 2004), Microvote (salesman bribed former Meck Co Election Director), Hart Intercivic (caused huge undervotes in Catawba County).

Since 2005, we've had good elections. In 2008 Obama and McCain were 14,000 votes apart. Our election audit shows the count to be accurate.
[See An Assessment of the Recount and the Certification of the Election Result for the November 2008 Election ]

The problems that would have caused such a disaster had been weeded out in 2005 by the standards in our Public Confidence in Elections Act.

I believe that the State Board of Elections Administrative Board has operated at interest of voters. In 2008 the State BoE ensured that all counties provided extra voter education regarding NC's quirky straight ticket voting law.

Gary Bartlett (was one of only a handful of State Election Officials) who urged the Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, to have the Department of Defense act as a Voter Registration Agency. The SBoE offered their resources and materials to help the DOD do so. Finally, the DoD for the first time ever agreed to act as a Voter Registration Agency this January 2010.

On Oct 8, 2009 the NC State Board of Elections sent a letter to Robert Gates, Secretary of DOD enlisting their cooperation. An excerpt:

"I request that the Department of Defense, in its operation of military pay/personnel offices in North Carolina, agree to be designated as a voter registration agency. This designation would allow military citizens helped by your agency to be offered the same voter registration services given by state and county public services agencies to the persons they serve. "

I could name other instances of where the NC State Elections Administrative Board has acted in the best interest of our voters, or has acted in an impartial manner, but time does not permit.

Related articles: Printelect Of New Bern: Is It A Monopoly?


Joyce McCloy, Director
NC Coalition for Verified Voting
Winston Salem, North Carolina 27106

About us: The North Carolina Coalition for Verified Voting is a grassroots non-partisan organization fighting for clean and verified elections. We study and research the issue of voting to ensure the dignity and integrity of the intention of each voting citizen. The NC Voter Verified Coalition has consistently fought for increasing access, participation and ensuring the voter franchise. Contact Joyce McCloy, Director, N.C. Coalition for Verifiable Voting - phone 336-794-1240 website


Thanks for the links

With the State BOE meeting happening today, not a bad topic to review with a critical eye.


Yes, thanks.

It's my view that the Board has done an excellent job on administering elections. The things that worry me are all on the quasi-judicial and investigative side of the house ... which has been a never-ending mess of political manipulation.

The problems with SBOE

are not with administering elections.

The problems are the cronyism, which is undisguised, the toleration of sexual harassment, which is appalling, and the efforts to stifle Strach's investigation, which were blatant.

Today, as the board is considering the implications of Strach's supplemental report, an executive session will be called to discuss "personnel" issues, the purpose of which is to demonize, discredit and otherwise call Strach off the case.

They want her head, and I'm pretty sure they'll have it.

why I blogged this today

I found yet another paper repeating the storyline about special favors and ballot printing. Knowing that it wasn't true, and that some would use that misinfo to gut our verified voting law, I posted blog here at BlueNC.

I cannot speak to the other story-lines, just the one that I know and can prove was wrong, false and that was repeated in spite of being faced with the truth and facts.

Speak the truth and shame the devil

I know and can prove was wrong, false and that was repeated in spite of being faced with the truth and facts

Isn't it funny how a poorly researched -- and downright false -- article goes viral, but the correction doesn't?

It'll be great to see more of these types of posts that correct the MSM.

Until then, we'll just keep lapping up their poorly researched lies, rumor, and innuendo.


Beverly wins

But the whitewash at SBOE is a disgrace.

Pat McCrory, Bill Graham and Tom Fetzer win

And wasn't Fetzer on one of those campaigns for a while?

Yes. Yes he was.

Fetzer wins too!

Current version of WRAL article here.

Money (and I mean MONEY) quote:

The elections board voted against fining the other gubernatorial candidates who improperly reported flights.

In summary: The Perdue campaign is the only campaign to be fined when others also improperly reported flights.

Yet Perdue still gets blamed for it all.

Lovely, lovely narrative.


Wrong (again) user.

There is virtually no comparison between the flights unreported by other candidates and those unreported by Perdue. Further, unlike the other candidates, the evidence of intent to conceal in Perdue's case was strong. In fact, it was blatant.

If you think for one moment that the SBOE would not gladly slap fines on the GOP candidates, you have no idea how the place is run.

But then, you're the one who thinks sexual harassment is beneath notice, and that cronyism is just fine.

Fetzer wasn't running in 2004 and 2008. Try to keep up.

Don't be deliberately dense

Fetzer advised Graham. Google it. Better yet, don't. Continue to display your ignorance.

Bartlett's "crony" stipulated to a reporter that he joined others in the office in using a pejorative nickname for a colleague. That was self-evident in the printed story with no need for inside info.

And if the SBOE is a cesspool and nothing but a good ol' boy network, then they should have let Perdue off with nothing and fined the other campaigns, right?


Really, User, what is your problem?

You never really answer anything; you just spit and hiss. (Does it help?)

Um, yeah, Fetzer is a consultant. He advises GOPers. And . . . that means . . . what? Are ya saying he told Graham not to report flights? Are you being deliberately dense?

The problem Perdue has that neither Graham nor McCrory had, was that her people developed a fairly sophisticated system early on for tracking flights. They even had a spreadsheet that *showed* that they were on top of that stuff. Graham was as clueless as they come (as anyone who saw any portion of his campaign could attest) and McCrory almost never flew at all.

But Perdue flew a lot. And Zach Ambrose and Will Polk developed a very elaborate reporting system for tracking her flights. But, oh dear, it would appear that in their zeal to collect as much money as they could throughout the campaign, they were reluctant to disclose that some contributors had exceeded their limit on these in-kind contributions for flights. It would be icky to disclose that. So they didn't. But then, OH MY, along comes Easley's problem with the flights and suddenly Perdue's committee develops a new zeal to be compliant.

Some smart bunny in the campaign realized that since their system for tracking was pretty well maintained during the relevant years, they better not let Strach know about that system. If she knew about that system, it would undercut their "oh dear, we were just so clumsy" excuse for not reporting.

But she did find out. She found out the day before her supplemental report was due that -- oh my goodness -- there was this spreadsheet that the campaign had kept, had been keeping during the relevant years, and that they somehow FORGOT to disclose to her when she began the original investigation MONTHS ago. Remember Farinella's adorable explanation that the reason they didn't disclose the existence of this spreadsheet was "she didn't ask for it?" CUTE.

And isn't it interesting that Zach Ambrose was central to the development of that spreadsheet -- and that John Wallace -- Perdue's attorney -- told Larry Leake that Kim really didn't need to interview Zach Ambrose? WOW, that must have been a strange coincidence. I bet John Wallace just had no IDEA that Zach Ambrose was KEY to the fact that this process for tracking flights had been developed and maintained all ALONG.

It must have been an innocent oversight.

I am guessing that one of the reasons Perdue got fined as much as $30,000 was that there was very clear evidence of forgery on the part of a contributor who claimed that a check to cover one of those originally undisclosed flights was paid by someone else. I suppose that detail was a little too arcane for the media, but it's there in the report.

Don't read the report, User, you'll just have to resort to more scorn for the idea that anyone cares about corruption.


NC Voter's contribution here is invaluable.

The efforts of the N&O to create issues here are irresponsible.Our counties needed help and the General Assembly recognized that and with much effort(and help from Joyce and others) the board has overcome the many obstacles and has run some big and smooth elections.