Early Voting Alters Precinct System and Exit Polls

Here’s another editorial on how liberalized absentee voting, or Vote-By Mail is altering our ability to conduct accurate exit polls:

http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/06/24/opinion/pollpositions/main4205467.shtml

 

Bill Bradbury Hawks Vote-By Mail to Pennsylvania

Apparently Bill Bradbury is not satisfied with eliminating the secret ballot in Oregon, now he’s on a mission to eliminate the secret ballot nationally as well:

http://publicbroadcasting.net/wpsu/news.newsmain?action=article&ARTICLE_ID=1295502§ionID=1

Bradbury claims, “We will have the cleanest, the most accurate voter registration rolls in the country in about another two years, because there’s this constant cleansing, because of the returned ballots, that lead to inactive voter status.”

The idea was generally well-received by the Pennsylvania legislators, although Democrat Robert Freeman of Northhampton County was worried about tradition “The one concern I have is the end of that civic ritual, going to a polling place, making a conscious effort to be there in line with your neighbors, casating your vote in a democratic style,” Freeman said.

Alabama Absentee Voting Totals Questioned

This case has it all, a guy named Michael Jackson, a mayor’s race up in the air over absentee ballot totals, and a candidate accused of “helping” people vote:

http://www.tidesports.com/article/20080609/NEWS/865620239/-1/RSS04&source=RSS

In Marion, the county seat, the 2004 mayor’s election has still not been settled because of a court challenge over allegations of improper absentee ballots.

District Attorney Michael Jackson said he expects there will be federal and state observers in Perry County for the July 15 primary runoff after a federal observer reported that a candidate hung around a polling place much of the day Tuesday and helped some voters cast ballots.

Secretary of State Beth Chapman has pointed to a number of irregularities in Perry County during Tuesday’s primaries. Chapman said there are 8,361 registered voters in the county, and 4,207 votes cast, which means 50.3 percent of eligible voters would have gone to the polls. That gives Perry County a turnout that nearly triples the rate in counties like Marengo, where about 17.7 percent of voters cast ballots.

Chapman also said there were 1,114 absentee ballots cast in Perry County, compared with seven in Hale county and 14 in Crenshaw County — both of which have larger populations than Perry.

Alabama Attorney General Troy King has seized voting records in Perry County.

NJ Sees Push for Permanent Vote-by Mail Status Absentee Voting

According to the press release, Assemblypersons Conners and Quigley have put forth the ‘VOTE BY MAIL LAW OF 2008’ for New Jersey’s consideration. I guess I’ll have to make some contact in New Jersey this summer.

More Absentee Ballot Problems

http://www.nbc40.net/view_story.php?id=5919

At tonights meeting, Board members questioned why the absentee ballots that were used two weeks ago, could not be read electronically — but that was not their only gripe — Freeholder, Joe McDevitt said that the average voter could not even understand how to fill out the ballot.

Mary Alyse Strother, Chairperson of the County Board of Elections, agreed with McDevitt, “….the back of the ballot looked like a phone book.”

More info on absentee ballot problems, here, and here.

Terminology of the day, Absentee Ballot Problems

I don’t often talk in terms of “absenteee ballots” and instead use the term, Vote-By Mail, frequently throughout this blog. The point for me is to underline the lie in the new terminology. And in fact, this blog is called the No Vote By Mail Project, and not the No Absentee Voting Project, for a reason. Why? Because I’m not against absentee voting. In limited ways, absentee voting is ok. It’s not great, but you can check it against general trends, and if it matches statistical projections based on expected voting patterns, it’s not going to be a serious problem for your election system. It may even improve the validity of the system by allowing small but vocal populations to vote that may not have had access to a voting place before, due to financial or physical reasons.

That said, a lot of what I do here, on the NOVBM website, is to track problems that appear in limited systems of absentee voting across the country. Why? Well only one state so-far is truly Vote-By Mail and that is Oregon. My state, Washington is quickly going that direction, and Califonria is right behind us. However, 50 states are using some form of absentee voting. And therefore the No Vote By Mail Project also tracks news and information about absentee ballot problems, remote voting, internet voting, black box voting, and voting news from around the world. Democracy is about participation, voting from home and tossing your vote in the mail, relying on faith to guide it to it’s destination, and faith to trust in the system to count your vote accurately, this is about as far away from particiapatory Democracy as I could ever envision.

 

Mr. Postman, Is My Absentee Ballot Safe?

Nothing to see here, move along:

Alabama: absentee records seized in Lowndes County

WSFA 12 News reports: Attorney General Troy King today announced that agents from his office have served subpoenas upon Lowndes County election officials and have taken custody of records relating to the June 3 primary election. — WSFA 12 News Montgomery, AL |Attorney General Subpoenas Lowndes County Voting Records

–From the Votelaw Blog

Paper Ballot Speech from a Few Years Back

Ed Note: I wrote this to give at a little gathering I was asked to attend in place of Andy Stephenson, to talk about the essentials of voting integrity.  I’m reposting it here to keep track of it….

http://www.democraticunderground.com/discuss/duboard.php?az=view_all&address=203×316579

__________________

What do we need?

What do we want?

If we’re going to call ourselves a Democracy, what is the minimum that we the people require to participate?

I’m up here to talk about paper ballots, but why?

To me the answer is just one word: Faith.

In order for me to vote, I must have faith. Faith in the system, faith in the process, and it’s faith that makes me believe that it matters that I participate at all.

And anywhere along the way, if society, our government, elected officials, or individuals damage that faith, or cause me to question that faith, it doesn’t just hurt me, it hurts the system itself, it attacks our beliefs and undermines our Democracy.

Democracy can’t be bought with guns or bombs. Democracy is born as an idea and grows in the hearts and minds of those who believe in it, those who have faith in the system.

Why is the American Dollar stronger than the Peso? … at least the last time I checked…

Faith

Take away my ballot, my real life paper ballot, and you’ve undermined my faith at the most basic level. The tactile level, the level at which I can touch and feel the reality of my vote.

I’m not a Luddite, and I’m not against machines counting paper. But I wouldn’t trust a bank without deposit slips, or an ATM without a receipt.

I don’t have faith in Corporations, weathermen, or politicians. And I shouldn’t have to trust any of them to count my vote.

Referring to arms control treaties with the Soviet Union, Reagan once said, “Trust but verify ”. But I say, provide me a way to verify and then I can start to trust.

And don’t tell me that YOU trust the system. There’s got to be a way for me to trust the system. I need to be able to understand the process and verify the results in order to gain faith in the process. This is a new bill of goods those who would take away my paper ballot are trying to sell. They want me to believe in mathematics, a cryptography solution, VoteHere is one such company pushing this solution. Some fancy math, and a receipt that I can punch into the Internet that shows me that I voted. But no one seems able to explain to me how this works.

Fancy mathematics and fancy words loose my attention. While I might not be able to calculate the weight of the sun, I should be able to understand how we count votes. If we are going to have a Democratic society, it must allow me, and YOU, and any average citizen to be bad at math, but still be able to convince me that the system is valid. The average member of society isn’t going to understand a fancy system of cryptography, just as most of us realized long ago that fancy math hasn’t helped us predict the weather. A 60% chance of a valid election doesn’t sound very good to me. I just don’t have faith in fancy math.

I especially don’t have faith in fancy “proprietary ”math. Another word for proprietary is secret. So when someone tells me they have some fancy mathematics, a cryptography solution, that makes my paper ballot unnecessary, once again, I’m not really that interested. Because I don’t have much faith in mathematics that I don’t understand. And if you have to resort to explaining the system with metaphor and simile, or if you need several experts to explain it to me, you’ve lost me. And I’ll have no faith in the system you build.

These machines, these blackbox voting machines. Already in place in Snohomish and Yakima. They require me to trust without verification. Trust the election officials, trust the government, trust the companies, trust the programmers, trust the mathematicians. But frankly none of these people ever had my trust to begin with.

The media, the voting officials, the voting machine companies, even the Supreme Court, is arguing that speed is of the essence, and obviously these machines are far speedier without paper ballots clogging up the process. But I don’t care so much about speed, I’m more interested in accuracy. The battle isn’t for speed. My faith isn’t challenged by slow and steady bookkeeping with proper auditing. It’s challenged by secrets and lies. And once you’ve lost it, faith is a hard thing to regain.

These companies, and our election officials have lied to us, are lying to us, and will continue to lie to us, they’ve committed fraud, and it IS a conspiracy. It’s a conspiracy to get rid of paper ballots, and I for one am losing my faith in the system.

Don’t be fooled though, it’s not just about the paper. The devil is in the details, and the details are in the words used. It’s a verbal shell game, where “paper trail ”and “paper receipt ”are used to confuse you.

The words paper and ballot should not be separated. The go together hand in hand, and to separate them undermines the strength they have when unified. Paper is tangible, traceable, hard to destroy. Electrons, on the other hand are small, we can’t see them, most of us would have a hard time really explaining what they are. When I loose a $20 bill, I notice it’s gone. When I lose an electron, I don’t really notice…. unless my computer crashes, or I can’t find a term paper, or my music skips. Scratch a piece of paper, I can still read what you wrote, scratch my new CD, it’s worthless.

Paper trail, paper receipt, what do these terms mean? To me it means someone’s trying to put one over on me. Cause when it comes to voting I know what a ballot is. It’s been defined by law over hundreds of years. When I go to the grocery story I get a receipt, when I sell a house I sign a contract, and when I vote I get a ballot. Similes mean similar, they don’t mean the “same ”, and people who know the difference use the wrong words on purpose. They want some wiggle room… they want to change the system, they want to redefine the terms, get rid of the paper, turn the ballot into electrons, and give you a receipt, or a paper trail. Trick you into having faith in the system. So let’s be clear here, and let’s not mince words, a receipt is something that I get when I buy a banana, a ballot is something with which I vote. I’m not fooled by the verbal shell game. My eyes are still on the ball, and I’m not letting go of my paper ballot any time soon. Too adopt the words of the NRA you’ll have to pry my paper ballot from my cold dead hands.

Words have meaning, and meaning builds faith. Faith is built on a foundation of trust. Take away my trust, and you’ve undermined the foundation. Bastardize the meanings built on that foundation and you weaken the structure that holds up even weaker words. And just as assuredly as a house starts to crumble as the foundation is eroded, and the walls start to fall, democracy is being undermined as the meaning is corrupted and the foundation is slowly torn from underneath. Take away my paper ballot, and you strip away the keystone on which I build my faith in the system.

So all this talk about faith, and really so far, very little about the actuality of how a paper ballot works to increase my trust in the system. You may ask me how a system of paper, in which ballot boxes turn up in Lake Michigan, or are lost in the back of the rooms of King County, inspires my faith.

The key is, that they do turn up later. One might be able to steal a few hundred votes, a few ballot boxes might disappear, but their very physicality makes those ballots hard to destroy. But click a button, and send a few electrons off into the “ether ”, who knows if it ever gets where it’s going, there’s no physicality, and if it’s lost, where will we find it. My term paper that I lost in college is still lost, it never turned up in the back of the lecture hall, or under the bed in my dorm room. Electronic votes that are lost will never be found in the back room, and no ballots will ever turn up in the river, or in the trunk of someone ’s car. Just because the machine recount tells me the same number when I ask, doesn’t mean it’s more accurate. Data can be precise and simultaneously inaccurate.

Paper ballots are not a panacea, they won’t fix the system. No, they are simply the foundation on which the system is built. There are many layers above the foundation on which the house of democracy is built, and there are many checks and balances that must be in place to assure that our votes are counted accurately. Random audits, checking the paper against the machine counts, correlating the number of votes with registered voters, all good and necessary ways to double check the accuracy of the process. And any system is going to have a certain calculable margin of error, and if any of us are going to be honest about what just happened in Washington, the margin of victory fell well inside that margin of error, regardless of the recount, neither side can statistically claim victory, so the only victory left was a legal victory. There are obviously more than one way to lose faith in a system of belief.

But without a solid foundation there’s nothing for me to build my faith upon.

Voting in this country use to be a public process. We voted in public, the vote was counted in public, by the public. We trusted in the system, because we the people were the system. And every battle we the people fought was to increase that trust, either to increase the number and types of people that voted, or to increase the validity of the system by reducing the influence of others on our personal choices. But now we vote in secret, using a secret ballot, on machines with secret code. I think something has been lost here, don’t you?

Vote-By Mail, Absentee Ballots Slow California Vote Count

 California, we have a problem:

http://www.mercurynews.com/valley/ci_9511448

Thousands of vote-by-mail ballots that county elections workers have scurried to tally this week show a new name in the runoff for a judge’s seat – and a San Jose City Council race still too close to call.

When the final poll numbers from Tuesday’s election were released earlier this week, prosecutor Lane Liroff trailed court commissioner Jesus Valencia by just 28 votes in the race for Santa Clara County Superior Court judge. But the 50,000 additional vote-by-mail ballots voters turned in at polling places on Election Night changed the picture: Liroff ended up with about 1,000 more total votes and will almost certainly face San Jose attorney Diane Ritchie, the top vote-getter, in November.

Things remain even tighter in San Jose’s council District 2. With all the mail ballots counted late Friday, non-candidate Jacquelyn Adams – who withdrew from the race but still appeared on the ballot – led third-place candidate Ram Singh by a mere 12 votes.

Large use of absentee ballots slows down the entire vote collecting, and subsequent counting. Switching from largely precinct poll voting to Vote-by mail systems has slowed the vote count in every election cycle I have observed since starting this site a few years back. In Montana, a 4000 vote tally almost took a month to count, and in Washington the last Darcy Burner and Dave Reichert race was too close to call for a bit, if I recall correctly.

Want to know more, here’s 89 Articles on Why Voting By Mail is bad for democracy. Or if you are making a presentation to the County Board or your State Legistlator here’s the bullet list.

As California Heads to Vote-By Mail, Turnout Low and Going Lower?

Riddle me this… as Vote-By Mail percentages increase turnout is decreasing? If the postal voting enthusiasts really had it right, shouldn’t we be seeing the opposite trend? This article says a largely mail vote in California is expecting a low turnout:

http://www.mydesert.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080603/NEWS03/80603045

The California Association of Clerks and Elections Officials estimated a 31 percent turn out statewide. Riverside officials had anticipated turnout here would fall just under that.

“I’m not optimistic because what I heard from polling places today is that turnout was very low,” Dunmore said.

“Getting to the 30 percent looks like it might be a challenge.”

In contrast, the February presidential primary drew about 407,000 – or 55 percent of registered voters – to the polls.

Unlike February, when far more Democrats darkened the county’s voting booths – a total 74 percent turnout to 57 percent – slightly more Republicans voted this primary election absentee, 14 percent to Democrats’ 11 percent.

Riverside County has 763,941 registered voters.

Coachella Valley voters said tradition brought them out to the polls Tuesday.

The article also makes a great case against centralized vote-counting. Starting off by showing that trucking in the votes is a timely process. Poll-site vote counts! Yes. Centralized counts, no.