By James Romoser
JOURNAL RALEIGH BUREAU
Sunday, November 4, 2007
Joyce McCloy does her work from her home in Winston-Salem.
(Journal photo by Lauren Carroll)
Even before she started fighting for accuracy in elections, Joyce McCloy knew a thing or two about verifying results.
McCloy, a Winston-Salem resident, had worked for six years at Wachovia Corp., ensuring that financial transactions such as debits and credits matched up properly.
So when, in 2003, she read on the Internet about security flaws in some electronic voting machines, she was stunned.
“I think of votes as important as dollars in the bank,” she said, recalling how she got her start as an unlikely - and controversial - grassroots activist involved in voting issues.
Relying on nothing but the Internet, the telephone and word of mouth, McCloy successfully led a push in 2005 for a landmark state law requiring that all voting machines contain a paper trail that can be verified in a recount. Since then, she has defended that law and fought against other proposals that she believes would hurt the integrity of elections.
But along the way, McCloy’s tactics and approach have put her at odds with other voting-rights activists, some of whom see her as paranoid and inclined to overstate the potential problems with electronic voting. The rift reveals two distinct styles of advocacy within a community that shares the same basic goal: fair elections that are accessible to all voters.
In contrast to the formal advocacy groups in Raleigh that lobby on voting issues, McCloy’s style is stubbornly grassroots, with no paid lobbyist or nonprofit group.
She works from her home, where she lives with her 16-year-old daughter and elderly mother. She built a Web site herself, she pesters the State Board of Elections with regular phone calls, and she makes no money from the work she does. She communicates with her loosely knit alliance, known as the N.C. Coalition for Verified Voting, through alert messages that she sends out to an e-mail listserv with a few hundred subscribers.
“The thing that I really appreciate and respect about Joyce is her passion for making sure our elections are done right,” said Perry Woods, a Raleigh political consultant who has worked closely with McCloy.
But Bob Hall, one of the state’s foremost activists for clean elections and political reform, said that McCloy’s advocacy is done “not in a manner that I respect very much.”
Hall was referring to McCloy’s aggressive opposition to a pilot program this year in the town of Cary, in which voters used an “instant runoff” procedure in municipal elections. Instant-runoff voting allows voters to rank their first, second and third choices, eliminating the need for a second, runoff election if no candidate receives enough votes to win a particular seat.
Hall and most of the other professional voting-rights activists in Raleigh strongly support the instant-runoff program, mainly because separate runoff elections are expensive and usually have low turnout.
But McCloy opposes it, saying that she believes it is confusing to voters. (Some people have also speculated that instant-runoff voting could lead to the spread of electronic voting machines, which McCloy strongly opposes.)
Among some Raleigh activists, McCloy’s coalition is viewed as something of a fringe movement with a dogmatic approach that focuses too narrowly on one part of the system - namely, electronic machines.
“We’ve come at it from the civil-rights era of voting rights and gaining more access for more people being able to vote. They come at it from basically a paranoia or a caution or a fear of votes not being counted,” Hall said. “They’re focusing on an issue of a rigged system, and we’re focusing on trying to make the system more accessible to more people.”
McCloy, for her part, lists numerous vote-counting problems in elections over the past 10 years, including one problem in 2004 in Carteret County in which an electronic voting machine lost 4,400 votes.
The Carteret County episode cemented McCloy’s support of “optical-scan” voting machines, which allow voters to fill out a paper ballot by hand, rather than electronic “touch-screen” machines, which she says are vulnerable to being hacked and are more difficult to verify. The episode also fueled her efforts the next year in fighting for the state law that required all machines to have a paper trail. On the last day of the legislative session, the law passed, causing an overhaul of election equipment across North Carolina.
“The main thing we want is transparency in elections. We want everyone’s vote to count,” McCloy said.
McCloy knows that some people view her as eccentric; at one point, she even joked that she does not have a house full of 20 cats.
She said she would never have become an activist if the existing voting groups had taken up the issue of security in electronic voting machines. Hall’s group, Democracy North Carolina, and other voting-rights groups ultimately supported and lobbied for the 2005 law, but they were not out in front of the issue as McCloy was.
McCloy, who speaks with the conviction of someone who is convinced that she is right, has no intention of backing down in what she sees as her mission of transparent elections.
Asked last week how long it will take, she said, “That’s like asking a beagle how long it’s going to be chasing a rabbit.”
? James Romoser can be reached at 919-833-9056 or at
• AGE: 48.
• HOMETOWN/BIRTHPLACE: Bluefield, W. Va.
• EDUCATION: Bachelor’s of science in criminal-justice administration from Bluefield State College.
• EXPERIENCE: Founded the N.C. Coalition for Verified Voting in 2004.
• FAMILY: McCloy has a 16-year-old daughter and cares for her elderly mother.
• QUOTE/PHILOSOPHY: “If something doesn’t make sense, it bugs me. And if I can help somebody else, I’ll do it.… What we’ve done is to empower people to defend their own elections.”
© 2007 Winston-Salem Journal. The Winston-Salem Journal is a Media General newspaper.