Kathy Dopp and the MN Post Election Audit Summit

(Rebecca Mercuri asked me to write this as a follow-up to my post about the MN Post Election Audit Summit. I’m a bit hesitant as I do not know the whole story, have had very little interaction with any of the players, and I am concerned that I am jumping into a preexisting conflict which I know very little about. I am posting this anyways as a favor to Rebecca.)

Kathy Dopp writes about her troubles trying to attend to Post Election Audit Summit:

[AllAboutVoting: Lightly edited to fix some pronouns.]
Since June 2005, I have developed new election auditing mathematics and procedures in collaboration with statisticians and other mathematicians. My research work has tried to advance the state of election auditing by developing effective auditing methods, by identifying the critical elements that distinguish effective from ineffective methods, and by bringing attention to certain deficiencies and ethical conflicts in other organizations’ election auditing work. I founded and directs the National Election Data Archive, a 501(c)(3) group of volunteer statisticians and mathematicians devoted to ensuring accurate election outcomes.

I registered online to attend the 2007 Post Election Audit conference in Minneapolis, MN, booked air travel and made hotel reservations; but the next day the conference organizers informed me that that I was not in fact registered because there was no room left at the conference. I resolved to go anyway, to continue my work with others to ensure that election outcomes are an accurate reflection of voters’ choices, even if I were not permitted to participate in the conference workshops.

On the first day of the conference, October 25th, as I entered her Embassy Suites hotel room, hotel staffers called me to tell me that I was not permitted to attend the conference. Before I had spoken to one conference attendee, hotel staffers approached me and told me that I was not permitted to speak to any conference attendees in hotel common areas, that I was not permitted to be in some common areas of the hotel near to the conference area, and that I was not allowed to provide any conference attendees with any information that I had prepared on election auditing. I knew several conference speakers and attendees and hoped to be able to speak with them. However, when I tried to speak to anyone I knew who was walking through a hotel common area, the hotel manager followed me and stood between me and that person, preventing any conversation by blocking visual contact and talking, stating to all present that I was not allowed to give them information on election auditing.

While at the hotel, the hotel did not receive any complaint against me, nor did I violate any ordinance. Yet the conference hotel manager dogged my footsteps and while I waited in line at the front desk to sign up for Internet access, evicted me from the hotel when he saw a conference attendee ask for, take, and try to put away the one page election auditing information. Then the hotel manager ordered me to sit in a chair and not move, called for police to escort me to my hotel room to pack my belongings, and made me sign a “trespass” form.

The hotel told police that I was “expected to disrupt the conference”. Why? I have promoted election auditing at election industry conferences since 2005 without causing any disturbance.

Why Did Conference Organizers Seek to Exclude Me, and What Possible Reasons Would Any of The Organizers Have to Treat Me In This Manner?

One response comes from attendee Joseph Hall:

She was told on no uncertain terms that she was not welcome and not invited. I think claiming she “originated a lot of the mathematics behind election audits” is a bit of a stretch. She’s been very active and has made important contributions, but she does not play with other well, in asymmetric communication or real-time. The conference went off without a hitch and the organizers, unfortunately, spent an inordinate amount of time and money making sure that it did. They were intent on creating a productive, collaborative space for election officials, and they did a very good job.

The official response from the conference organizers:

Given the limitations of our budget and our desire to use the conference to begin a constructive dialog about audits between the various stakeholders, we limited attendance to this private event to a specific group of less than 100 invitees. We advised people who inquired bout the even but had not been invited that they would be unable to attend due to these limitations.

The hotel where we met has a clear policy on what is termed solicitation, which includes handing out materials while on private property. One may or may not agree with this policy, but it is spelled out in writing, and existed prior to, and independently of our Summit meeting. For whatever reason, one individual apparently chose to violate this policy, and the hotel enforced its policy. We did not witness this occurrence.

My thoughts

  • I think that conference’s invitation only policy was the root of this conflict. Why did the conference organizers choose to adopt such a restrictive policy?
  • Dopp’s account indicated that she successfully registered for the conference and made flight and hotel reservations before she was informed that she would not be able to attend the conference. This makes me wonder whether the conference’s invitation only policy could have been made plainer. It sounds to me like Dopp was already vested in attending the conference before she found out that she was not allowed to attend.
  • I can understand the need of a hotel to have a solicitation policy and I am unsure of whether they acted outside their rights. I do think that they acted outside the boundaries of common sense and that they chose to use an extremely heavy-handed response to innocuous activity given that Dopp’s nefarious deeds were attempting to talk to and pass out handouts to people she knew while in hotel common areas.
  • The conflict likely could have been avoided if:
    • the conference had a more open attendance policy
    • the conference registration system enforced the invitation-only restriction
    • the conference organizers communicated the invitation-only restriction more clearly [I am not sure what was communicated and whether Dopp was aware that she was not allowed to attend before she successfully registered. It is possible that she was.]
    • Dopp had been informed of the hotel’s solicitation policy before arriving at the hotel. There is an argument that it was her responsibility to discover this policy when she chose to go to the hotel with handouts without being admitted to the conference.
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7 responses to “Kathy Dopp and the MN Post Election Audit Summit

  1. Despite rationalizations for the use of force, especially in the pursuit of censorship, I expect the natural inclination of the average person in reading such a headline would be to sympathy of the disenfranchised party (in this case Dopp). For their own sake, the conference and hotel might consider a more finessed approach next time–their reputations have farther to fall.

  2. Well, whatever happened, it was unfortunate that she spent a good chunk of money and emotional effort attempting to attend an event to which the invitation list was carefully constructed to maximize a collaborative atmosphere with a heavy emphasis on election officials. Election officials are a skittish bunch… they’re not necessarily in this business for fun, like advocates, activists and academics are.

    I don’t think it takes much of an imagination to understand how Kathy’s previous behavior could have colored her being welcome or not at such an event, regardless of her contributions.

    I hope we can continue to further the state of election auditing… with Kathy’s constructive participation or not.

  3. First, I did not ask Greg (AllAboutVoting) to do me any favors. I recommended that he read and post information about Kathy’s experiences in MN in the interest of legitimate and fair reporting.

    Secondly, the “doesn’t play with others well” phrase is the long-standing response when intentional excision of women from scientific activities, awards, grant money, and publications is exposed. “Playing with others well” also often implies that individuals should not expose faults in senior fellows’ research in order to receive promotions and favors (such as invitations to conferences).

    Trivializing the work of election integrity advocates, academics and activists as “fun” is a gross misrepresentation of their long-standing efforts. Kathy should have been allowed to present her work at the conference, or at the very least, attend. Academic research involves the tedious and often painful process of public vetting — since the data and formulas pertaining to election auditing are new and still in flux, it was inappropriate for the organizers to present some findings to the election officials as if these were finalized facts. Even more inappropriate was excluding a key researcher who would likely have raised serious concerns about some of the claims that may have been presented.

  4. >First, I did not ask Greg (AllAboutVoting) to do
    >me any favors. I recommended that he read and
    >post information about Kathy’s experiences in
    >MN in the interest of legitimate and fair reporting.

    Quibbling here. RM emailed me with the message “Please read and post a summary of this on your blog” followed by the forwarded text of KD’s experience. This email was sent to me at the same time as an automated notice that my attempt to subscribe to her email newsletter was rejected.

  5. My message to AllAboutVoting@gmail.com with Kathy’s information was sent in response to an anonymous email (see below) that I received advertising a new election reform site. I checked out the site, saw a recently posted summary of the MN conference, and thought the blog readers might be interested in what else went on in MN.

    ——– Original Message ——–
    Subject: RSS feed for your election reform site?
    Date: Thu, 8 Nov 2007 10:06:26 -0800
    From: AllAbout Voting
    To: mercuri

    Rebecca,

    Does your site have any syndication such as an RSS feed?
    I find my feed reader to be preferable to email.


    I now run an election reform website.
    Read my rantings here: http://AllAboutVoting.com

  6. I got this from a participant:
    “This conference was by invitation-only. She wasn’t
    on the invite list. She came anyway… I believe
    that she has a history of annoying people, which is
    why she wasn’t invited or allowed to participate when
    she showed up anyway. But you’d have to ask the
    organizers for the answers to these questions…”

    Comment:
    It indeed says on the web page of the conf
    http://electionaudits.org/index.html
    “Because space is limited, this is an invitation only event…”
    however, it does not at all make it clear
    that refers to all attendees as opposed to just the speakers.
    Indeed, I, reading that, probably would not have suspected the former.

    Here’s my opinion:
    I’m amazed at the asininity of the organizers of these conferences.
    Why the urge for such immense privacy and secrecy? “space is limited”?
    Garbage. I don’t see how preventing Kathy Dopp from hearing talks or
    handing out lit helped anybody. I only can see how it made the conf
    organizers look like assholes.

    And why make such immense efforts not to allow the press to know
    anything on this topic of such great interest and importance?
    At that usenix conf. I was at in Boston, there was not a single reporter. NO press was contacted by the organizers. I know because *I* was
    desperately contacting all the press I could find and failing because nobody
    was interested in little old me & my paper with Rivest.
    All the good talks were (obviously) intentionally scheduled early on
    the morning, or late, just to make it maximally difficult for them to
    be heard by any reporters that did manage to come by a miracle.
    (Actually their intent was probably to force exhausted attendees to
    stay all day in order to most-gratify the egos of the speakers, not to
    prevent anybody from knowing, but the effect was as I stated.)
    It was an absolutely incompetent organizing job as far as I am concerned.

    [Also at the VoComp conference, I saw a hotel security woman hassling
    one of the black students. I wish I’d acted aggressively in response
    but I did not realize quite what was going on until later.]

    What it comes down to, is these people care a lot about their egos
    and self-importance but not much about improving society.

    In order to improve society, we need the public to know things.
    In order to provide themselves with junkets without causing any fuss,
    these 2 conferences were organized in exactly the opposite manner
    from how they should have been, causing the findings to be maximally
    secret and minimizing the spread of useful information.
    Also minimizing election transparency and maximizing the validity of
    conspiracy theories.

    Hell, Kathy Dopp wasn’t even a member of the “public,” she was a
    “interested statistician and head of an election
    reform/monitoring/auditing group” and if even people like her are to
    be excluded, mistreated, and kept in the dark, how the hell do you
    expect such a conference to be useful?

    I’m just trying to imagine how these organizers could be more asinine
    and more anti-audit. But it is difficult.

  7. Pingback: Kathy Dopp takes on IRV « All About Voting

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