8 Questions for Georgia’s Secretary of State Candidates

Smythe DuVal (L)

Smythe Duval Georgia Secretary of State Candidate Election 2018
Smythe Duval

Photograph courtesy of Smythe Duval Campaign

Libertarian Smythe DuVal is a registered nurse who works in the medical IT field. He’s long called Marietta home.

1. Like most elected officials, secretaries of state can bring their own projects or initiatives to the job. What would you do that’s outside the formal job description?

I would advocate for election reform, that is, structural changes that would significantly increase political competition. [The Georgia House] had the highest number of unopposed races in the U.S. in 2016, with about 4 out of 5 state House seats unopposed in the general election. This lack of competition negatively impacts our communities secondary to a low-energy and meaningless election. It also breeds cynicism simply because it’s very difficult for citizens to have any leverage with an elected official that does not face an opponent. One example of election reform is Ranked Choice Voting (RCV). With RCV, voter rank candidates in order of preference. RCV would encourage political competition by encouraging independent and minor party candidates to pursue office. With RCV, there is no “spoiler effect,” there is no worry of “splitting” the vote. Voters are free to choose the candidate of their choice regardless of their prospects of winning.

2. There’s pretty widespread consensus that Georgia shouldn’t stick with an electronic-only voting system, and the current secretary of state has already requested proposals for new systems. Most states use paper for part or all of the process to boost voting integrity. What kind of voting system should we have and why?

The gold standard for reliable and secure voting system is a hand-marked paper ballot and post-election risk-limiting audits. In terms of security and verifiability, hand-marked ballots are superior because the voter’s intention is evident to the human reader without the aid of any technology. Therefore, hand-marked paper ballots make it possible for humans to audit the results of machine tallies. I propose using bubble-sheet paper ballots and optical scanners as our primary voting system. The estimated capital cost of this system is approximately $35 million, far less that $125 million for ballot-marking devices. The optical scan voting system provides better security and value to Georgia voters.

3. Counties have occasionally given voters the wrong ballot. A security researcher found a Kennesaw State University server full of state election administration data left open on the internet for anyone to read. Should the state step up oversight of county election boards, such as audits of operations? And as for the state, should it accept federal help with voting technology?

The state of Georgia election systems’ security and quality checks is abysmal. Georgia does not appear to have implemented any comprehensive security framework. There is no excuse for the KSU data leak. It is the responsibility of government officials to inventory the location of all protected-class information within their systems and then safeguard it. The secretary of state sets the standards and defines the culture of information security for the counties to follow. The secretary of state must provide leadership in order to bring Georgia’s elections system up to acceptable standards.

4. Do you believe that foreign hackers or hackers of any sort are a threat to Georgia’s elections? If so what should the secretary of state do about that? Does the state need to step up its voting security game?

Yes. According to U.S. intelligence agencies, foreign states are attempting to undermine our form of representational government by creating confusion, exploiting divisions, and sewing distrust. The U.S. recently indicted 12 Russian nationals with tampering with U.S. elections system, including [one who visited] Georgia websites. Once this story broke, I realized that Georgia must be prepared to defend election integrity against foreign states. I am the only secretary of state candidate that has called for immediately decertifying the Diebold touchscreen machines and immediately move to a temporary paper ballot system in order to maintain the voters’ trust in the election system. The next secretary of state is tasked implementing a formal comprehensive cyber security framework in order to truly ramp up election security.

5. Critics of Georgia’s voting system say the state is too quick to move people off the active voter roll or that it disenfranchises people through spelling and data entry errors that are no fault of the voter. But an election administrator has a responsibility to make sure the voting roll is accurate. Things happen, people move or change their name, for example, without telling the election registrar. States maintain voting rolls in different ways. What should Georgia do?

The right to vote is clearly spelled out in the law. Voters should not be disenfranchised due to bureaucratic mistakes or hurdles. The secretary of state is responsible for maintaining up-to-date and accurate voter registration rolls. As secretary of state, I would implement additional processes to catch errors and design the system so that voters have the opportunity to correct an error without being disenfranchised. One example is voter registration notification. Currently voters supposedly receive a letter from the secretary of state office stating they are on a list to be purged from the voting list. In addition to a letter, I would expand notification options to include SMS text and email. Lastly, I advocate for same-day voter registration as a means for voters to correct mistakes at the precincts and provide a hedge against unscrupulous partisan attempts to suppress the vote by bureaucratic means. With same-day voter registration, voters would no longer be subjected to an arbitrary cut-off from voter registration rolls, thus better protecting their right to vote.

6. Workers from electricians to cosmetologists get their licenses from boards that rely on the secretary of state’s office for administrative and investigative work. But several professions have left to find homes in other agencies. Nurses are seeking to leave the secretary of state’s office now, saying its investigators take too long to look into complaints of bad nurses. What does the next secretary of state need to do in the licensing division?

The secretary of state budget has not kept up with the times or the growth with the state. The next secretary of state must make the case to the legislature that it’s in everyone’s interest for the secretary of state office to provide exemplary customer service. After all, we are marketing Georgia as a great place to do business. We must adequately fund the secretary of state office to offer the level and quality of services necessary to compete in the global marketplace.

7. Some states have appointed secretaries of state—it’s not an elected post. What are your thoughts on election versus appointment of a secretary of state? What use is a partisan label in a job that’s rather administrative?

I am open to the idea that the secretary of state is a appointed office. The secretary of state office performs an important function, and it’s being hamstrung by intraparty jockeying as well as partisan politics. Additionally, I believe the secretary of state should resign their position once they become a candidate for another office. Given that the secretary of state manages elections, and the election official is supposedly unbiased, it seems that the people are best served when the secretary of state is independent of the two major parties. As a citizen candidate that is independent of the two major parties, their leadership, and the monied interest, I am the best choice to represent the interests of Georgia voters.

8. What are the biggest issues that the secretary of state will need to face in the next four years?

The immediate issue is replacing the Georgia touchscreen voting machines. The single largest issue facing Georgia over the next three years is extreme partisan gerrymandering. Currently Georgia is one of the most gerrymandered states in the nation. As a result, we have fewer candidates on a ballot, less campaigns, less spirited discussion. The lack of competition is destructive to our form of representational government and therefore increasing political competition is one of the single largest challenges for the next secretary of state.