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APN 2010 Endorsements Pt. 3: Gail Buckner for Secretary of State

By Matthew Cardinale, News Editor, The Atlanta Progressive News (July 31, 2010)

(APN) ATLANTA -- The Atlanta Progressive News Board of Directors is pleased to announce our endorsement of State Sen. Gail Buckner for the Democratic nomination for Secretary of State.

In 2006, Buckner received the Democratic nomination, but lost in the General Election to Karen Handel, who is currently running for Governor.

She argues voters have now had four years of Republican leadership, or lack thereof, and will be ready for a change. She believes Secretary of State Brian Kemp has essentially been, and would continue to be, a continuation of Handel's regime.

In 2006, APN endorsed Angela Moore for the same position.

This year, Democrats have an opportunity in this Run-off Election to nominate someone for the Secretary of State's office who has made a written promise to institute a paper trail in our voting systems.

As usual, Georgia took the lead nationwide in rushing to institute bad public policy--that is, E-voting machines with no meaningful way of knowing that election results reflect the selections by voters--and Georgia continues to be the only state with statewide E-voting with no audit trail.

Numerous problems chronicled almost exclusively by APN--ranging from citizen reports of machine vote flipping, to election outcomes being determined by several hundred blank votes--continue to plague our electoral process, undermining citizen confidence in elections and indeed in democracy, thus undermining voter participation.

Buckner said she is not sure whether it will be preferable to add a voter verifiable paper audit trail to our current E-voting system, or if it is better to switch to optical scan machines, where voters indicate their vote on paper and then machines are used to read and count the votes.

But she has promised to conduct a top-to-bottom audit of each of the functions of the Secretary of State's office, including the E-voting system.

Buckner has promised to make this audit a public process. "We will keep the public posted about every meeting, we'll set up a special website to post announcements, documents, minutes of meetings, things that we can pull together to keep the public posted. Because I want the citizens to see and hear everything that I see and hear in the process. We will be glad to hear public comment," Buckner said in an interview today.

We were also impressed that Buckner was serious enough about becoming Secretary of State--who is also the official State of Georgia historian--that she enrolled in a Georgia history class at Clayton State University in the Spring 2010.

APN conducted full-length interviews with all five Democratic candidates for Secretary of State this year, being the only publication to provide an in-depth analysis on the candidates' positions relating to elections integrity and other issues.

To be sure, in her original 2010 interview with APN, Buckner did not commit to a paper trail.

However, at some point between that interview and the Georgia Press Club debate, Buckner decided she would in fact support a paper trail.

"Georgia does need a paper ballot... We don't know what technology is on the horizon, but Georgia citizens have expressed their desire to have a paper ballot," Buckner said at the debate on June 27, 2010.

More recently, in an email to supporters dated July 23, 2010, Buckner included "Assure fraud-free elections, institute a paper ballot that can be recounted," as a bullet point in her campaign platform.

We believe that it is not necessarily a bad thing that a candidate's position advances in a positive direction over the course of the campaign. It indicates that they are open-minded and accessible and that they are listening to the people; that they realize they are in fact representing the people.

State Rep. Georganna Sinkfield came in second in the Primary, and faces Buckner in the run-off.

When it comes to elections integrity issues, Sinkfield's positions have stayed the same from her APN interview until now: to not recognize any problem with E-voting and to argue that a paper trail is unaffordable.

"I support creating a verifiable paper trail," Sinkfield said during the debate. "However, given our circumstances, in this state, we own the machines, we paid for them. And also given the economy that we're under I doubt we'll be able to replace those machines at this time. I also found there is no equipment that fits our machines to have a verifiable audit. So therefore, I'll be willing to look at whatever is available electronically and all the new data coming forth and see whether or not that will work," Sinkfield said.

On the other hand, Buckner said in her interview with APN that: "The feds helped get us here. The feds need to help get us out. I won't use money as a reason not to," institute a paper trail.

Sinkfield did fight for State Sen. Vincent Fort's predatory lending bill in the Georgia House, where she also says she was a champion for children's issues.

However, if her strengths are in fighting predatory lending and advocating for children, these are not issues that she would be able to address in the Secretary of State's office, so she probably should have stayed in the legislature.

This is APN's first time issuing an endorsement in a run-off election. This year, APN was not able to reach a decision in time for the Democratic Primary, with the two candidates under consideration being Buckner and Gary Horlacher.

In the 2006 General Election, an elections integrity organization called Count Paper Ballots endorsed Republican Karen Handel over Buckner for Secretary of State.

Today, advocates like Garland Favorito say they were misled and duped by Handel, who they say promised a paper trail but flipped the script once she got into office.

Favorito criticized Buckner in 2006, saying that she opposed while serving in the State House several pieces of legislation favored by elections integrity advocates.

Buckner supported the paper trail pilot project which occurred in three precincts, but opposed an amendment by State Rep. Karla Drenner to SB 500, which would made the program statewide in 2006.

However, Buckner told APN in 2006 "the issue with the different bills... several of them were too complicated. They mandated intricate things that had to happen."

"There was just no way this could be implemented [by 2006]. This was not feasible. If these other bills passed, we wouldn't have ANY paper ballots [not even the pilot in 3 precincts]... because, it would've been held up in court like Voter ID."

In an interview today, Buckner added: "For clarification, SB 500 was offered by State Sen. Bill Stephens a Republican candidate for Secretary of State at that time. I amended it in the Committee to mandate there would be public hearings after the pilot project and that a report would be issued and that the state would pay for the pilot project."

"On the floor of the House, when SB 500 was up for a vote, Karla Drenner put up an amendment to put it statewide. 91 members voted against it, I was one of 91. The reason I voted no was because we really didn't know what we were buying," Buckner said.

As a point of reference, Rep. Sinkfield joined numerous progressive legislators in voting yes on Drenner's amendment.

"I have since got my hands on that [pilot project] report. The purpose of a pilot project is to determine if this is really where you want to go, is this going to achieve what we needed in this state?" Buckner said.

"Based on the three precincts, the answer is no. There were lots of problems with the canisters that they used. The paper jammed. It took a tremendous amount of time to hand count and it was difficult for them to get an accurate hand count. They had to stop and re-start. I think in retrospect it was a wise decision to do the test project in three counties," Buckner said.

"If we had invested all that money to do it statewide and then be totally frustrated with the difficulty it would have demanded to use it, it wouldn't have served the citizens very well," Buckner said.

"Also in looking back I believe a lot of the people who may have wanted to see that go statewide in 2006, from the position we're in now, they can look back and say that was a good decision because number one, the electronic voting machines are not what we need to be using," Buckner said.

"My no vote was not against having a paper ballot. My vote was against not knowing for sure if it [adding printers to the DRE machines statewide] was going to work," Buckner said.

(END/2010)

About the author:

Matthew Cardinale is the News Editor for The Atlanta Progressive News and is reachable at matthew@atlantaprogressivenews.com.

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