I was reading the Argus this morning, regarding the aftermath of the Government Operations and Audit Committee (GOAC) as they looked into the Audit that the incoming Secretary of State ordered upon her election. And in this morning’s article at the Argus Leader web site, it surprisingly seemed as if it was criticizing Gant’s development of a voting system created to make voting easier for overseas voters.
The Secretary of State’s office under former secretary Jason Gant used more than $500,000 in federal grant money to help 27 active military members vote last year.
The news came during a state Government Audit and Operations Committee meeting Friday in which Gant testified about a report that found he misused federal grant money, overspent the office’s annual budget and couldn’t account for $43,000 in state funds. Secretary of State Shantel Krebs has said the discrepancy has since been resolved.
“I know that 27 doesn’t sound like a wonderful number, but it was a program that 27 people took advantage of,” Gant said.
The testimony comes a day after Gant disputed some of the report requested by Krebs, accepted responsibility for some of its findings and characterized some other findings as accounting or coding errors.
Read it here.
What? That’s what they chose to complain about? Sorry, but criticism should not be leveled on trying to find a better way, especially when we were given a grant for it. Unless we’ve started to punish trying in America.
I was in the SOS office when the federal grant was being discussed in it’s earliest stages, but it wasn’t my area, so I only heard anecdotal information on it. But, I recall it was a competitive grant awarded by the Department of Defense and the Federal Voting Assistance Program to develop a new, more efficient system for overseas military voting.
What we had (and still have) is passable, but there are still flaws, and problems with getting things back on time.
Several states competed for this grant, and South Dakota won funding for a small portion of it. What were the goals of this grant?
As part of the grant application, applicants for the grant proposal were asked to explain how they would:
• Establish and operate successful, sustainable and affordable electronic tools that will improve voting systems for voters protected by Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA).
• Increase the percentage of ballots successfully returned by UOCAVA voters to be either equal to, or greater than, the percentage of ballots returned by the general absentee voting population.
• Reduce the failure rates for UOCAVA voters experienced in each of the various stages of the absentee voting process (such as voter registration, absentee ballot request, blank absentee ballot delivery, absentee ballot marking, absentee ballot tabulation, and absentee ballot return verification). The standard for such reductions is to reduce these failure rates to be equivalent to the level of the general electorate for similar stages in the voting process, and for similar demographic populations.
• Establish and maintain a pipeline of ideas, techniques and best practices of election officials and their services for UOCAVA voters.
Gant said, “South Dakota’s portion of this grant is directly related to how such a system would maintain the security of the electronically marked ballot.”
Read that here. And on that basis, they developed the iOASIS system for military voting. Now, voting using the internet had been attempted before. But, as noted in an article that came out about the time the system was being developed:
The Department of Defense abandoned an online voting project 10 years ago amid concerns that the Internet is not secure enough to build voting systems.
“Election information is subject to change, modification, tampering, loss, whatever, when it’s traveling through communication channels,” said Pamela Smith, the president of Verified Voting, a national group that supports voting systems that can be verified.
Read that here.
The system created under Gant’s direction was developed, tested extensively, and actually used for an election at a time where there weren’t as many people eligible to use it. So, there were about 27 people who used it in an election, where it worked well, by all reports. In fact, the system was up for an innovation award, as well as many other accolades.
The critics of the program are focusing on the numbers and dollar signs, but is that an entirely fair thing? The system developed was by any sense of the word an “experimental” system to see if it could be done, and whether there was an effective method to “maintain the security of the electronically marked ballot.” And despite grousing, no one seems to deny that this experiment – paid for through an outside grant of federal funds – appeared to work.
Innovation in election systems might seem to be an alien concept here in South Dakota, where as recently as twenty or fewer years ago there were areas where people still checked a box on a paper ballot and they were counted by hand.
Somehow, we’ve managed to move from paper ballot, to punch ballot, to optical scan. And in each of those cases, SOMEONE had to figure out a way to do it first. And as it’s been adopted and refined, of course the costs come down. The system developed in South Dakota had as one of it’s top requirements, that it maintain the security of the ballot in an electronic environment. Such innovation isn’t going to come cheap, and I don’t think that was lost on the DOD and others as they laid out money to create the system.
And as explained by “Everyone Counts,” a company in the business of electronic elections solutions, who partnered with the State on the project, the project laid the groundwork for future innovation:
Although the new system streamlines the process on the front-end, it currently still does require the voter to mail their marked ballot back, but according to Lori Steele, CEOO of Everyone Counts, the system provides flexibility and could include electronic return.
“The program in South Dakota does require the voter to mail back the ballot,” Steele said. “In the case of other jurisdictions, the ballots could be returned securely electronically or the voters could even securely return a full ballot package with signature electronically.”
Because the system uses the CAC cards, it is currently only available to members of the military, but Steele suspects that won’t always be the case.
“This will likely, though, be expanded with time. Other jurisdictions could use CAC authentication for any federal government employee working overseas. And the same technology could be used to authenticate civilians with things like driver’s licenses,” Steele said. “Really, this innovation opens up secure remote voting to any voter, anywhere!”
Read that here.
His successor decided to roll back the experimental program in the state, which is certainly her right. But that shouldn’t mean we should damn Jason Gant for trying. Unless, as noted, we don’t try anymore in this country.
If his detractors are going to bash Jason Gant for his time as Secretary of State, I’m sure they’ll have no trouble pointing out his faults. He’s well aware of and openly holds himself accountable for his shortcomings.
But, don’t bash Gant because he accepted a challenge to innovate to help create a system better than the flawed one currently in use. Not everyone cares to be stuck in the past, with a system where in some elections, over 40% of military ballots have to be discarded because they arrive late or suffer other problems.
In many cases, we can curse the darkness, or light a candle.
And in this case, South Dakota lit a candle, and that was a good thing.