CO.Sec.of State(R) Breaks the law,but that's not the scandal
by wade norris, Sun Dec 09, 2007 at 10:12:49 AM EST
Last weekend, I attended the Rocky Mountain Rootscamp. While there I attended a seminar on the problems of voting machines and general voter fraud by Brad Friedman (http://www.BradBlog.com ) who also showed an excellent documentary film "Uncounted" (http://www.uncountedthemovie.com).
(there will be another blog dealing with this subject later this week, so back to the story here)
While there, I ran into an acquaintance of mine whom I had not seen since the 2004 campaign, Claudia Kuhns. She let me know about a new voter scandal in Colorado.
We discussed a recent audit of Secretary of State, Mike Coffman.
(Indidentally, Coffman won a statewide victory over his democratic opponent, Ken Gordon,by less than 1000 votes, after issues of 4-5 hour long wait in the Democratic voting areas of Denver, Colorado)
But there is more on the REAL scandal below...
It seems Coffman hired people on his staff that broke laws, were unqualified and had conflicts of interest. One of those staff members, Dan Kopelman, while responsible for the voter files of every voter in the state, was, at the same time, employed by his own firm, Political Live Wire. This "outfit" is a partisan, Republican voter data company. (think "Choicepoint")
In short, for 5 months,Kopelman had full access to every voter's history in the state, which is in the least, a conflict of interest.
Section 24-50-117, C.R.S., states that "no employee shall engage in
any employment or activity that creates a conflict of interest with his duties as a state
employee." Pursuant to this statute, the State Personnel Board adopted Rule 1-13:
No employee is allowed to engage in any outside employment or
other activity that is directly incompatible with the duties and
responsibilities of the employee's state position, including any
business transaction, private business relationship, or ownership. An
employee shall give advance notice to the appointing authority and
take necessary steps to avoid direct conflict between the employee's
state position and outside employment or other activity.
Coffman apparently knew of these conflicts and did nothing to stop it.
The audit report was requested by the watchdog group Colorado Ethics Watch. I had the privelege of interviewing Chantell Taylor, director of Ethics Watch, this past summer when this story was just starting to come to light, thanks to the Ethics Watch's work.
Here is their statement...
"As we expected, the auditor found that Dan Kopelman violated state law by operating a partisan political side business while employed with the secretary of state's office. But more significantly, the auditor's report agreed with Ethics Watch that Secretary Coffman shares responsibility for these violations. Sec. Coffman was aware that employees had outside businesses and did nothing."
More importantly, the real potential for crime was in the open access to the laptops and voting files in the Secretary of State's office.
From Colorado Confidential's
The auditor did find...that the way the computer system was managed left it vulnerable to abuse. They found unauthorized access to the secretary of state's computer system and the use of personal laptop computers by users of that system. Use of laptops on the system can make it vulnerable to viruses and unlawful access.
The most pressing issues in this audit are as follows:
1.Did Kopelman make money from this conflict of interest?
No, or at least there is no evidence of this, even though the Sec. of State knew he was running an outside business directly related to the voter files.
2. Did Coffman break the law by not stopping Kopelman from doing this?
From Chantel Taylor...
"Although Sec. Coffman attempted to address the issue after the fact by adopting an internal policy regarding partisan activities of employees, the auditor's office said his policy was inadequate to correct the problem. Based on these findings, Sec. Coffman needs to be held accountable for his violations of state law."
3. Was the integrity of our votes violated by the open access to the Secretary of State's voter files?
We don't know, but as Brad Friedman says, we should not have to "trust" that our elections are sound, we should have a system of verifiable checks to prove the accuracy of our election process. But, in my opinion, based on the Republican moves of the Ohio's Ken Blackwell, and Florida's Katherine Harris, I have no reason to trust these guys with my vote or yours.
So I can hear you now, "wade, everyone already knows the Republicans are trying to steal votes."
But this is the REAL SCANDAL of this story...
From the Denver Post...
Audit finds no evidence election worker wrongly accessed data
The audit upholds a finding by Secretary of State Mike Coffman over the side business.
By John Ingold
An audit of the Colorado Secretary of State's office released Monday found no evidence that a state elections employee accessed voter data at work for sale through his side business. Through his website, politicallivewires.com, Kopelman offered to sell targeted campaign data to Republican candidates.
When the allegations against Kopelman -- a former Coffman campaign worker -- surfaced earlier this year, Coffman and a government watchdog group separately asked the state auditor to investigate as part of a broader look at the department's voting programs.
Overall, the audit found problems in the oversight of voter registration drives and maintaining the accuracy of the voter database.
Kopelman has been docked pay and reassigned within the Secretary of State's office.
"If the audit had found wrongdoing, then he would have been fired," Coffman said.
Now I don't know Mr. Ingold, but this article, while reporting the facts, fails to ask the questions that an investigative journalist would have asked.
Instead of the title, "No wrongdoing" (which is untrue, there was a clear violation of conflict of interest), how about a title like "Audit reveals serious questions about voter file integrity" or "Coffman's office leaves voter files vulnerable to attack?" or "Are citizen's votes safe for 2008?"
Instead, there is none of that and the flat denial by Coffman
If the audit had found wrongdoing, then he would have been fired
Right, just like Bush fired Rove?
With the 2008 elections less than a year away, we need the integrity of our voting process ensured so that we can show the world that we can restore our democracy.
There is a pattern here, and it behooves us to have investigative journalists asking the tough questions, not simply acting like the complicit police officer saying
"move along, nothing to see here"
That is the worse part of this story.