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

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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?

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

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

Absentee Ballot Fraud Alleged in Putin’s Election

Well this comes as no suprise:

http://www.theotherrussia.org/2007/12/02/false-results/ 

Voting with absentee ballots and voting on pressure from authorities

One of the major complaints that experts and voters alike are voicing is the rampant use of absentee ballots, which are difficult to trace and pin down to a particular individual. As electoral monitors from the SPS headquarters in Moscow have pointed out, a disproportionate share of absentee ballots are being used in polling places. Traditionally, such ballots are only used for individuals living in a different region than where they are registered to vote, and their widespread use in this election is unnecessary and alarming.

At polling station Number 1697, in the Autozavod district of Moscow, 40% of registered voters cast their decision using an absentee ballot. The voting process was administered by an observer from the pro-Kremlin United Russia party.

In a press-release, Yabloko announced that their observers flagged down and stopped a bus on the streets of Moscow. The vehicle was driving its passengers between polling stations, where they were voting multiple times with absentee ballots. Ivan Bolshakov, a candidate on the Yabloko party list, commented that the passengers were workers from the “Magnet” store from the city of Kovrov in the Vladimirsk oblast. They were apparently invited for an outing to Moscow, issued absentee ballots, and told to vote for United Russia. Before it was stopped, the bus had already visited several polling locations.

Observers from SPS noted a similar incident with a bus-load of people voting with absentee ballots in Eastern Izmailovo.

In the city of Slavyansk-na-Kubani, in the Krasnodarsk Krai, observers of the KPRF noticed a large share of university students voting under the direction of university vice-deans. The university officials were seen issuing absentee ballots to the students.

In St. Petersburg, employees of one vocational school and their families were being forced to vote for United Russia with absentee ballots, according to Yabloko. Janitors in the Golovinsk district of Moscow were under threat of dismissal, and were being told to receive absentee ballots and hand them over to their superiors.

In total, around 1 million 350 thousand absentee ballots were issued for the election, according to Nina Kulyasova, a representative of the Central Electoral Commission (CEC).

Idaho’s County Clerks will Try Once Again to Move to Vote-By Mail

Idaho is poised to try moving to unrestricted absentee ballots again next year:

http://www.magicvalley.com/articles/2007/10/31/news/local_state/123723.txt

 

A Second Chance

County clerks give vote-by-mail another try

County clerks will give vote-by-mail a second try when the 2008 Idaho Legislature convenes in January, but they scaled down their attempt from choosing entire elections to only non-candidate elections.

The change would allow voters to submit ballots via postal mail for elections besides primary and general contests, such as bond issue votes, taxing districts and recall elections.

“This is just a step to try and show the citizens how convenient it is to have vote-by-mail, so we thought if we tried it with non-candidates, it might work,” Twin Falls County Clerk Kristina Glascock said. “This is baby steps, I guess, to get people used to the process.”

The county clerks continue to make the argument that Vote-By Mail is more convenient. Obviously, this Texas county commisioner, thought the same thing. As did this mayor, and all these convenience loving folks in England, as well as a few honorable people in New Jersey.

Yep, looks like Vote-By Mail is really convenient, if what you want to do is rig an election.

More Absentee Ballot Fraud

Another day, another case of vote fraud using absentee ballots… dateline England:

Seven people have been charged with postal ballot fraud at the last General Election, police said.

The seven will appear in court next month charged with conspiracy to defraud.

No personal details of the alleged offenders have been released by police.

Each one is charged with conspiracy to defraud the returning officer in Bradford.

West Yorkshire Police said that the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) recommended charges following a joint probe with the city’s returning officer into “voting patterns and postal votes”.

England’s runaway success with Vote-by Mail is becoming clearer day-by-day:

During the May 2005 election, former Bradford returning officer Philip Robinson referred 252 cases of possible election fraud to the police. In April 2006, West Yorkshire Police passed files on 11 men and two women to the CPS following its investigation in Bradford.

Vote by Mail Fraud, You Don’t Say

Well here’s a shocker, from Texas no less:

http://www.statesman.com/news/content/gen/ap/TX_Commissioner_Resigns.html

Refugio County Commissioner resigns, admits to voter fraud

A Refugio County commissioner resigned Tuesday and acknowledged his role in a voter fraud scheme involving mail-in ballots that helped him get elected in 2006, officials said.

Raymond Villarreal, 57, pleaded guilty to a felony count of tampering with a governmental document and a misdemeanor count of wrongful possession of a ballot.

District Judge W.W. Kilgore sentenced Villarreal to 90 days in county jail, 300 hours of community service and $2,500 in fines. If he violates terms of a five-year probation, he could get sent to state prison for two years.

The Texas Attorney General’s Office said Villarreal got county residents to sign mail-in ballot applications, but had those applications sent to his supporters. After the ballots were filled out indicating a vote for Villarreal, he had the original applicants sign them.

Now somehow Vote-by Mail supporters all claim that this just won’t be a problem in THEIR state. Hmmm… I personally think it’s only a matter of time.