Voting anomalies raise issues from the past
Winnebago County election officials attributed a greater number of votes than registered voters in last falls election to differences in voter eligibility status.
The differences in status were between a computer database that was programmed before the election, and last-minute changes in voter eligibility status made by election judges on Election Day.
However, no such anomalies were discovered after examining City of Rockford election records for the same election cycle.
The voting anomalies raise more questions about the wisdom of consolidating City and County election offices, given the election-related petition problems of both the recent and distant past.
These local voting anomalies also call into question the accuracy and trustworthiness of electronic voting machines, just as national voting anomalies are pointed out by Bev Harris of blackboxvoting.org and by James and Kenneth Collier, authors of Votescam: The Stealing of America. That Web site is votescam.com.
Crunching the numbers
The Rock River Times examined election records from the City of Rockford and Winnebago County regarding last falls election. The two precincts where more votes than voters appeared were in the Countys second precinct in Rockford Township, and the third precinct in Owen Township.
In Rockford Township, Precinct Two, 151 total votes were cast in the Illinois 68th State Representative race between Carroll W. Brumfield (D) and Dave Winters (R). However, there were only 146 registered voters programmed in the computer before election day.
And in Owen Township, Precinct Three, 79 total votes were submitted in the Machesney Park speed limit referendum, but only 63 residents were registered to vote.
Margie Mullins, election supervisor for the Winnebago County Clerks office, explained that when some voters appeared at the polls on Election Day, there were omissions on their ballots that indicated they were not eligible to cast a vote in a specific voting district. After the voters questioned their eligibility, election judges determined the voters were actually eligible to vote in those districts, even though the ballot did not list the voting district in question. According to Mullins, those Election Day changes by officials account for the anomaly of more votes than voters.
Mullins said several weeks before the election, voter information, such as the number of registered voters, was sent to the Countys outsourced computer software programmer for electionsFidlar Election Co., of Rock Island in the Quad Cities.
In addition to election-related computer programming services, Fidlar also provides the optical-scan voting machines for areas in Winnebago County outside the City of Rockford.
Fidlar also provides Diebold-brand, touch-screen and optical-scan voting machines to several Midwestern states, including Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin. The company, and its top executives, are frequent contributors to primarily Republican politicians and political causes at the local, state and federal levels.
The area outside Rockford, which is in the area administered by the Countys election office, generally supports Republican candidates, while the city elects more Democratic politicians.
Mullins said the voting deviation was not due to a programming error by employees of Fidlar.
Although a programming error was not attributed to Winnebago Countys voting anomaly, the Quad-City Times reported a mixup in machine programming by Fidlar in a Nov. 13, 2004, article. The article described how Fidlar-supplied optical-scan voting machines mistakenly awarded straight Democratic Party ticket votes to Libertarian candidates in Franklin County, Ind.
The programming error resulted in a Republican candidate erroneously winning a position to commissioner post in Franklin County.
Numerous calls by The Rock River Times to Fidlar executives last November were not returned to explain the programming error. However, according to the Quad-City Times article, Bill Barrett, national sales manager for Fidlar, said of the Franklin County incident: That was an isolated incident in a single jurisdiction.
While no further investigation into the Winnebago County incident is planned by County officials, Dan White, executive director of the Illinois State Board of Elections, said Aug. 31, his agency was going to definitely look into it.
Nancy Strain, executive director of the Rockford Board of Election Commissioners, said they receive their optical-scan voting machines from Nebraska-based Election Systems and Software, Inc. However, unlike the County, she said computer programming is done with in-house personnel, not by the company that supplies the voting machines.
As of January, state election records show Election Systems and Software contributed four times to Democratic candidates and causes, which totaled $1,600 between 2000 and 2003. None of the contributions was awarded to local Democrats.
That contrasts with Fidlars contribution of $18,758 in 19 transactions to state Republican candidates and causes between 1999 and 2005, which does not include Fidlar executives personal campaign contributions. No local Republicans or causes were recipients of the contributions.
Petitions and takeover attempts
Twice during the past 14 months, the question of consolidating City and County election offices was proposed by Winnebago County Clerk and former Rockford Ald. Dave Johnson (R-4).
The first effort was quashed last fall when a hearing notice concerning the consolidation was not published in accordance with state law. The second effort was withdrawn in January after it was revealed in a lawsuit that dead people were listed on the petitions to place the question of consolidation on the ballot for voters.
The Rock River Times research also indicated that some of the petition circulators listed bogus home addresses on the petition (see Deceased voters appear on petition in the Jan. 26-Feb. 1, 2005, issue).
Election-related petition problems are not new in Winnebago County.
According to two articles in the Rockford Register Star from March 16 and April 3, 1979, Michael P. Dunn, current Greater Rockford Airport Board chairman, was former patronage director for Illinois Gov. James Thompson (R). Dunn pled guilty in 1979 to charges of violating the Illinois Election Code by adding false signatures to Thompsons 1978 tax-lid referendum petitions.
According to the March 16, 1979, article: About 200 of more than 400 disputed names in Winnebago County were found on petitions that went through the office of a trucking company called Miller Transportation Co., which was owned by Dunn and his relatives.
As described in the April 3, 1979, article, Dunn and his attorney Paul Cicero, convinced 17th Judicial Circuit Judge John S. Ghent to drop felony forgery accounts in connection with the petitions. However, Dunn was fined $800 for violating the Illinois Election Code by certifying that forged petition signatures were genuine.
Like last winters petition irregularities concerning consolidation of election offices, Dunns petition drive included people who had been dead for years. The petition also listed individuals who said they never signed the document.
In May 2005, Dunn was re-appointed to another five-year term on the Greater Rockford Airport Board of Commissioners, where he is Board chairman. He was re-appointed by fellow Republican and Winnebago County Board Chairman Scott Christiansen.
Dunn resigned within six months of Thompsons first term as governor after the media discovered Dunn made unauthorized use of state planes and had altered a record to conceal one unauthorized stop, according to the April 3, 1979, article. Thompson was governor of Illinois from 1977 to 1991.
Dunns attorney in 1979, Cicero, was hired by Winnebago County States Attorney Paul Logli to represent the County in the 2000 federal jail overcrowding lawsuit.
Candidate and trustee responds
Paul Gorski, Cherry Valley Township truste
e and Democratic candidate for Winnebago County Board Chairman last fall, summarized his beliefs as to the causes and remedies to voting anomalies. Gorski lost a surprisingly close race to the incumbent Christiansen in the County Board chairman race.
Gorski said: I see three possible causes for these vote discrepancies: vote fraud, voter machine failure, or population changes in those townships.
Vote fraud assumes one candidate feels the other candidate is a threat, I dont believe this was the case in my race for County Board Chairman, where I was considered an underdog. …
Voter machine malfunction is a possibility, and seems to have occurred in a number of locations nationwide in 2004. In one instance in Florida, the computers maximum number of voters for a precinct was reached, and the electronic voting machine actually started subtracting voter totals, while continuing to add up votes for candidates, resulting in more votes cast than voters. …
Finally, if a large number of previously registered voters had moved into those townships, and showed up to vote without updating their home addresses, they may have been allowed to vote in their new precincts, causing a difference in the number of registered voters for a given locality.
I havent done a statistical analysis of 2004 vote totals in regards to fraud, machine failure, or population changes to determine the actual cause of the differences. Vote totals in County Board District Six seemed unusually low, given the relatively high turnout countywide. I received phone calls that some voters in District Six precincts were being grilled about their voter registration by poll watchers.
Elections occur so infrequently that confusion is bound to arise. The first step in reducing this confusion is having well-trained poll workers. The second step is making sure voters feel they can report problems, real or perceived, without fear of retribution, Gorski said.
From the Sept. 7-13, 2005, issue