What to expect in the 2008 election…

Ok, so here’s my prediction. At least from a Vote-By Mail perspective, I expect these trends to continue:

  1. Longer and longer vote counts. When elections are conducted by mail it takes more like a month to collect, sort and count ballots than the previous 1 to 2 days that it used to take.
  2. Cases of granny farming will increase in Vote-By Mail, no-reason, or no-excuse absentee voting. Why? Because when you vote-by mail, you take away the secret ballot, and thereby make coercion easier. Therefore the incidences of voter coercion will increase.
  3. Votes will be lost in the mail.

Many other trends in voting problems, caused directly by switching away from precinct based pollsites and to voting by post, will also increase. See here, and here for more information.

As for the states to watch, of course Washington tops the list. But Montana has also had some fun problems… and there’s so many other states that have relaxed their absentee voting requirements, that I expect that up to 20 states will report problems with their absentee voting integrity (or lack thereof).

For instance, the Milwaukee, Wisconsin Police recently put out this report.

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

The National Committee for Voting Integrity

http://votingintegrity.org/members.html

Hmm, here’s a site I missed. It’s got some people I know and don’t know on it. I wonder what their position is on:

1. Precinct level hand counted paper ballots

2. Vote-By Mail

The site hasn’t been updated in some time, but it has a useful amount of informational links.