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.

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. 

 

New York Looks To Ease Absentee Ballot Restriction, NY League of Women Voters Supports Eliminating Secret Ballot

 

Everytime I see an article about the push to ease absentee ballot restrictions, I’m always amazed that the League of Women Voters supports this move. Why is this suprising? Because the League of Women Voters has traditionally supported the secret ballot. However absentee ballots are not secret ballots, and for one, enable fraud like Granny Farming.

Judie Gorenstein, of the New York Suffolk County League of Women Voters, who supports the easing of restrictions on absentee ballots, was quoted in the Suffolf Life Newspaper, “We think it will decrease problems on Election Day if people can vote by mail.” Maybe Judie Gorenstein, and other members of the League around the country have never seen a detailed breakdown of the problems that absentee voting causes regularly, wherever and whenever it is used, so here’s that list

But it’s not just New York’s League that supports this move, most state chapters of the League seem to support this move as well. Florida’s League has in fact set up a website called, VoteAnywhere.org, to push this agenda. Here’s hoping that once they’ve done some homework on the subject that the League will amend it’s position on voting-by mail, and continue instead to support the secret ballot.

What’s Wrong With Voting By Mail or Absentee Ballot

novbm3.jpg 

I’ve been working on this bullet list for, oh, the entire year and a half that I’ve been running this blog, so it keeps changing. It also isn’t my highest priority to fully edit, what is essentially always evolving. However, by posting this list, it will inevitably make it apparent that some edits are absolutely necessary. So in that spirit here’s my working list of the problems I have found so far with Voting By Mail, around the country, here in Washington State, down in Oregon, California, and everywhere else. There’s about 17 points on the list so far, so be sure to check below the fold:

  1. Absentee ballots are not “secret ballots.” Voting at the kitchen table in front of your spouse is not voting in secret behind a privacy screen at a polling booth. The secret ballot is not created by a “privacy envelop,” rather the secret ballot relies on the the polling site, and the secrecy provided by a polling booth. Without this fundamental level of protection, the ballot becomes far more susceptible to influence. Vote buying, vote collecting, and vote stuffing schemes become possible in vote by mail systems. Additionally, a signed but unvoted ballot becomes valuable in a system that spends billions on elections every year.
  2. Absentee ballots are still counted by the same privately owned voting machines that have been in the news, including Diebold, ES&S, Sequoia and all the rest. Don’t be fooled into thinking that Vote-By Mail systems do away with privatized computer vote counting. Diebold, or ES & S, Sequoia, and all the other voting machine companies use proprietary software vote counting machines that are just as capable (or incapable) of counting vote-by mail “paper ballots” as they are at counting touchscreen votes. Most vote by mail systems are counted by the very same computer systems that your vote would be counted upon were you to be voting at a polling site. And in the case of some counties that have been switched over to touch screens, there have been reports that the absentee ballots are typically hand entered into the touchscreen system anyway. In 2006, Maryland made national headlines because the state had switched to touch screen machines but absentees were still using paper ballots. The Republican Governor made a fuss about the touch screens that the Democratic Secretary of State, Linda Lamone, was pushing. The rate of absentee ballot requests went through the roof in Maryland because people wanted a paper ballot. However, if their paper ballot system is anything like King County, the paper ballots are eventually fed into the AccuVote system made by Diebold, and then counted by the centralized, GEMS central tabulation software. Or so similar system.  “Hacking Democracy,” the recent HBO documentary, makes it clear that the problem is deeper than machine A versus machine B. Feeding paper ballots into machines and then never auditing the paper ballots is not acceptable. However, it is a common practice with absentee vote-by mail systems.
  3. In many cases, like King County, WA, the Post Office no longer maintains control of the incoming ballots during processing of incoming mail. Instead of the government run Post Office maintaining the chain of custody of absentees, a private company sorts incoming absentee ballots into precincts before giving them back to King County for counting. This breaks down any chain of custody rules that may have been in place at the post office, and privatizes another link in the chain. Not surprisingly, the Post Office never makes an official tally of the number of ballots given to this company. So if they don’t know how many ballots are provided, how would they know how many should be returned? A basic rule in accounting has been foolishly eliminated. Recent reports by Blackboxvoting.org from New Hampshire, indicate that the “chain of custody” procedures in state systems are broken at a fundamental level, around the country. From beginning to end, thewhole system of Absentee Ballots is insecure, as ballots are no longer strictly controlled by the County and citizen poll workers in the individual Precincts.
  4. The cost of running an all mail voting system can actually be greater than a poll based voting system. The supporters of VBM have frequently argued that the system saves money over the cost of poll-based voting systems, and they often deride the current poll system as a “mixed” or “hybrid” system. But upon deeper examination this argument is questionable at best. First off, instead of providing ballots only to voters who “turn-out” to vote, a 100% VBM system prints and mails ballots to every registered voter in the county, precinct, or jurisdiction. Typical elections do not come anywhere near 100% turnout. So in a hypothetical 50% turnout election, 50% of the ballots will have been printed, sorted, stamped and mailed to people that are not voting.Printing absentee ballots is far more expensive than printing poll ballots. Why? Because there’s a host off additional items that are necessary to print and mail a ballot. First you print the ballot, then you have privacy envelops and mailing envelopes that have extra printing, instructions, and a security flap over a signature box. This makes for a fairly expensive piece of mail. And in counties of tens or hundreds of thousands of voters, it adds up fairly quickly. Additionally, there’s a bit more upfront cost, as the ballots must go out weeks ahead of time. So ballot printing is on a rush schedule following a primary vote when compared to the printing cycle necessary for a poll-based voting system. This is a major factor in the now commonly seen headline, “Absentee Ballots mailed late,” or, “Absentee Ballots misprinted.”
  5. The Signature Verification Process is error prone and routinely disenfranchises thousands of voters when it is used. Ballots rejected for having invalid signatures are treated as “Guilty before proven innocent.”In King County, Washington, in 2006, the Seattle Weekly reported that over 7,000 votes were initially removed from the vote totals, until voters were contacted, and given a chance to verify their signature and the validity of his or her ballot. Over 3,000 voters did not respond in time, and those ballots were disenfranchised. That’s just one County in an off year election. Vote-By Mail systems increase the error rate in numerous ways.
  6. Continue reading

Minorities Harrassed by Republicans About Absentees

Interesting how when you undermine the secrecy of the ballot through Vote-By Mail, or absentee voting schemes, problems arise:

http://www.thestarpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20071207/NEWS01/712070358/1002

As part of the mayoral recount, Republicans have investigated Precinct 18 for evidence of voter fraud because of its high number of absentee votes. More people voted by absentee ballot than by machine in the Nov. 6 election in Precinct 18.

The allegations of harassment first surfaced Nov. 16 when Robert Lewis, a black voter from Precinct 18, complained to the election board that four unidentified people approached him at his Whiteley home and questioned him about his absentee vote and for whom he had voted.

The people did not identify themselves, Lewis said, but represented themselves in a fashion that led him to believe they were election officials.