An Open Letter to Al Franken and His Friends from The No Vote By Mail Project

Often, I am told I look like Al Franken.

I resemble that remark. Oh well.

It’s ironic then, that Al Franken is contesting his election based on Absentee Ballots. Ironic, at least to me, as the Director of The No Vote By Mail Project.

Personally I like Al Franken ok, and in this instance I think he stands a good chance of proving that absentee ballots are not statistically an accurate way to count votes. The problem for Mr. Franken will be to show that those absentee ballot errors specifically affected him, personally, and unequally. To this end I think Mr. Franken will probably fail. But if he can prove this there’s fertile ground for adding up the 200 votes he trails by.

So here’s a shout out to the Al Franken fan club, and his legal team, you are welcome to use this blog to prove your case. But please give me a shout out when you can. I’ve been fighting the Vote-By Mail trend all by my lonesome for quite some time. All while being told I look kinda like Mr. Franken. It’s high time more people heard about the problems with voting by mail and absentee ballot. It’s not just something that affects a few elections, sometimes. It’s happening all over the country. So hey, maybe you know an agent who wants to publish a book about absentee voting problems? I’ve got plenty of material….

Why you should think twice about Voting By Mail or Absentee Ballot

It’s been awhile since I wrote a best of The No Vote By Mail Project article.  And with the election I’m getting more hits as it gets closer to November, and everyone is like, what’s this absentee ballot thingy?

So if you just ended up here randomly, looking for where you should drop off your absentee ballot, or if you should send it through the mail, you’ve found the right website… in a sense. Because what I want you to do is to take 2 or 10 minutes outta your day, and read a few reasons why absentee ballots are bad for Democracy.

Really, I’m dead serious.

You’ve heard about the Diebold Touchscreen machines, you’ve heard maybe about long lines in Ohio. And now, suddenly it seems everyone is jumping on the Vote-By Mail bandwagon. In fact, it’s true, because about 25 states are looking at Washington and Oregon as the MODELS to go to once the public has thoroughly rejected Touchscreens.

But here’s the catch. Diebold (Now something like Premier Election Systems?), ES&S, Sequoia, all these companies want to control the Vote-By Mail paper counting as well. Same with Optical Scan and all the rest.

The underlying problem with Vote-By Mail is the same as the problem with Touchscreens, or even County level central vote counting. It removes the public vote count from the public.

In the past, the public actually physically counted the vote, right where they voted, in the gym, or any precinct polling site. There were procedures to follow, and a glass ballot box in the middle of the room. There were counters and observers, all in the same room, and when they finally reached a decision the number was posted for all to see before the count was sent to the county or state for further tabulation.

With computers, or vote by mail counted by computers, or even with central counting itself, the voters no longer get to observe the entire process of voting, right there in their neighborhood. And once we the people give up the physical control of the ballot and the vote counting of those ballots, Democracy becomes merely a faith based endeavor.

That’s why I support Precinct Level Hand Counted, or Hand Audited Paper Ballots. It’s also why I oppose Voting By Mail, or relaxing the restrictions in place currently in many states curbing their use.

We the People of the United States must take back our Democracy. And the only way we do that is not only through voting, it is by volunteering to also count the vote. And taking back Democracy, physically, into our own hands, our neighbors’ hands, at the gym down the street. The path for the People is clear, we must revitalize the Precinct System, we must volunteer to count the vote, observe the count, AND register new voters. But registering new voters is only one step. Because what good is registering voters if we can’t be sure of how the vote is being counted. So wherever privately controlled computer systems or Vote-By Mail schemes take away our right to count the vote physically, at the gym, church, or hall down the street in our local precincts this must be challenged and righted.

Anyway, those are my quick thoughts on the subject… here’s my top articles on Why you should think twice about Voting By Mail or Absentee Ballot:

  1. My Vote Gets Rejected in the Mail, Part 1, 2, 3
  2. Voting By Mail takes a long, long, long time to count
  3. What is a Secret Ballot?
  4. What’s going on in the Swing State of Colorado?
  5. Voting System Recommendations
  6. What’s wrong with Voting By Mail or Absentee Ballot… The List
  7. Should the Dead be Voting?
  8. What to expect in the 2008 election.
  9. The Problem of the Vanishing Primary Candidate.
  10. 89 More Articles on Why Voting By Mail is a Very Bad Idea

Ok, so if you made it through all of that, please tell me in the comments why you still think voting-by mail is a good idea that we should implement nationally?

What is a secret ballot? Trust but Verify!

 What is a Secret Ballot? Ask this question, and you’re likely to get many answers. To some it’s simple, to others complex. But in essence a secret ballot must remain secret before being publicly counted. If the secrecy is by design open to intrusion then no secret ballot really existed in the first place. And if the security is controlled by private rather than public oversight, then no verifiability of the validity of the system exists on which to trust a secret ballot voting method.

Notice in the above cartoon, the Secret Ballot is fundamentally paired with a Secret Ballot Booth. This makes the secrecy of the ballot absolute, as no one is allowed to enter the ballot booth with the voter, except for cases of disability assistance. A controlling boss, or spouse, can’t force you to reveal how you vote in the privacy of the voting booth. However, if you change that system slightly, and take away the voting booth, do you really have a secret ballot?

Another aspect of a strong secret ballot is that it prevents vote-buying and selling. One of the reasons, in fact, that the secret ballot was introduced in the first place was to prevent this practice. A voting booth prevents vote-selling and vote-buying by making it impossible to verify how the person paid to vote, voted. Any system that makes it possible to attach a voter to their vote fundamentally undermines the secret ballot.

The precinct system in the United States, has, like the British System, used privacy ballot booths. The private, but public, voting booth is one key to a secret ballot system. The publicly counted precinct system is the other key to the system. However, that has been lost throughout the country, as we have moved to mostly “centrally counted” voting in which the ballots are transported to the County for central vote tabulation.

Why are both the voting booth and the precinct, preferably hand-counted systems, important? Well it’s really about the nature of trust and trustworthiness. In the precinct system , when the polls close, the ballot box is opened, and the ballots are counted in front of everyone that wants to witness it. Nowadays it could also be videotaped and webcast. Okay, so this system is fully transparent to the voting public, and therefore the public trusts in the system. Take away that transparency, and no longer can the voting public verify the system, at least where they live, with their own eyes, and participation.

As a counter example to the secret ballot precinct system, on the West Coast, the powers that be are pushing towards 100% forced mail voting from Washington to California. But a vote-by mail or absentee ballot is not “really” a strong type of secret ballot because the system is open to coercive efforts on the part of those inclined. Common examples of forced voting include employers or union representatives requiring employees to reveal their “absentee ballot” before turning it in, just as Vladimr Putin’s operatives were accused of recently. Egregious examples of the ways in which the secrecy of absentee ballots are routinely breached exist throughout the United States law books, arrests, and court cases. Plenty of examples are readily available internationally as well.

A Vote-By Mail, or Absentee Ballot, is also fundamentally open to vote-selling, because it is easy to prove how you vote under that system. How much is a vote worth anyway? If an election got close, one in which they are already spending millions to market, comes down to 500 votes, I suspect absentee ballots could become fairly expensive.

The precinct level vote count insures another level of transparency, essentially verification through public counting. Centralized vote count systems, for example when the County rather than the Precincts count the votes, intrudes upon the secret ballot by removing vote counting from public view and public control. This makes the system unverifiable by the general public and undermines the validity of the system. Under such a system the public must, “trust the system” with virtually no way to verify the validity said system.

In the precinct system, to verify the public count was seemingly legitimate, any voter can attend their local precinct, observe the counting procedures and watch the totals be publicly posted for all to verify as accurate and honest. 100% Vote-by mail and other remote voting systems inherently add limited verifiability for conducting the public-quality control that is possible through a properly regulated precinct level hand counted system.

A friend of the No Vote By Mail Project, Jason Osgood, who is apparently running for Secretary of State says it well, “Private Voting, Public Counting.” Or as Regan said, “Trust but verify.” However, with voting, I’d go a step further and say that the system itself should just be trustworthy. The precinct level “hand-counted” or “hand-audited” paper ballot voting system is the only “secret-ballot” system I know of that can truly implement any type of secret ballot vote without fundmentally altering the very nature of the system. 

 

San Bernadino, California, “Voting By Mail Made Easy”

In the usual refrain, Vote-By Mail is being touted as the savior to the many inconveniences of poll place voting. Including, somehow it is suppose to actually decrease “over-voting.” Which is a truly amazing feat, since most paper-ballot machine counted systems, like the fill-in the circle optical scan ballots actually will automatically reject over-voted ballots, however VBM (Vote-By Mail) systems cannot take advantage of this feature.

Anyway, there’s about a half dozen totally nonsensical things in this article, see if you can spot them:

http://www.redlandsdailyfacts.com/news/ci_9403652

The San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters has launched its “Vote By Mail, Voting Made Easy” campaign designed to educate residents about the advantages of casting their ballots by mail as an alternative to voting in person.

The campaign touts voting by mail as a convenient, reliable way to cast a ballot.

In 2007 the California State Legislature renamed absentee voting “vote by mail.” The move was an attempt to increase overall voter turnout by appealing to residents who would ordinarily not vote due to accessibility or scheduling issues associated with voting at polling places.

The Vote By Mail campaign’s other aim is to decrease errors, such as over-voting, by providing voters the hassle-free experience of voting on their schedules and in their own homes.

“This is an ideal year to promote voting by mail with all of the interest at the presidential level. We also want to encourage voter participation in the June 3rd statewide primary,” said San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters Kari Verjil. “Now individuals have another voting option open to them, and we hope they take advantage of this opportunity to never miss an election in California.”

Verjil notes another benefit that may appeal to some.

“The first results you’ll see reported on election night reflect votes cast in advance by mail, since those can be counted prior to polls closing,” she said.

Ohio Secretary of State Wants to Make Voting Worse with VBM

Repeating the Vote-By Mail mantra, Ohio’s Secretary of State Brunner, “thinks some counties would find voting by mail more convenient and less expensive than opening polls on Election Day, and she wants the idea debated.”

Notice that she hasn’t argued that VBM is more secure, trustworthy, or acccurate. But she is worried about security:

http://www.dispatch.com/live/content/local_news/stories/2008/04/15/votebymail.ART_ART_04-15-08_A1_RE9UB8A.html?sid=101

“She also wants to keep county elections officials from taking voting machines home with them on the eve of an election. Some officials do that so they can take them directly to the polls the next morning, but that raises security concerns, she said.”

Oh gee, that’s swell. She’s against election officials TAKING THE MACHINES HOME WITH THEM! Like that’s somehow a radical stance on reform?

Secretary Brunner took out the Republican SOS so famous for Ohio, 2004. Kenneth Blackwell. It would be nice if she’d act like she understood the dangers of voting by mail as well.

The underlying problem with both is the private control of vital elements of the voting system. Physical control of the voting machines, the software, or vote-by mail, all separate the poll worker from the system of vote counting. Voting machines remove the counting control, vote-by mail puts the physical ballot in the hand of the post office instead of the poll worker. Both are big mistakes. The poll voting system puts all the control in the hands of the people, and so far all the other systems take that away. Everything else is a form of privatization.

Vote-By Mail and Electronic Poll Books

I receive emails regularly from the Equal Justice Foundation, from Dr. Charles E. Corry.  He’s done quite a lot of work opposing Vote-By Mail and electronic voting problems in Colorado, and recently sent me this editorial called, “Detecting election fraud made virtually impossible.” Having checked EJF’s website I couldn’t readily find it posted anywhere, so I am going to reprint it here, because, well, it’s about the best summary editorial of voting integrity problems I’ve read recently:

The story by Myung Oak Kim on Voter-database doubts in yesterday’s Rocky Mountain News raises serious questions about the potential for election fraud. From the article it appears that election officials intend to use Colorado’s SCORE II statewide voter registration database as an electronic poll book during precinct elections in the future. Certainly electronic poll books are already in use, and required for vote center and mail ballot elections. However, such usage is fraught with peril, and the current system cannot even keep such simple fields as a voter’s party affiliation straight. Since the system has been developed in secret, and public review will no doubt be extremely limited in the future, there is absolutely no way to know whether the names in the database are corporeal, the addresses exist and are residential, how many are in a secret file for alleged victims of domestic violence, what other chicanery exists or, more likely, gross incompetence is hidden behind “security by obscurity.”

     Before going further, I would like to recommend the book Deliver The Vote, A History Of Election Fraud, An American Political Tradition – 1742-2004 by Tracy Campbell.  Anyone familiar with election fraud, and as Tracy Campbell abundantly documents, realizes that a basic and essential tool for detecting election fraud is a printed poll book containing signatures of those who appeared at the precinct and voted in the election. But election officials are rapidly eliminating that fundamental protection with no debate or review.
      While the use of “repeaters,”  “drifters,” and “illegals,” together with vote buying and selling are nothing new to American elections, requiring a voter to appear in person at their precinct and physically sign a printed poll book in which they were listed, and that was available for future inspection, at least made the logistics of election fraud complicated and heightened the possibility of exposure and prosecution. But with electronic poll books there is little likelihood that public inspection can be easily accomplished or that the records will be preserved intact and complete. Also, signature capture and comparison is becoming all-electronic with little or no testing, and certainly no standards, for the required equipment and methods. The problems are particularly acute with mail ballots and exacerbated by mail-in voter registration where the “citizen” never personally appears before an election official, then may request a ballot by mail without any justification, or may be sent a ballot without even requesting one.
    Thus we now have a system where we don’t have access to any real documentation, there is no requirement that “voters” establish their physical existence, and only ephemeral electronic records exist for the election that we can’t see.
    One of the perennial problems with election fraud is that there are more ballots cast than voters who signed the poll book. Ofttimes there are even more ballots cast than there are registered voters in a precinct, which has happened on numerous occasions with electronic voting machines. But with vote centers it hasn’t proven possible to break the voters and ballots down by precinct. With electronic poll books, mail ballots, early voting, and precinct voting combined it is impossible to control the number of ballots cast in a precinct in an election. While anyone with evil intent will insure that the total number of ballots cast is somewhat less than the number of registered voters in the precinct, with only easily-manipulated electronic records the problems of proving election fraud are greatly increased. The issue is also made worse by the tendency for county clerks to determine voter turnout by dividing the number of ballots returned by the number of ballots they send out in mail ballot elections. That is done to make it appear turnout was larger than in traditional elections, but such smoke-and-mirror techniques only serve to hide underlying problems which is, of course, desirable for election officials.
    I always quake in fear when attorneys set out in haste to dictate solutions to technical problems. That is particularly true when they legislate on such fundamental issues as elections. I’m quite certain that I don’t know all the problems that will result from this mad dash to computerized voting, yet legislators are hastily passing laws to dictate the unknown and, inevitably, the election disasters of tomorrow.
     Given hundreds of years of election fraud experience, our forefathers had figured out that, except in very limited circumstances, requiring voters to physically appear at their local precinct on Election Day and sign a printed poll book that identified them as registered voters in that precinct was the safest, but not perfect, way to insure only eligible citizen’s were allowed to vote.
    After establishing their identity and valid registration, voters were then given a ballot that they hand marked in the privacy of a voting booth.  Before the voter left their polling place the ballot was dropped into a ballot box after any identifying tags were removed. That ensured a secret ballot cast free from any intimidation, coercion, or electioneering. Vote buying and selling were also minimized by this method.
      When the polls closed the ballots were hand counted at the precinct in full view of poll watchers and the public, and the totals posted at the precinct before the sealed ballot boxes and totals were taken to the clerk’s office. The county clerk then totaled the results from all precincts in the county and gave out a public notice that could easily be verified by totaling up the posted precinct results.
     The discerning reader will note that none of these protections exist today in many elections. Perhaps we should heed the lessons learned by our forefathers and return to the methods they developed for secure and honest elections. That isn’t to say better means and methods for voting can’t or won’t be developed in the future, or that computers don’t have a place in elections. But it is safe to state that present hastily and ill-informed election legislation has and is making elections less trustworthy  and secure.
Chuck Corry
Charles E. Corry, Ph.D., F.G.S.A.
President

Equal Justice Foundation http://www.ejfi.org/
455 Bear Creek Road
Colorado Springs, Colorado 80906-5820
Personal home page: http://corry.ws