Friday, May 05, 2006

No Recounts for DuPage County

From your Chicago Tribune:
For decades, the DuPage County Election Commission has failed to seek permission from a state office before destroying key polling machine records detailing how residents voted, said an official from the Illinois secretary of state's office.

Other election authorities comply by asking the Local Records Commission, a division of the secretary's office, said Gloria Huston, archival program administrator for the Records Management Section of the Illinois State Archives.

The Local Records Act states that "no public record shall be disposed of by any local governmental agency unless written approval of the Local Records Commission is first obtained." A violation is a felony, according to state statute. ***

Melissa Urda and Jean Kaczmarek, co-chairwomen of the DuPage Chapter of the Illinois Ballot Integrity Project, a non-partisan election watchdog group, came across the issue as they sought "poll tapes" for the November 2004 election. They were hoping to check the accuracy of optical scan voting machines made by Diebold Inc., a lightning rod for controversy because its former chairman is a supporter of President Bush. They have not been permitted to do so.

Poll tapes are the printouts made from the machines the evening of an election after the machine has read all the ballots and tallied the votes on its internal computer.

"The illegal destruction of records is a breach of public trust," Kaczmarek said. "If the commission has not been following the rule of law, how can we trust how they're conducting elections, particularly when the process is not transparent to the public?"

Neither the administrative nor the election code mentions "poll tapes" by name, but Huston says they are the modern "equivalent of a tally sheet." ***

In most of Illinois, county clerks oversee elections, though there are a few local election commissions. DuPage is the only countywide election commission. Formed in 1974, it is bipartisan and independent, although the county funds its roughly $4 million annual budget.

County clerks regularly seek permission from the state's Local Records Commission to destroy election-related records by filing what's known as a "records disposal certificate" with the agency, Huston said. Individual election commissions, such as those in Aurora and Peoria, also do this. The Chicago Board of Elections has filed 36 certificates requesting permission to destroy records since Jan. 1, 2003, Huston said.

In that same time, the Local Records Commission has gotten 568 requests to dispose of records from government offices in DuPage County, ranging from the Addison Fire Protection District to the county coroner. More than 60 came from countywide offices.

"That is a very good compliance rate," Huston said.

But the county Election Commission has "never filed a records disposal certificate" for poll tapes or any other documents, though it should have, Huston said. The Local Records Act defines public agencies as being "any court, and all parts, boards, departments, bureaus and commissions of any county, municipal corporation or political subdivision."

"It does not say, 'except the DuPage County Election Commission,'" Huston said.

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