July 06, 2005

Report by Evan Davis on Hocking County Rally and B.O.E. Meeting

Report by Evan Davis on Hocking County Rally and B.O.E. Meeting:

I attended the rally in support of Sherole Eaton, the assistant
director of the Hocking County board of elections who was fired after
having drawn attention to suspicious activities at the BOE involving
both a technician from Triad Election Systems and at least two BOE
members around the time of the Green Party's recount and during the 2004

About 35 people gathered in the town square with signs and banners -
most were from the local area. J30 folks Victoria Parks and myself as
well as Dave (Mr. Meetup) Hickman and Connie ( Ms. Backbone) Harris were
there as was Sherole Eaton herself. Sherole was in apparently good
spirits and seemingly good health - full of energy and zeal and very
appreciative of the support.

At about 12:30 we crowded in to the Hocking County commissioners'
office which seats exactly 12 people. The meeting was mostly rather
sedate but the content was fascinating. The Hocking Co. BOE had elected
to purchase Diebold DRE machines for the county without having
investigated ( by their own admission) any other machines. Diebold had
met with the BOE members in a local hotel on two occasions and had sold
them on the new DRE's. The chairperson of the BOE explained that the
HAVA- funded Diebold machines would be "installed" very soon and that
after Diebold had tested them an independent group of testers under
contract with the Secretary of State's office would conduct a "mock
election" on the new machines as a means of verifying their accuracy. I
should note here that I applied for a job with that testing crew last
week but that my application may have been received too late in the
hiring process. The Sec. of State has contracted a company callerd
"Compuware" for the task and that company has, in turn sub-contracted
another firm called XLN Systems in Columbus to recruit and train at
least one of the testing crews.

Another Hocking BOE director noted that under HAVA the number of
machines to be deployed is estimated based on there being no less than
one machine per 175 registered voters but that the available HAVA funds
only allowed the county to purchase 98 machines whereas closer to 150
were needed. The board therefore made a commitment to purchase an
additional 2 machines each election cycle until the requisite number had
been attained. In the mean time two board members suggested doubling-up
precincts ( meaning having twice the number of voters per machine at
some polling places as is prescribed under HAVA). In addition there had
been compliance issues with some of the polling places which did not
meet all the requirements for ADA accessibility and so there was some
discussion about the need to establish new polling places.

The board discussed the need for a secure storage location for
the new voting machines and they explained that the building which
currently houses the county Sewerage and Water department would be
vacated to accomodate both the BOE and their new hardware. There was no
discussion of the cost of relocating the Swerage and Water Dept.

At several points community members politely interrupted the
proceedings to interject comments or concerns. One fellow, a former BOE
member himself, raised a question about BOE member Susan Hughes who, he
said, was illegally seated because she had "retired" but continued to
serve. Ms. Hughes explained that she had, indeed "retired" but had
simultaneously applied for re-employment so as to continue her
eligibility for County health insurance. I should note here that this,
too is relatively routine for state and municipal employees but some
members of the community continue to regard this action on Ms. Hughes'
part with suspicion. Indeed, one person informed me that Ms. Hughes is
currently under investigation by the Secretary of State's legal counsel.
The chair of the Hocking Co. BOE acknowledged the concern and began to
second every motion that came up on the agenda in place of Ms. Hughes,
"because there is a challenge", he said.

Another point of concern was that another BOE employee had been
reported by Sherole Eaton to have used BOE facilities for fundraising
activities benefitting the Republican Party. Specifically, it was
charged, the BOE person in question had made a number of phone calls
soliciting donations and had received gifts of raffle items to be
awarded in a "Chinese Auction" fundraiser for the Hocking Co
Republicans. When this topic was raised a member of the community began
cross examining the BOE official who at one point admitted that she did,
indeed, commit the viuolations in question. The BOE chair replied,
however, that he had issued a policy that no further activities of that
nature were to take place and that he was satisfied that the matter was
sufficiently resolved. This did not satisfy the crowd in the chambers
who began to demand vociferously that the matter be formally
investigated. The BOE responded by agreeing to place the subject on the
agenda at the next regular meeting.

In the middle of all of this Columbus attorney Cliff Arnebeck put
in an appearance wherein he served the BOE officials with a letter from
a local judge preventing the board from taking any action to replace
Sherole Eaton as assistant director. Sherole has a grievance that will
be filed against the BOE and there may be additional litigation to come,
according to some of the community members who were present. While the
injunction Cliff obtained does not reinstate Eaton, it prevents the BOE
from hiring a replacement for the time being. Sherole intimated to me
that the BOE already had a replacement picked out, a part-time BOE
employee who has been an active Republican but who registered as a
Democrat in the last primary election, presumably in order to qualify as
a candidate for Sherole's position. The most the BOE members would say
about Sherole's firing was that they "weren't satisfied with her
performance". A community member pointed out, however, that Sherole had
only recently recieved high praise from the BOE chair for doing an
"outstanding" job during the last election.

I spoke with the BOE chair after the meeting and inquired as to
how the votes cast on the DRE machines could be verified in the event of
a recount. "You're more knowledgeable than I am on that", he said, "I
really don't know. All I know is that they're certified by the federal
government and they're being mandated by the Secretary of State." He
also allowed that while the paper-only system would be the least prone
to error or tampering, the storage of paper ballots would create an
undue burden on the county ( what; would they bump the County Auditor's
office next?) - but also that the old punchcard system was perfectly
adequate in his view and that he resented the Sec. of State. "pushing
(the county) in to something ( DRE's ) that wasn't really necessary".

Incidentally there was also some discussion of some new services
being offered ( for a price) by Triad with regard to voter registration
and record-keeping. Apparently Triad is offering an off-site data
storage and management system that involves the BOE placing all their
voter registration information on a DVD every week and mailing it to
Triad in one of 52 postage -paid envelopes provided by the firm. Other
services include web hosting for the BOE at a cost of $700 a year.

It was nice to see so many people turning out - several Green Party
folks, local Democrats and three generations of Eatons. There is a core
of folks in Hocking County who care deeply about the integrity of their
elections. The spirit of the Voting Rights movement is alive and kicking
in the Hills of Hocking!


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