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June 26th, 2006:

No news is no news

I’m glad to see that nothing important happened while my family and I were on the plane home today. I wouldn’t have had the energy to do anything about it. See you all tomorrow.

Q&A: James Goodwille Pierre

Continuing in my series of interviews with local candidates, I bring you a Q&A with J. Goodwille Pierre, who is the Democratic candidate for County Clerk in Harris County.

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

My name is James Goodwille Pierre and I’m running for Harris County Clerk.

Demonstrated by my accomplishments, I believe in hands-on community partnerships through service, education and outreach.

2. What exactly does the County Clerk do?

Primarily, the Harris County Clerk’s office is our county’s chief record keeper and oversees the election process.

The office has three primary roles: 1) maintain the records of the Commissioners’ Court, County Probate Courts and County Civil Courts at Law, 2) maintain real property records including state and federal tax liens; vital statistics records such as marriage licenses and assumed names; and uniform commercial code records, and 3) administer county and state elections.

3. What are your professional qualifications for this job?

I believe in active, hands-on community partnerships. I believe in the human rights of all people and am ready to be Harris County’s hard working, committed and concerned County Clerk.

My educational, professional, and public and community service backgrounds qualify me for this job:

  • My education background includes being a graduate of Brooklyn Technical High School. I attended Morehouse College in Atlanta from 1983-1986 and George State University from 1987-1989 where I earned a Bachelors Degree in Chemistry with a Minor in Physics. I received a Masters in Education from the University of Central Florida and a Doctor of Jurisprudence from South Texas College of Law in 2000. I am licensed in the Supreme Court of Texas, Federal Southern District of Texas and the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
  • Currently, I am employed as Adjunct Professor at the Thurgood Marshall School of Law, and Manager of Small Business Development and Contract Compliance for the Houston Airport System.
  • From 2003 until the end of 2004, I served as the Texas Deputy Director for People for The American Way. In this capacity, I was the State Coordinator for the Texas Unlock Your Vote! Campaign. With the help of coalition partners, the Unlock Your Vote! Campaign registered over 20,000 new voters.
  • I also served as the Texas Legal Director and African American Outreach Coordinator for Election Protection 2004, the nation’s most far-reaching effort to protect voter rights. In this capacity, I was responsible for organizing civil rights lawyers and advocates to represent voters in lawsuits, preserve access to the polls, expose and prevent voter intimidation, solve problems with new voting machines, technology and ballot forms, and protect voter rights. I recruited the legal assistance needed and was co-counsel on the 2004 Federal Southern District of Texas Lawsuit, NAACP Prairie View Chapter vs. Waller County District Attorney. This successful lawsuit protected the rights of Prairie View students to vote in the local elections without being intimidated.
  • Previously, I served as the District Director for Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-18th TX) where I was responsible for managing the overall operation of the 18th Congressional District while developing synergy between the District Office and the D.C. Office. In addition, I represented the Congresswoman at various meetings and events in the district, and nurtured and established constituent relationships throughout the district, while working with elected officials at the city, county and state levels to help with all community needs.
  • From 2003-2005, I served as Chairman of Houston’s Government Procurement Connections (GPC) Planning Committee. The GPC is an annual conference, which draws more than 3,000 small business owners seeking government contracting opportunities, and more than 500 representatives from various government entities. At the GPC conference, attendees have an opportunity to meet face-to-face with city, county, state, and federal representatives involved in purchasing decisions for their agencies. I am dedicated to helping small and minority owned businesses, and the conference has enjoyed outstanding growth and produced tangible benefits for small and minority owned businesses.
  • Finally, I am an elected director on the Board of the State Bar of Texas, Commissioner on the City of Houston’s Building and Standards Commission, and a Sustaining Member of the Harris County Democratic Party. I am also active as Chair of Region V of the National Bar Association, Chair of the African American Lawyers Section of the State Bar of Texas, Immediate Past President of the Houston Lawyers Association, and a subscribing life member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. I’m a Deacon at The Community of Faith Baptist Church and currently sit on the Board of Directors of The Dominion Community Development Corporation as well as The Robert F. Tinsley Scholarship Fund.

4. Incumbent Clerk Beverly Kaufman was responsible for the implementation of the eSlate voting machines. What is your opinion of the eSlates?

The eSlate machine itself is viable technology and was implemented at a time when an upgrade in voting efficiencies was greatly needed. The challenge lies in effective implementation of the eSlate system. I do not believe the system has been properly instituted.

eSlate was implemented in Harris County in November 2001. Even with over a year of experience, in November 2003 an investigation revealed a serious error – poll workers assigned the wrong ballots to voters.

We must build voter confidence in order to preserve the foundation of our democracy – the citizen’s right to vote.

5. What could be done to make the voting experience in Harris County better?

We should have an electoral system where registering to vote is convenient, voting is efficient and pleasant, voting machines work properly, fraud is deterred, and disputes are handled fairly and expeditiously.

The measures taken to accomplish this should be transparently communicated to our citizens to begin building voter confidence.

We also need to properly allocate voting machines and personnel to high volume voting sites to avoid long lines. And, personnel need to be trained to assure accuracy and efficiency in service.

6. Much has been written about the integrity and security of electronic voting machines. How secure are the eSlates?

Proponents of the eSlate machines will point to studies of voting problems where eSlates were used that revealed operator error rather than a malfunction of the technology itself. Without the source code being made available, however, voters have no assurances that their votes are secure. In addition, the accuracy and verification tests are not administered properly. The eSlate machines are a long way from the level of security needed to instill confidence in the voting public.

7. What can be done to improve their security?

I believe a task force should be created to look at the procedural and technological safeguards of the eSlate technology. This task force should research, develop and implement security and integrity measures that detect modification of software and parallel testing to detect intrusion software codes.

Secondly, I believe in implementation of a voter-verifiable paper audit trail. This is an important step to increase our citizens’ confidence that their votes will be counted accurately and can be verified should the technology fail.

8. Do you believe that the eSlates should print a paper receipt of each vote? If so, should these receipts be the official ballots or just serve as backups? If not, why not?

Yes, as indicated above, I believe in implementation of a voter-verifiable paper audit trail or back-up.

9. What is your opinion of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA)?

First, I want to ensure everyone knows what HAVA is. The Help America Vote Act of 2002, H.R. 3295, signed into law by President George W. Bush in October 2002, provides $3.9 billion in federal funds to states from 2003 through 2006 to replace outdated voting machines, improve voter education and train precinct workers.

Under the law, states must:

  • Implement a uniform, centralized statewide voter registration computer database;
  • Provide provisional ballots to ensure no individual is turned away at the polls; and
  • Provide at least one voting machine that is accessible to the disabled per precinct.

I believe HAVA elevates the importance of an efficient and effective electoral system.

10. How good a job has Harris County done in fulfilling the requirements of HAVA?

Harris County complied with HAVA early. Areas for improvement in Harris County are 1) properly trained personnel, 2) proper implementation and use of a paper audit trail, and 3) incorporation and public communication of eSlate security mechanisms.

11. What is your opinion of the concept of “voting centers”, where the early voting model of a small number of centralized locations would extend to Election Day?

The voting center model came about in response to implementing the new requirements of HAVA. Voting centers ideally would be more cost-effective (voting centers save taxpayer money because they require fewer workers than do precincts), and provide an efficient and consistent voting system. Under this model, citizens may vote at any designated voting center rather than their precinct.

In Harris County, we use this model for early voting, which works well. It is prudent that Harris County fully evaluates the effectiveness of voting centers after a trial period. The upsides of using voter centers could outweigh the challenges as long as voters have proper information regarding the location of and access to voting centers.

12. What areas for improvement do you see in how the Harris County Clerk’s office is now run?

An education regarding the responsibilities of our County Clerk should not be needed. I want to make the office more visible, helpful and accessible to the public. Additionally, my goal is to be an advocate and resource for our citizens rather than simply a clerk. And, I will place particular weight on elevating the importance of voting for all citizens.

My promise is to:

  • Provide greater emphasis on voter participation.
  • Guarantee your vote is recorded as intended through verifiable paper trail ballots.
  • Increase confidence in our voting systems through testing and expert oversight of procedures and technology.
  • Be a leader with high visibility in the community.
  • Properly allocate voting machines and personnel to high volume voting sites.
  • Improve training of poll workers to assure your voting rights and efficient service.
  • Increase security of all records maintained by the County Clerk.
  • Better and timelier communication of voting location changes.
  • Expedite protection measures to assure your voting rights are not compromised and swift administration of justice when infractions occur.
  • Give you an updated and user-friendly Web site for the County Clerk’s office.
  • Create task forces of lawyers and grassroots community leaders to improve services provided by the County Clerk’s office.
  • Improved Neighborhood Center administration.

13. Why do you believe you will be a better County Clerk than Beverly Kaufman?

I want to advocate for the people of Harris County. I have always been about hands-on community partnerships through service, education and outreach – I will bring this tenacity, energy and passion to the County Clerk position.

14. What else do we need to know about you?

I am grateful and humbled by my many supporters and organizational endorsements within all communities in Harris County. However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my biggest supporters – my beautiful wife of 11 years Jacquelyn Tinsley, a native Houstonian, and my two lovely daughters, Joi Candace, nine years old, and Jada Elaine, who is three.

Postscript: Since I first emailed these questions to Pierre, a group of activists filed a lawsuit to “prevent the State of Texas from using unreliable electronic voting machines in the November elections”. I asked Pierre for a statement regarding this suit. His statement is as follows:

The voters must feel confident that their votes are counted. I applaud David Van Os, Sonia Santana, the NAACP of Austin and its president Nelson Linder for forcing the State of Texas to listen and, hopefully, use common sense.

As someone who teaches and practices intellectual property law, I can tell you that it encourages and protects companies like Hart InterCivic in the production of proprietary technology such as source code. I believe, however, the law must give way to greater societal concerns. It is vitally important that our voting rights be protected from even the mere appearance of impropriety. We need to explore all available legal avenues to have the source codes made available for inspection and security.

Thank you, James Goodwille Pierre. You can read my earlier Q&As with Chuck Silverman here, and with Bill Connolly here.

Pretrial Services

Scott writes about Pretrial Services, which is a way to let low-risk defendants out on bail at a lower cost than using bail bondsmen, and Tarrant County is being pennywise but pound foolish by not using them. It’s a followup to an earlier piece, and a question he raised then sparked a reporter from Fort Worth Weekly to do a little digging. Now that’s synergy! And since this issue has to do with county jail populations, you know there’s a connection to Harris County as well. Check it all out.

UPDATE: HTML booboo fixed. Thanks, Greg!

Making a push for Juan Garcia

As we come down to the June 30 quarterly deadline for filing financial statements, you’ll be seeing a lot of efforts by candidates and their advocates to make their totals look as good as possible. Vince is kicking off such an effort for Juan Garcia, who is running for a very winnable seat against a very undistinguished Craddick disciple (Gene Seamon) in HD32. Take a look, and if you can give Vince a hand as he gives a hand to Juan Garcia.