Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Keys Are On The Hook

I haven’t added an edition to my blog in a long time, so I figure today would be as good as any to rectify that.
Most call this time of year, silly season, others would say, this is when we get to choose those who will represent our views locally for the next 2 – 4 years.  Whatever your view, you decide where this story falls on that meter.

Earlier this week, it was brought to my attention that a room located in the County Administration building, 401 State Street, secured with the new electronic voting machines under lock and key, was entered without authorization.  It is to this point that the story gets murky.  As Minority Leader, it was brought to my attention that the room under lock and key securing the voting machines had been entered back in May without bipartisan authorization from the Board of Elections.  The Democratic Commissioner of the County Board of Elections reported to me, that she and the Republican Commissioner of the Board of Elections had been in ongoing discussions with the Director of Facilities about creating space and a form of security that would require a bipartisan team to enter the space holding the new electronic voting machines.  Once that space was erected, a lock with keys that couldn’t be duplicated was to be put in place, with keys going to the Republican Commissioner and Democratic Commissioner, respectfully.
The lock was put in place and keys were given to each of the Commissioners, with the understanding that work in the space was completed.   One day in May, the Director of Facilities came in and apparently questioned why the room where the voting machines are was locked.  The Board of Elections was under the impression the room was done, the machines were in the space, thus a locksmith was called by the Commissioners of the Board of Elections to put a special lock on the door and keys made.   The Director of Facilities came in and for whatever reason was upset or questioned the lock being put on the door to the room securing the electronic voting machines.  Upon discovering the lock on the door, the Director of Facilities, called a locksmith and had the lock drilled out and removed.   Later the next week to the surprise of members of the Board of Elections, the Director of Facilities and a County Supervisor, came in with 2 new keys and told members of the Board of Elections, “here is your new keys to the room securing the voting machines”.   What the 2 men must not have realized is, at the time of them bringing the new keys into the Board of Elections, a member of the State Board of Elections was present doing an audit.  Given the confusion around the removal of the old lock and installation of the new lock, the auditor from the State felt compelled to note the incident in their report.  It’s from this point that concern for the performance integrity of the voting machines and there security was questioned.  The Democratic Commissioner was very concerned and raised flags about the room being entered without a bipartisan team, how long the room may have been unsecure and who may have entered the room while it was unsecure.   The Republican Commissioner was less concerned, noting in a local paper, “This story is being blown way out of proportion”.   The Republican Commissioner went on to say, he doesn’t believe anything has been done wrong and that the voting machines were never in danger.  The Democratic Commissioner’s opinion differs on the situation, noting, she believes the machines should always be under lock and key that can only be accessed by a bipartisan team to maintain performance integrity of the voting machines. She also suggests, New York State law requires such action be taken.  Again, this is an area where the Democratic and Republican Commissioners of the Columbia County Board of Elections disagree.  This question should be cleared up soon, as soon as the audit from the NYS Board of Elections is finally released to Columbia County.

As Minority Leader, I was asked to look into this issue.  Given, both the Director of Facilities and the County Supervisor present when the Board of elections auditor was here are members of or answer to the DPW Committee, I thought it would be the best place to get answers to the questions I had regarding the whole story.  I attended the DPW Committee meeting with the Democratic Commissioner of the Board of Elections and members of the DPW Committee.  Once the Director of Facilities, finished presenting his monthly report to the DPW Committee, I asked the Chairman of the DPW Committee if I could ask the Director of Facilities some questions around the situation of removing the lock from the room securing the electronic voting machines.   I mentioned to the Director of Facilities the story in which I was given around the locks being removed off the door securing the voting machines, his story differed that which I was given by the Democratic Commissioner.  With all the confusion going on and at times, tempers flaring, it seemed the question I most wanted answered was getting lost. 
As the Chairman of the DPW Committee tried to end the discussion, I said Mr. Chairman, I only need the answer to one question.  I asked the Director of Facilities, “Given you were here trying to get into the room during business hours, did you use a key to take the lock off the door to the room holding the voting machines?  After a long pause, the Director of Facilities said and I quote, “NO”.

I ask you the voters of Columbia County,  if the story went as the Director of Facilities stated it did, why would he CALL a locksmith to take the lock off the door, given he could have just gone  up one small flight of stairs to the Board of Elections and get the keys to enter the room?
I’m definitely not accusing anyone of doing anything nefarious, I’m simply putting this out there.  A locksmith was called, at the expense of taxpayers, to cut a lock off which the Director of Facilities could have easily gone up stairs and gotten the keys to remove, why didn’t it happen that way?

If you are a voter in Columbia County, you too should be asking WHY?