Lost Absentees, Found Roll Call, Missing Statues

By Steve Haner

Faulty Absentee Ballot Tracker Still Losing Track

Complaints continue about an absentee ballot tracking system on the Virginia Department of Elections website. Someone with a problem similar to what I encountered in September reached out to Richmond’s WTVR-TV 6 News, which reported that the problem lies with the United States Postal Service. The tracking system is provided by an outside vendor.

Jessenia Eliza, the Director of Government Initiatives at Democracy Works (the outside vendor), told CBS 6 the issue the Duszaks were facing was as a result of their ballot barcodes not being scanned by USPS.

“Ballot Scout relies entirely on USPS data in the state of Virginia. How it works is that as the intelligent mail barcode on ballots are scanned, that information is sent to our tool, and it updates the associated voter record,” explained Eliza. “We’re seeing this here and there with ballots that aren’t moving beyond that ‘in-transit’ status. That typically means just that the USPS didn’t scan it further, not necessarily that the ballot isn’t moving.”

The reporter then spoke with somebody at the state, who said:

“If Ballot Scout is not working for voters they may visit our citizen portal,… click check registration status, to see if their ballot has been issued and if it has been accepted by the registrar upon return,” added the spokesperson.

Or how about this radical thought: The state gets the piece of junk program off its website and instead features only the older tracking program, which actually works. Get our money back, too, please.

The Special Session That Will Never End

Both the House of Delegates and Virginia Senate will be back in session tomorrow, as the special session now approaches the normal length of time for a regular full session. All of 37 bills have been passed  many of them duplicates or overlapping. Only one has been signed by Governor Ralph Northam.

Another 17 bills have passed both chambers but with differences, so they are in  conference committees (see the list on this Senate Calendar for tomorrow). Most of the successful bills deal with the policing, sentencing and incarceration issues being pushed in the name of racial equity.

Updating issues previously discussed:

  • Legislation to create a COVID-19 workers compensation claim has failed.
  • Legislation for a state employee sick leave mandate has also failed.
  • Legislation protecting tenants behind on their rent in the recession has passed.
  • Legislation to allow a $500 fine for violating a Governor’s Executive Order has passed, but with a 2023 sunset. Before this, only a felony conviction could be imposed, and authorities were reluctant to do that for minor violations such not wearing a face mask.

Both chambers have passed amendments to the current 2020-2022 state budget, but they do not agree. The official conference committee to resolve those differences is not meeting, but reportedly an unofficial conference is underway. As reported previously, it a three-way struggle between the House, Senate and Governor now.

One key issue in the budget is a language amendment which extends the moratorium on utility disconnections, previously reported. The House is being unusually slow in posting the actual roll calls on many things – it will be a huge transparency issue in a regular session – but eventually gets around to it. Here is the House vote on that issue, and nine GOP delegates joined with most Democrats to pass it. All but a couple of them actually represent customers of Appalachian Power, not Dominion Energy Virginia.

What May Be Distracting the House Leadership

Maybe they don’t have time to keep up with posting roll calls because of the silly lawsuit Speaker of the House Eileen Filler-Corn walked herself into and promptly lost. Herewith the link to the report from the Virginia citizen, Dave Webster, who got her chastised and fined by a Virginia judge. His attorney, Tim Anderson, was on John Reid’s show on WRVA this morning.

The state political media is ignoring this embarrassment, perhaps fearing Madam Speaker (and I know what it means to be on a Speaker’s bad side). It is shameful how this story has been squelched.

Webster discussed a possible next step:

“I believe Speaker Filler-Corn violated the Virginia Public Procurement Act which provides that: “Any person convicted of a willful violation of any provision of this article shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor. Upon conviction, any public employee, in addition to any other fine or penalty provided by law, shall forfeit his [or her] employment.” It is true that the DGS has an existing open source contract with B.R. Howard but I don’t believe this entitles Speaker Filler-Corn to ram through any expenditures of Virginia taxpayer dollars she wishes to impose. The only problem with me asking a Richmond magistrate to swear out an arrest warrant against Speaker Filler-Corn is that I will probably also have to ask for the arrest of House Clerk Suzette Denslow. Suzette was just following orders, so I hesitate to do that.”

Most of the artifacts removed from the Old House Chamber were busts of individuals with Confederate histories, but there was one full size statue, depicting General Robert E. Lee, supposedly where he stood on accepting promotion to lead the Army of Northern Virginia. The removal party itself was recorded with pride, but where the pieces are now remains a mystery. Webster could not get Filler-Corn to divulge that.

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35 responses to “Lost Absentees, Found Roll Call, Missing Statues

  1. Of course the Filler-Corn story was squelched. Webster should swear out that warrant. Suzette Denslow was only following orders? Too bad. This is why Republicans keep losing. I watched a corrupt attorney general go after Bob McDonnell with a law that everybody knew was unconstitutional. The judge assigned to the trial had a personal grudge against McDonnell and issues jury instructions that were found to be unconstitutional by each and every member of the US Supreme Court. By then the damage was done.

    Hell yes, put Filler-Corn in cuffs.

    • “This is why Republicans keep losing.”

      And here I thought it was because they have candidates who equate wearing masks to tyranny.

      • a number of reasons but the most fundamental is that Democracy and representation of voters is only an option only if it does not conflict with their own deeply-held beliefs. Otherwise voter-suppression is clearly a necessary viable option.

        • Test response… uh yep

        • How does that even remotely apply to Filler-Corn’s taking unilateral action spending $80,000 she is not authorized to spend and then lying about the presence of documents in a FOIA request? How does it relate to Republicans failing to push this matter to its ultimate conclusion?

          “… Democracy and representation of voters is only an option only if it does not conflict with their own deeply-held beliefs.”

          What does that mean and how does it apply to anything being discussed on this post?

  2. It’s one thing when I post a series of short items with the common theme of everything going to hell. I’m used to me doing that. But when Steve posts a series of short items of everything going to hell — using entirely different examples — it’s time to start worrying.

    Everything is out of control!

  3. I voted absentee and tracked the ballot with Ballout Scout and it stayed “in transit” for at least a week but finally “got received”.

    I realized that the bar code would depend on USPS to do the tracking and wondered with the volume there would be lapses.

    After hearing how the Dominion debacle on offshore wind got done, and other things in past GAs, I’m not sure how “transparency” will have any more rightgeous “legs” now than before.

    The process stinks to high heaven – but it pretty much always has and Virginia is hardly alone in the sausage-making…

    like some famous wag in Congress once said in so many words ” well, we’ll have to see what’s in the final approved bill to know what it says”.

    😉

  4. While it’s still smoking, remember, “Brylcreem. A little dab’ll do ya.”

    In-person early voting. 10 minutes in line; 2 to vote.

  5. When Webster first raised this, my initial suspicion was the Speaker had done this through General Services. DGS has several movers on contract, and the same firm may have moved the same statues during the renovation. Why she stonewalled is beyond my ken. She should have just responded honestly. If the firm is an approved DGS vendor odds are she had the authority to put in a work order without a bid process.

    • They played fast and loose with the procurement process. DGS has broad authority to make “improvements” to Capitol Square and the exterior of the Capitol. The interior of the Capitol, however, is GA territory. How the Speaker was able to use a vendor on contract with DGS is questionable.

      As for the FOIA violation, this administration has not been willing to be transparent. Earlier, I filed an FOIA request for some information to use fora blog post. I got the answer that Filler-Corn used: These records do not exist. I knew for a fact that they did exist; the agency communications officer was just splitting hairs. I persisted, even winding up on a conference call with agency personnel and folks from the AG’s office. They seemed to agree with my interpretation of the law and that the records I had requested actually did exist. However, they exercised the agency’s blanket exemption under the FOIAW for the type of information I had requested. Why they did not do that in the first place, I am not sure. I contemplated filing a complaint, but I suspected that the agency people were under orders from the Secretary’s office or the governor’s office and it was not worth it to me to get them in trouble.

      Finally, thanks, for clearing up the mix-up on tracking absentee ballots. I had tried to use the vendor portal to track my wife’s absentee ballot and had no luck. I was able to verify its receipt with the state system. You are right; they should get rid of that vendor portal.

      • which makes me wonder what the “normal” process for interior changes are… and what vendors, etc.

        I’ve been denied FOIAs also by VDOT in the past and there used be a fellow at the Virginia Commission for Open Government named Frosty Landon, now Megan Rhyne.

        https://www.opengovva.org/

        There are a lot of “violations” – read the open govt website, and I’m disappointed than Filler-Corn has joined that crowd but it’s not a Dem-only disease by any stretch of the imagination.

        There are two ways to deal with FOIA issues. Make them about FOIA and the miscreants, no matter their party or make them partisan when it suits.

        I prefer the former and it’s much more righteous.

  6. Emails uncovered by Carol J. Bova yesterday October 13, 2020 prove the artifacts are stored at the Library of Virginia State Records Center. The Department of General Services, at the direction of Speaker Filler-Corn, hired B.R. Howard & Assoiates, Inc. of Carlisle, Pennsylvania to oversee the removal of the artifacts for a little over $80,000 pursuant to an existing open source contract previously approved by the DGS. Does Speaker Filler-Corn have the power to order the DGS, an Executive Agency, to expend taxpayer dollars on a personal project? I don’t think she does.

    • How is any maintenance or work done at any General Assembly facility? Is it done at the direction of the Administration or the General Assembly?

      What’s the real point of this effort about Filler-Corn to start with?

      So the first question again is how is any work done on General Assembly facilities in general?

      • The DGS carries out routine maintenance and operation of buildings and ground in and around the State Capitol. The removal of the artifacts was not normal maintenance. The artifacts are owned by the Commonwealth and Speaker Filler-Corn should not have the unilateral right to order their removal during the middle of the night. The point of the lawsuit was when I sent Speaker Filler-Corn a FOIA request asking where the artifacts are stored, the was hired to oversee the removal and how much this party was paid she responded: “The requested records do not exist.” Judge Thorne-Begland found this response was false.

        • When major remodels are done and stuff removed? When does your opinion become what is fact?

          Who acquired and put the artifacts there to start with?

          Doesn’t the GA have some control over GA facilities and what is in them or not?

          Are we making up stuff as we go along here based on personal beliefs or partisan views?

          • Larry, do you even care that Speaker Filler-Corn violated the Virginia Freedom of Information Act? The artifacts were either donated to or paid for by the Commonwealth. The Speaker asserted that the House Rules entitle her to personally order the removal of any items in the State Capitol under the control of the House of Delegates. No such rule exists. So she should have asked for approval from the GA.

          • I would if I thought this was a legitimate inquiry and “the info does not exist” is a valid response to FOIA, no?

            This walks and talks like a partisan thing to me… Can you name any other time the issue of who controlsl the facilities of the GA has come up and FOIAs issued?

          • Mr. Webster (hero of the hour), do not engage Tar Baby Larry unless you have an hour to waste…..In fact, we need to teach him the basics of FOIA and then he could direct his endless meandering questions toward others….

            “The documents do not exist” was an obvious lie, Larry. A stupid one. Nobody does a job inside state government without documentation, or else the next step is a very nasty letter from the Comptroller and then the Auditor of Public Accounts. Unless the Speaker and Clerk did the job themselves, but they invited the media in to witness the crew at work.

            Mr. Webster, when I was the admin in the AG’s office, I had plenty of authority to re-arrange, move or remove office items in that building. I carried the master key for four years. If we asked DGS to do some task, there would be a work order. I could add or remove art should I wish to, but never thought about it. The AG’s office was the lead tenant in the building. The real owner of the Capitol is of course Senate Clerk Schaar (just ask her or any legislator who has run afoul…) but the Speaker at least controls that part of the building. She is basically like any other agency head. 🙂

          • Oh we well know the basics of FOIA – have done them ourselves.

            And we well know partisan politics also.

            I asked a simple question about who is in charge of the GA facilities – and that would include all things brought in and taken out, etc… and so far – crickets.

            Steve well knows what partisan hackery is also…but typically has trouble admitting it.

          • So what would be useful is to know who Mr. Webster is and his existing activities in politics. I think I see that he’s a lawyer in NoVa and apparently is asking for money to help finance the legal expenses and that a crap load of conservative and partisan sites are touting his efforts…

            I don’t have a problem with people who are affilitated with political organizations – I just think such affiliations should be up-front and transparent if the person is actually more involved than just truly a non-partisan citizen.

            And lordy, I would expect those at BR who blather on and on about how important transparency is – would also advocate for that on all issues.

    • The Speaker does not have the legal authority to order DGS to do anything. However, I assume that the director of DGS has the blessing from the Governor’s office to cooperate with the Speaker on any requests involving the interior of the Capitol.

      Out of my own curiosity, I have been trying to identify the funding source of the DGS payment to B.R. Howard, but I can’t find a record of any invoice on the Dept. of Accounts website. Do you have a copy of the invoice from which you could provide the payment codes? (It could be that the invoice has not yet been paid.)

      • Is this about Filler-Corns power to make changes in the interior of the GA or about whether she has the power but did the vendor-thing wrong?

        What options does she have to contract to have work done?

        I would think she has the power and the ability to do changes as did her predecessors, but will stand corrected if wrong.

      • Dick, here is the invoice information. Vendor: B.R. Howard & Associates, Inc. Vendor ID: 19851. Department 2200. Amt. $83,090.64. Voucher ID 1392. Approving Officer Paula Lambert CFO, HOD. Approval Clerk Suzette Denslow. Invoice date 7/27/20. Approval date 7/31/20. Approved for payment Donna Choice Va Dept of Accounts. The open source contract between DGS and BR Howard pursuant to which the invoice was generated was introduced into evidence. Also, Jolene Howard stated to me she was asked (presumably by Denslow) to submit the invoice pursuant to the DGS contract.

  7. I am not affiliated with any political organization or group. I have no existing political activities other than voting. I did this on my own. My GoFundMe page netted about $350.00.

    • You’re a lawyer and you have a go-fund page for legal expenses?

      I appreciate you disclosing your affiliations.

      So you’re just an ordinary citizen and you’ve not been involved in activism before?

      • Larry, yes I am a lawyer and started a GoFundMe account. I hired Tim Anderson of Virginia Beach to represent me because I am not a FOIA expert. The case ended up costing me about $3,500 of my own money. I worked in a volunteer basis for some Republicans a number of years ago but nothing recently.

        • Thank you for being honest and up-front. I’m still a little bit amazed that all of this is over moving some statues… Why is this such a deal?

          • Larrry, my lawsuit was never about the removal of the statues or their return for that matter. It was about Speaker Fuller-Corn telling me no documents existed regarding this matter. As my attorney Tim Anderson explained to Judge Thorne-Begland I wouldn’t have filed the lawsuit if she had responded: “I don’t possess the documents you requested but the DGS does.” Maybe now Speaker Filler-Corn and other elected officials will take their duties under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act seriously.

          • Okay, but what motivated the initial FOIA? not the statues?

  8. Dick, I didn’t have the authority to “order” DGS to do anything, either, but within our office we often sent work orders for jobs paid for with money out of our agency’s account. I had a budget for things like moving furniture, etc. I don’t know why the Speaker couldn’t do the same. I’ve always gotten the impression that within Capitol Square the House and Senate Clerks in particular were the “landlords,” although perhaps they had authority delegated by the Joint Rules Committee. We at the AG’s office had a great deal of spending discretion, again with the authority really vested in the AG (but I always told him it was in good hands.) 🙂

    I can remember signing some pretty big work orders — computer system buys, etc. Way more than 80K.

    • Steve, can you tell me if this is normal? Here is the confidentiality agreement between Sandra Gill, Deputy Director of DGS and BR Howard.
      2. Without Owner’s written consent, Contractor, Contractor Representatives and Subcontractors will not (except as authorized by Paragraph 1 or as required by applicable law, regulation or legal process, and only after compliance with paragraph 3 below) disclose to any person:
      • the fact that the Information exists or has been made available;
      • that Owner is considering the Projects;
      • that discussions or negotiations with Contractor are taking or have taken place concerning the Projects;
      • Information regarding the scope of Work of the Projects;
      • the timing or scheduling for the Work of the Projects; or
      • the location of any storage facility to be used in connection with the Work of the Projects.
      The term “person” as used in this Agreement will be interpreted broadly to include, without limitation, any corporation, limited liability company, partnership or individual, including journalists, reporters, media outlets and news services.
      3. In the event that Contractor or any of the Contractor Representatives or Subcontractors are required by applicable law to disclose any of the Information, Contractor will notify Owner promptly in writing of such requirement so that it may seek a protective order or other appropriate remedy or, in its sole discretion, waive compliance with the terms of this Agreement. In the event that no such protective order or other remedy is obtained, or that Owner waives compliance with the terms of this Agreement, Contractor, Contractor’ s Representatives and/or Subcontractor will furnish only that portion of the Information which Contractor is advised by counsel is legally required and will exercise its best efforts to obtain reliable assurance that confidential treatment will be accorded the Information.
      4. If Owner or the Contractor determines not to proceed with the Work of the Projects, upon the request of the Owner, Contractor will either (i) promptly destroy all originals, copies, extracts or other reproductions in whole or in part of written Information in the possession of Contractor, or (ii) promptly deliver to Owner at Contractor’s expense all originals, copies, extracts or other reproductions in whole or in part of written Information in the possession of Contractor or any Contractor Representative or Subcontractor. Whenever materials are destroyed pursuant to this paragraph, Contractor will confirm such destruction to Owner in writing. Any oral Information will continue to be subject to the terms of this Agreement.

      • I’ve never seen anything like that in connection with a state vendor procurement, but then I was never the one looking at the contractual fine print. I’ve seen plenty of similar NDA language in other contexts, and I’m sure when the AG’s office hired private outside counsel there would be something like that in place. Whether it is significant would indeed hinge on whether was was unique.

        I think you’ve accomplished your purpose. 1) Remind even the Speaker that she is not above FOIA, 2) find out who did the job and for how much money and 3) remind anybody who might have forgotten (or even cares) that she acted unilaterally. The statues are not coming back. Even with a GOP flip back, they would be unlikely to reassemble that Confederate Shrine.

  9. Larry, what motivated my original FOIA request was a July 24, 2020 Washington Post article written by Gregory S. Schneider and Laura Vozzella in which Speaker Filler-Corn stated she didn’t have to reveal where the artifacts were stored, who was hired to oversee the removal or how much the removal cost the taxpayers.

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