Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa is debunking a claim that the federal government has transferred authority to count 2012's ballots to a Spanish company.
Ysursa said he was questioned about the rumor last week after at an Ada County Republican breakfast and responded with a joke.
"I just chuckled and said, 'Well, the Basques have been counting 'em for years — ever since Pete came in,'" Ysursa said, referring to fellow Basque and predecessor, Pete Cenarrusa, Idaho's chief election official from 1967-2002.
But Ysursa, a Republican, told me today that assuring public confidence in the integrity of voting is a serious matter. He dug into the issue after I inquired on behalf of a reader.
The reader called saying she'd heard radio talk-show host Michael Savage on KINF 730 allege U.S. votes will be counted in Spain. Depite being determined to be false by the rumor-vetting Snopes.com, the blogosphere is rife with such speculation.
In April, Savage said that a Spanish count is part of President Obama's plan to "steal" the election. His comments have been excerpted on many blogs.
"Did you hear that the Obama administration has sold the rights to processing our election results to a private company?" Savage said. "That this critical component of a free election — the transparent tabulation of votes — will not be handled by individual precincts but by a company over which we will have little control. Did you know about that?"
Ysursa said the rumor was sparked by the acquisition of U.S.-based SOE Software by Scytl, a Spanish company and leader in electronic voting in Europe. Scytl has done work for several states in helping Americans overseas vote.
"States conduct the election, not the federal government," Ysursa said. "The allegations that President Obama ordered the ballots to be counted in Spain — let's just say that's rather hyperbolic. There's absolutely no truth to it."
States still use physical ballots, Ysursa said, noting that predictions of converting to electronic ballots have failed to materialize. That's part because of notable failures, including the District of Columbia's 2010 pilot project for overseas voters that was hacked by students at the University of Michigan within 36 hours of the city putting the system online. Students posted the Wolverine fight song on D.C.'s website.
"Maybe I'm old school, but unless it's 150 percent hack-proof, we're not going to internet voting," Ysursa said.
In Idaho, 25 counties use optical scanners, with ink-marked paper ballots counted by machines operated by county clerks. In 15 small counties, old-fashioned paper ballots are counted by hand, also under clerk supervision. Four counties still use punch-card ballots, also counted by the clerks.
"There are physical ballots and they are counted by the counties," Ysursa said.
For those who still may have doubts, Ysursa said any citizen can sign up to watch the counting process on Election Day. "There are authorized watchers and challengers. It's an open, accessible, transparent system in Idaho, and in the other states."
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