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March 28, 2024 09:57 AM UTC

‘A Massive & Horrible Conundrum:’ GOP Election Expert Skeptical of His Party’s Plan for Scantron Voting at Assembly

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  • by: Erik Maulbetsch

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

“Please use your #2 pencil to completely fill in the bubble next to my name.”

When it comes time for a party led by election deniers to count ballots, trust is inevitably hard to come by. Chairman Dave Williams, along with former state Rep. Ron Hanks, a fellow election fraud conspiracist whom Williams has appointed Chair of the party’s Ballot & Election Security Committee, are in a tough spot. They must placate the anti-machine majority (in which they claim to include themselves) who insist on hand-counting only, while at the same time attempt to administer a functional election and tabulation process involving thousands of ballots and dozens of candidates, resolutions and committee positions. Their task is made even more difficult in the wake of their last assembly tabulation disaster in 2022, when numerous candidates accused then-Chairwoman Kristi Burton Brown of rigging the electronic vote clickers.

The solution, according to Hanks’ Feb. 16 email to the party? “Two 1970s-technology optical readers from Scantron.”

Hanks went on to explain the reasoning behind this compromise plan:

“There are also time constraints associated with the event location, so should the voting procedure and the hand-counting take longer than scheduled, additional fees will have to be paid, and people traveling from across the state may be inconvenienced,” says Hanks. “For these reasons, old-style optical readers, first fashioned in the 1970s, will be used to provide a preliminary count. Many people will remember these machines from grade school, when we took multiple choice tests and filled in the bubbles with a soft lead pencil. Remember, however, the hand count will prevail.”

The timeliness issues presented by hand-counting were already evident in last weekend’s El Paso County Republican Party Assembly tabulation, which took around three hours to count about 450 ballots. Approximately 3,500 ballots will be cast by delegates at the state assembly.

Fremont County Clerk Justin Grantham, a Republican who is the most recent past President of the Colorado Clerks Association, expressed a number of concerns with using Scantron machines.

“Scantron is great for a single question with single answer among multiple choice, but not for a single question with many answers, which is what will happen.  I could see the simplicity for questions on resolutions such as vote (A for yes) and vote (B for no), [or if] you have one position and less than five candidates.  However, when it comes to electing candidates on a field bigger than five, this will become a massive and horrible conundrum.  Many people run for National Convention and because of that, there will be one question that spreads over multiple lines on the Scantron card.  This causes issues of clarity, issues with spoiled ballots, voter confusion, Teller Committee confusion, and many other issues. “None of the stuff I’ve mentioned above even addresses other issues such; confidentiality, chain-of-custody, programming the Scantron, or proper audits, amongst other issues.  There will be no true audit of the Scantron; it would be a comparison only.  Scantron doesn’t have the ability to capture and store the image and have a cast vote record to audit the original ballot to the machine count, especially en masse. There are so many check and balances in place with an official election. The very fact they removed Peg Cage (who has been Teller Committee chair for years), is unfortunate.  Not to say the next person is good at it or not, but Peg had been in that role for years.  The whole situation is just venturing into the unknown and we are only two weeks away.  I hope it turns out well. “Scantron is minor solution, but at the end of the day, it is not advanced enough to conduct a proper or accurate count and leads to confusion for both delegates and the Teller Committee.  I am not confident enough in Scantron machines being used the way the party conducts its elections at the current time.”

Denver Gazette columnist Jimmy Sengenberger, who reported on this proposal last month, also believes Hanks & Williams’ solution is less than serious.

“Countless studies spanning decades have underscored the mess that is hand-counting America’s multifaceted ballots — a demonstrably less-reliable approach than automated methods, said Sengenberger. “…Let’s be serious: With over 200 candidates vying for 70 national convention delegate spots, this is pure absurdity.”

According to Treasurer Tom Bjorklund, the party “has access to four machines: one rental, one [from] eBay, 1 contracted to buy from Scantron, and one loaner.” The models in question are Scantron Score, which look slightly more modern than the machines readers may recall from their school days, but they still require users to fill out ballots with pencils.

Asked whether he expects pushback from assembly delegates who will be asked to submit votes in pencil to be counted on machines obtained by the party chair who is also a candidate, Bjorkland said the only concerns he’s heard is about using any machines at all.

One of the loudest of the “hand count only” voices is Boulder Republican Peg Cage who until last mon th had run the party’s Teller Committee for several cycles. The Teller Committee is responsible for administering the ballots and counting the votes at assembly. Cage, like Williams and Hanks, is an election fraud conspiracist who believes the 2020 election was stolen. She has also publicly promoted the QAnon conspiracy. A fervent opponent of using any machines to count ballots, she refused to implement Williams and Hanks’ plan.

Williams responded by replacing her as Chair of the Teller Committee with Shawn Smith, an election fraud conspiracist and Jan. 6 insurrectionist who has called for the murder of Sec. of State Jena Griswold.

Williams gave co-chair duties to another conspiracist, Jeff Young, who along with Smith authored a debunked report for the group they worked with prior to Cause of America, the U.S. Election Integrity Plan (USEIP). The report summarized USEIP’s canvassing effort, in which election conspiracists knocked on voters’ doors in Democratic neighborhoods in search of phantom ballots. This project led the NAACP and League of Women Voters to sue Smith and two of his fellow USEIP founders for voter intimidation under the Ku Klux Klan Act.

After her removal, Cage filed a complaint with the party upon learning of the Scantron plan, alleging that their use would violate state and national party rules.

“I am filing a formal complaint with you and the State Executive Committee and reserve the right to appeal to all superior governing bodies regarding the planned use of electronic machines in the elections at the April 6, 2024, Colorado GOP Convention,” wrote Cage. “…It has been confirmed via email with Scantron Corp. that none of their machines, including the “Scantron Score” machine, have open-source coding, therefore their use in CRC meetings is in violation of the 2023-2024 Colorado Republican Executive Committee Policies and Procedures for the Conduct of Elections at Meetings of the Colorado Republican Central Committee… Chairman Williams has dictated the use of Scantron machines and the use of Scantron ballots for the Convention in violation of the RNC RULE NO. 16(f) FILING SUMMARY which was filed with the RNC.”

Cage also wrote an open letter to Smith and Young, congratulating them on their appointments and praising their work with Mike Lindell’s Cause of America group, but urging them to be wary of the Scantron machines and concluding that “my expectations for honest elections are low.”

Neither Williams nor Hanks nor Smith responded to email requests for comment. This article will be updated with any responses received.

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