January 5, 2008
Opening Remarks by Teresa Hommel
Many Americans are afraid that our country is losing its democracy. Many believe that our elections are tainted by fraud.
The good news is, we can strengthen our democracy, and our country. We can do it merely by participating.
Here's a New York success story, which assumes you know why voter-marked paper ballots and optical scanners are better than Direct Recording Electronic voting machine, called “DREs” or touchscreens.
After the Help America Vote Act passed in 2002, most people in New York believed that New York would replace our mechanical lever voting machines with DREs.
3 years ago, the proposed state legislation required conversion to DREs.
2 and a half years ago, the legislation that passed gave NY counties the choice of DREs or optical scanners.
As soon as that legislation passed, the major vendors in the United States said that they would not submit optical scan systems to New York.
As of yesterday, 5 systems have been submitted to NY State for certification -- 4 optical scan systems and one DRE system.
a. inform yourself about the issue
b. open your mouth and inform others
c. inform yourself about how the government works
d. volunteer to do the work
e. become part of the system of government
f. use your position as an insider to do what's right for our city, our state, and our nation.
One of our problems today is that few people understand what our government is doing, and how the work gets done. This is true in all parts of our government, including how elections are held.
The Task Force on Election Integrity is holding this event in an effort to change that, to inform people about how elections are held. What does the Board of Elections do? What is it like to work there?
I don't want to single out "how government works." Most of us don't know how most things get done. I recently read the "Little House on the Prairie" series of books about life in the midwestern frontier from the 1880s to the early 1900s. The thing that struck me was that people had to work to create everything they had. Want dinner? Dig up your back yard, plant a garden, weed it and protect it from hungry birds and animals, go out and pick some vegetables, find firewood, build a fire, and cook. It took a whole year of effort to eat one dinner.
In contrast, today we can go to a fast food place and get dinner in 5 minutes. We don't have to know anything, because without our knowledge or involvement we can get a hamburger in a white paper bag.
But 5-minute democracy doesn't work. I am especially against "get out the vote" campaigns because they are gradually redefining the citizen's role in democracy as requiring "5 minutes every 2 to 4 years."
The average person has forgotten that inbetween our election days there is an infrastructure and people who work, who do something all year round that results in an election.
Elections come from a continuous behind-the-scenes process that raises its head into public view only on election day. We need to know more about that process.
Today we have Richard Wagner, who will tell us about his work at the NYC BOE, and then Actor and Director Dan Jacoby, will do a dramatic reading of the transcript of the Federal Court session two weeks ago, where the US Dept of Justice and NY State BOE fought over our state’s future voting equipment.
I am so proud to introduce Richard Wagner. I met Richard four and a half years ago when I first became an activist in the election integrity effort against electronic voting. He has been an inspiration and a mentor to me personally.
Richard worked for the Board of Elections in the City of New York for 33 years, and for 33 years he was President of the union that represented Board employees.