About 22 of some of Central Ohio's best election activists showed up Tuesday night, March 6, at the Free Press offices to hear Nancy Tobi of "Democracy for New Hampshire"? speak about how she has managed to develop positive relationships with her election officials and certain legislators to help work together on getting her grassroots organization's election integrity legislation passed.

For three hours she inspired us, complimented us, cajoled us, and listened to our tales of fighting corruption and incompetence in scandle-riddled Ohio. Here are some of the highpoints of her speech.

She started by speaking of "Difficult Dialogues,"? something we all encounter in this movement. She described her own concentric spheres: first herself as a Jewish woman in New Englander country. "Who am I, to presume to take on changing the institution of elections?"? "What are my shortcomings and inadequacies?"? "Why am I compelled to continue this struggle for democracy?"?

Secondly, how do we deal with our families, who want to know, "When is supper?"?

Thirdly, we have to deal with our own groups, who may criticize us"”her own group who elected her the Chair, criticize her for being too edgy! Other election groups criticized her "Request by Voters,"? a response to the Holt bill, because they thought she did not go far enough in calling for hand-counted ballots. She tried to work with Holt's office, but found that they shut down and refused to dialogue with her. Her own legislators eviscerated legislation she had helped write, making her want to throw up her hands and quit in disgust, but her friend advised her, "You must still look them in the eye, and more importantly, they must look you in the eye."?

Her SOS office recognizes the downside of riling up, with stricter directives, the clerks of the districts (counterpart to our Directors of County Boards of Election). They are instead working to pull together a planning task force that invites to the table the Clerks, activists, legislators, and other stakeholders to discuss the issues and reach consensus. Paddy said that in Ohio, we have 88 "Fiefdoms,"? that we walk into at our own peril. Nancy reminded us that the clerks/Directors have legitimate administrative concerns, which we must acknowledge. At this meeting was Grace, an election judge in Licking County, who described the difficulty in running a precinct's election competently and securely, without adding additional burdens to the overworked staff. We must have all the people affected by election changes represented at the table where decisions are made. They are not our enemies, or should not be.

These are examples of difficult dialogues, which have made her journey in election integrity both transformative and spiritual. During her recent observance of Rosh Hashanah, she was led to study the Hebrew book of Solomon. What King Solomon asked God for is usually translated, "Wisdom,"? but the Hebrew is literally translated, "a listening heart."? This revelation gave her great insight into how she is supposed to be having dialogues with all she encounters in this movement. Her dad told her that she must have "magids,"? angels of wisdom, who guide her to the correct people and places in her quest for election integrity and democracy. Some of us agreed later that there is unseen guidance that has helped us find things in the oddest places and circumstances!

Her spiritual guidance must be working because she has been able to work effectively with legislators and officials at both the state and national levels. Nancy has an intriguing balance of feistiness and humbleness. She has a way of both complimenting and cutting through to the truth that gets results. She recently attended the meeting of the National Association for Secretaries of State, and also the meeting of the Standards Board for certification of election machinery. She calls the certification system a "Ponzi scheme,"? because it keeps taking money from the taxpayers, and can never catch up with certifying increasingly complex software and hardware. US election equipment is heading for illegal elections in 2007, because the certification labs will not be set up in time to accomplish certification.

We asked many questions about how NH does its hand-counting. 29% of all the ballots, which are in 45% of the districts, hand-count all the ballots; the rest are by Diebold Optical Scanners. Every district has a box to accept ballots for hand-counting, because absentee ballots come in on election day to the polling sites and write-ins require hand-counting. Nancy's group proposed that any citizen should be allowed to request that their ballot be counted by hand, but the clerks are fighting that one. The hand-counting is done the night of the election and any discrepancies are reconciled before the results are transmitted to the state office. Every election, NH turns away people who want to hand-count, because in the community-based elections there are usually more volunteers than are needed. The counters start at 7 or 8 pm on election night, and take seriously their oath to count honestly. As Nancy pointed out, "A machine can't take an oath."?

It is easy to get a recount in NH and the payment is not required until after the recount and only if there is no change in the outcome. Requested recounts are done on election night, or at least within three days of the election, by NH law.

Nancy's group is striving for "parallel counts"? by hand, even at the polling places that use optical scanners. After all, the NH constitution states that votes must be "sorted and counted in open meeting,"? which would preclude secret vote counting by machine, but as in Ohio, the legislators interpret laws in strange ways. This battle is on-going.

One story Nancy told us of the possible "fraud preventative power"? of a 100% audit of one race, which intrigued all of us is this:

"We had announced parallel election night hand counts of ONE race in an undisclosed number of machine count towns. NH went 100% Dem for the first time EVER, with both houses Dem majority the first time in more than 100 years. We know that Diebold had read our announcement of the parallel counts. But, of course, any inference of influence on outcome is purely speculative."? Here is their memo to would be tamperers:

We Ohio activists got into a discussion of hand-counted audits. What should trigger an audit? What should constitute an effective audit? What is the reconciliation procedure if the count differs? While the majority in attendance are hand-count advocates, Leonard proposed that DRE machines could be revamped to print ballots that are then checked by the voters and optically scanned, or hand-counted. The advantage is in having overvotes and undervotes screened out by machine. The disadvantage is that people do not fill out their own ballots, a point most hand-count advocates are not willing to concede. (Perhaps the OS machine could screen for over and undervotes, to check the hand-count.)

Nancy's critique of the Holt bill is legendary! The main points are that it is an unfunded mandate--states will not be able to afford the equipment, especially the text conversion machine--and that the certification process, obscured by the EAC, which is appointed by the White House, will not be completed on time. People for the American Way got these text conversion machines into the bill. We then discussed accessibility issues. While the goal of having the handicapped be able to vote independently, privately, and easily is a good goal, it is extremely difficult to perfect. In NH, an assisted phone system is used.

This is much cheaper that buying DRE machines for each polling site.

I believe that one of the most important aspects of this meeting was that we had in attendance a member of SOS Brunner's staff, Dave Klein. We invited all of the staff, but Dave in particular was invited by Nancy. What a wonderful example of getting concerned people to the table! Dave stayed the whole time and engaged in conversation with us afterwards about audits and what else can be done for more secure elections. Nancy gave out copies of her booklet, "We're Counting the Votes,"? which can also be downloaded from her website, I am reading it now, and I highly recommend it for clarity in explaining the problems and in its simple solutions. Ohio could easily borrow some of the ideas and directive and legislative language presented here.

May we be able to continue conversations like this, with "listening hearts"?! If it takes an outside dynamic leader like Nancy Tobi to get us to the table, then let's have her back! Much gratitude to Nancy for coming to Ohio and for all those in attendance. A special thanks to those who brought some delicious snacks, and to Bob and Suzanne for making the Free Press offices available.