Election System Advancements

Table of Contents

Summary of election system advancements detailed on pages 251-299 of The New Enlightenment 

Our Dysfunctional Political System

Our dysfunctional political system places nearly insurmountable barriers between where we are and a just and genuinely democratic society. If most people see that a public policy proposal would benefit them and the nation, they also could reasonably judge it as impossible to implement. Fundamental election system advancements are essential to creating a genuine democracy and ending dominance by a self-serving elite.

The Inadequacy Of Policymakers Prior Election System Reform Proposals

Some policymakers have proposed election system improvements that increase the influence of small donors. For example, the “Government of the People Act” (GPA) proposed government subsidies based on the amount of money a candidate receives in small campaign contributions from individuals. Despite its benefits, Republican Party leaders blocked its passage. However, the Act did not adequately address the scale of the problem. It had the following flaws:

  • The GPA proposed public subsidies for candidates six times the total of all donations they receive under $150, so it would increase small donors’ influence. However, small donors commonly choose their candidates based on mass media coverage decisions. Experience shows that such decisions are biased in favor of major party candidates who do not propose significant changes in the status quo or otherwise serve the interests of elites, typically at the expense of the majority.
       In the 2016 and 2020 presidential election campaigns, this defect would have been prominently demonstrated. Trump would have used some of the extraordinary amounts of free airtime the mass media gave him to appeal for small donations. As a result, he would have raised many tens of millions of small donation dollars. The government would then have given him hundreds of millions of dollars to buy more airtime. As president, Trump mainly served elites at the expense of the majority.
  • Public funds will inevitably be used to buy 30-second broadcast media ads because of the high cost of airtime now available for candidates. Substantive candidate policy proposals cannot be expressed in 30-seconds, so shallow, misleading, and often negative content on other candidates is commonly used for this time. The more that ads of this type fill the airwaves, the fewer people respect or like its contestants, and even the contest itself.
  • Most proposals, including the GPA, have ignored the anti-democratic ballot access laws that unfairly limit third-party and independent candidates’ access. 

Crowdsourcing Campaign Funds Will Not End Elite Dominance

Some people believe the internet facilitates crowdsourcing campaign funds to a degree where candidates will no longer have to rely on funds from the wealthy and corporations to win office. Small contributions from most people can support candidates with platforms that well serve majority interests. Bernie Sanders and some other officeholders have succeeded or raised enough money to succeed using this method. But they are rare exceptions. Extreme economic inequality means crowdsourcing campaign funds cannot be a solution to our systemic problem of elite domination of our political system.

Inequality in the United States is characterized by tens of millions of Americans with insufficient or barely sufficient money to meet their basic needs. Many of them made extraordinary sacrifices to support, for example, Sanders’s presidential run. For the first time in their lives it was clear that a presidential candidate was dedicated to serving their interests instead of those of a wealthy donor class, so they pushed their limits to help him succeed.

Some of the 78% of Americans that live paycheck to paycheck will pay the expense to help support some candidates’ campaigns but cannot do so for an entire political class. Any election system dependent on money will advantage people with the most money, and with it extremely unequally distributed, so will be political power. The GPA, similar policies, and crowdsourcing will leave the bottom quintile, most of whom sometimes don’t have enough money for food, particularly poorly represented.  They cannot be a significant source of campaign money even if we multiply their relatively small and uncommon contributions with public dollars.

Election system reforms must eliminate the need for campaign money from candidates and their allies, reduce the power of the mass media to bias election outcomes to serve the interests of elites at the expense of everyone else, and create a far better-informed electorate. My election system advancement proposals would accomplish these goals. The following is a summary; I detail them in my book The New Enlightenment on pages 262-295:

Optimizing the Use of Our Airwaves during Election Season

The publicly-owned broadcast spectrum is a limited resource, so we require by law (Communications Act of 1934) that broadcast licensees operate in the “public interest.” However, the “public interest” requirement has been poorly defined. As a result, broadcast companies have been mostly free to serve their interests in maximizing profits and maintaining economic and political systems generating increasingly extreme inequalities by restricting the public policy debate within a narrow range.

Far more campaign dollars are spent on broadcast media than other media because it remains the most effective way to influence the majority of the population. The massive amounts of money needed for broadcast political ads enrich broadcast corporations and enable other corporations and wealthy individuals, to corrupt our elections. Candidates must serve the interests of their major donors above everyone else or not have sufficient ad money to compete. So, air media companies must meet their “public interest” standard during campaign season by complying with new laws that require them to offer, free of charge, many hours of airtime to each qualified candidate for debates, question and answer public forums, and policy speeches. The candidates’ TV and radio content will also be available on the commercial streaming video and podcasting services and the Federal Elections Commission website.

The New Enlightenment’s system limits the provision of most of the free airtime to four candidates per national office contest because this maximizes the number of candidates for the desirable amount of airtime that can be practically offered per candidate. A qualification process will determine who receives most of the free airtime.

A Superior Ballot Access System

I propose a 2-stage petition signing process for ballot access. Candidates will provide documents to initial petition signers supporting their candidacies that include references to other information on the policies the candidate has developed or would otherwise support and promote. Depending on the office contested,  they will be ballot qualified if sufficient numbers are motivated by this information to appear at the local election office to sign an oath of support. They will state that based on their evaluation of the information they have received, they believe it would be in the best interest of their district or state, and the United States if the candidate was on the ballot. We will adjust the number of petitions signings required for ballot access so that in most races, the number of candidates on the ballot will be limited to ten. Payments of any kind for petition signatures will be federal felonies.

For congressional elections, only the candidate can canvass for the petition signatures. Candidates for the Senate and presidency can also have their representatives canvass for the signatures. Ideally, candidates seeking higher office will have previously succeeded in winning a congressional seat.

Summary of a New “Primary” System

Ballot-qualified candidates can choose not to participate in the following process for the robust public and air media support of their campaign. But besides the support, they would sacrifice the preference of many voters for candidates who participate since it requires they do not use their or donated money to promote their candidacies. The system will reduce to insignificant or nearly so the influence of ads by outside groups, as will a new “Fairness Doctrine.” Each ballot-qualified candidate would be offered the following within a kind of primary election system to qualify for the main free airtime system for the general election:

  • The opportunity to provide a 12,000-word summary of their platform with explanatory content on a portion of the Federal Election Commission website, which will allow links to the candidate’s website. Each candidate will also include up to ten questions that they believe would be most important for the public to have all the candidates answer. The “primary” system allows voters to select the top ten questions from among all the candidate’s questions. Candidates in the general election will address these questions in part of the main free airtime system. We will require broadcast stations to air frequent public service announcements on this candidate-supplied information and the civic responsibility to read it. The announcements and the resulting attention to the information would motivate most broadcast stations to devote programming to it. Public broadcasting stations would be required to do so.
  • The opportunity to provide in local daily newspapers in the nation, state or congressional district, as appropriate depending on the office contested, a fully subsidized 4,500-word description of portions of the candidate’s platform with any explanatory content the candidate chooses. This content will also be included in the papers’ online edition. New candidate-supplied content will be offered in each of five weeks. Broadcast stations will be required to air frequent public service announcements on the days this candidate supplied information will be available, which newspapers are offering it, and the civic responsibility to read it. Newspapers with this content would be free to consumers based on public subsidies.
  • The opportunity to participate in a broadcast series of eight and seven debates, respectively, for the candidates for president and the Senate. For the House, we will use six debates: three broadcast and three on DVDs whose mailing and duplication costs will be subsidized. Also, internet media streaming services will live stream the debates. These services are an inadequate substitute for the House candidate debate DVDs because of limited internet access. DVD recordings are substituted for some House race airtime because air media broadcast areas often overlap more than one congressional district, so candidates’ information would be broadcast to many voters uselessly. Some House race airtime is justifiable, but the DVDs will minimize the inefficient use of valuable and limited airtime. (Also, receiving election-related content in the mail will remind many voters to devote time to it.) If a race has over ten ballot-qualified candidates, we will divide the candidates into two groups for two broadcast series of debates.
  • The opportunity to broadcast two 14-minute speeches in prime time.

Voters will vote for their top four candidates in order of preference for each national office contested. Instant runoff voting processes (which I describe in the following main section) will determine the four most preferred candidates.  Instant runoff voting also will select the ten questions most important to the public for the candidates to answer during a portion of their free airtime.

A New Fairness Doctrine's Role

A new Fairness Doctrine will require air media to provide equal time to purchased ads that advocate for the election of a candidate to all other ballot-qualified candidates free of charge. Wealthy funders wanting to support a candidacy will know that the funds they supply to do so will assist their preferred candidates’ opponents to the same degree as their preferred candidate, so few ads will be funded. Also, air media will provide free, equal time to purchased public policy-related ads for an opposing view. 

The General Election

The “primary” winner’s  campaigns are supported in these ways:

  • The reason 30-second ads are effective is their political message is delivered “where people are.” Substantial numbers of people either cannot devote the time to, or do not have the interest to hear, extended political speeches or debates. We need to reach these people “where they are” with more substantive messages than occur in 30 seconds. Three minutes is a practical amount of time within normal commercial time of programming that people choose to watch for delivering reasonably substantive political messages. We will require air media companies to give, on average, 7.5 hours of airtime per candidate in three-minute blocks. (The total time per candidate will vary based on the average voting age audience size of the programs within which their ads appear.) Viewing many of the 3-minute messages can result in a lot of important information being communicated even to those who hear the extended political speeches or debates. Only the candidate could appear in the 3-minute segments, with instructional charts, graphs or pictures if needed. Overall, at least one-half of the 3-minute segments will be devoted to answering questions from the voters that were determined to be the ten most important in the system that was part of qualifying the candidates for the free airtime. The answers would likely be part of running debates between the candidates that the 3-minute segments will constitute.
  • Four half-hour blocks of air time per candidate for Senate for speeches. The speeches and debates of the candidates for senator and president will be broadcast simultaneously on all radio and television stations, statewide or nationally, respectively, creating an air media programming “roadblock” that air media viewers and listeners could not avoid.
  • Four 1½ hour on-air (and internet) debates by the candidates for Senate.
  • Five half-hour on-air (and internet) blocks per candidate for president for speeches.
  • Seven 1½ hour on-air (and internet) debates by presidential candidates.
  • A postal subsidy for nine free mailings per candidate.

The debates are structured in three ways: an improved single moderator and town hall format and expert panel questioning. Each of these ways I detail in The New Enlightenment. They are designed to result in more informative broadcast debates than we have had.

Also, public media will provide some airtime for the ballot-qualified candidates who do not qualify for the main free airtime system.

The debate and three-minute and half-hour speech videos will be available for viewing throughout the campaign on websites.

Instant Runoff Voting: A Superior Way to Cast and Count Votes

We elect government officials using “plurality voting,” whereby the candidate with the greatest number of votes wins. In races with only two candidates, the winner will receive the majority of all votes cast. However, with three or more candidates the winner can be elected with far less than the majority, and may even be strongly disliked by the majority of the population. When there are three candidates two may have much more similar positions on all important issues than the third, thereby splitting the vote and giving the election to the least preferred candidate.  A candidate with just 34% of the vote can win, despite being strongly disliked by 66% of the voters. With four or more candidates, the result can be even more anti-democratic.

Why We Must Institute Instant Runoff Voting

“Instant runoff voting” (IRV) ensures that the winner is the most preferred by the majority of voters. IRV allows voters to rank as many or as few candidates as they wish in order of preference without fear that their most preferred choice will help a candidate they least prefer win the election.

After a vote is taken, first choices are tabulated. If over two candidates receive votes, the candidate who receives the fewest first choice rankings is eliminated. All ballots are then recounted, with each ballot counting as one vote for each voter’s highest ranked candidate not eliminated. Specifically, voters who chose the now eliminated candidate will have their ballots added to the totals of their second ranked candidate. The weakest candidates are successively eliminated, and their voters’ ballots are added to the totals of their next choices until two candidates remain. At this point, the candidate with a majority of votes is declared the winner.

Instant runoff voting (IRV) has the winning candidate be the one most preferred by voters. IRV empowers non-major party candidates who people can vote for without fear it will give the election to their least preferred major party candidate. If their preferred non-major party candidates lose, their top choice major party vote will count toward their election.

Compared to traditional runoff elections, instant runoff voting saves tax dollars, reduces money and other resources needed for elections, and elects winners when turnout is highest. 

Amazon as Metaphor manuscript excerpt on our unreliable vote count problem and its solution, 2,121 words

Election Security

Computer scientists who have inspected voting machines, the central computers that records and totals the votes from each precinct, and communication systems between them have found them rife with security flaws. Every make and model of electronic voting machine and district computer is vulnerable to hacking.[1]

Attendees at 2019’s DefCon conference, the world’s largest gathering of computer hackers, hacked all of the over 100 voting machines at the conference. They accomplished this despite having, as their report states, “no prior knowledge of or experience” with them in less time and with fewer resources than attackers would have.[2]

Also, hacked district election-management systems used before each election to program voting machines can introduce malicious code into all of them. The code could activate only under specific conditions, such as when a chosen candidate appears to be losing, and then erase itself afterward to avoid detection.[3] Hackers can also access voting machines and district computers through internet-connected printers.[4]

Election officials and voting machine manufacturers claim that modem transmissions from polling stations to county offices are safe because the connections go over phone lines, not the internet. But almost all phone calls, whether on a cellular network or a landline, go through a part of the internet. Since no phone provider’s firewall is perfect,  vote data transmission can be interfered with like any other transmission on the internet.[5]

To improve transmission security of election results, the machines of the largest voting machine company, Election Systems & Software, digitally sign the results before transmitting them via modem and encrypt them in transit using “secure file transfer protocol” (SFTP). The election-management systems that receive results then check the signature to authenticate the data transmission. SFTP is designed to ensure that results can’t be swapped out and replaced. However, an attacker can obtain the signing key, which must be stored in the machine, so is accessible by its software. A hacker who can access the software could extract the key to access and alter the data.[6]

Voting machine software and data alterations can also occur through exposed external interfaces accessible to voters, poll workers, and anyone with just brief physical access to the machines. Malicious actors can inject code that could compromise an entire jurisdiction in multiple places during the equipment’s lifetime.

Also of concern is the supply chain. Some machines include hardware components of foreign origin, and some election administrators deploy foreign-based software and remote services.[7] In one machine, researchers found a hard-wired IP address pointing to overseas IP addresses.[8] Of course, the risk also exists that domestic-based malicious actors can have manufacturers hard-wire what they need to alter election outcomes.

As I described in Part 1, manufacturers can embed minuscule, difficult to detect chips in hardware to be internet-connected whose purpose is to tell the device to communicate with computers elsewhere on the internet and prepare their operating system to accept new code. This system could let undetected attackers alter how devices function, including central tallying computers and voting machines.

As the DefCon researcher’s report states, “It is beyond the current and foreseeable state of the art to construct computerized (software and hardware-based) voting devices that effectively resist known, practical forms of malicious tampering.”[9]

The influence of politically well-connected, primarily to the Republican Party, private voting machine companies has created our vulnerable voting system.[10]  The connection involves a revolving door between vendors in the $300-million-a-year voting machine industry and election offices.

The industry is secretive, and its control over its proprietary software is extreme. We don’t have the right to know their algorithms that count our votes. So besides hackers rigging elections, voting machine companies and their allies can rig them.

People are rightfully concerned that foreign actors can hack election results to create favored outcomes. The Russians are often mentioned in this regard. But just like in our media landscape, where domestic elites exert more power than foreigners to “manufacture” election outcomes against the interests of the majority, they are most likely mainly responsible for any “manufacturing” involving hacking. Elites block progressive agendas that would reduce their wealth and power any way they can.

Anyone who has read this far knows that super-wealthy individuals are willing and able to go to extremes to profit maximize, with destructive social consequences being irrelevant. Their most profitable investments are in the elections of policymakers who institute or acquiesce to an agenda that maintains and grows their wealth and power. Election hacking is likely on one end of the covert-overt spectrum of operations in a class war with many fronts.

 

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/21/magazine/the-myth-of-the-hacker-proof-voting-machine.html also see https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/apr/18/american-elections-hack-bruce-scheier

[2] https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2019/09/defcon-2019-hacking-village/

[3] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/26/magazine/election-security-crisis-midterms.html

[4] https://www.npr.org/2018/05/08/599452050/the-u-s-voting-system-remains-vulnerable-6-months-before-election-day-what-now

[5] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/21/magazine/the-myth-of-the-hacker-proof-voting-machine.html

[6] Ibid.

[7] https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2019/09/defcon-2019-hacking-village/

[8] DEF CON 27 Voting Machine Hacking Village Report, August 2019, Matt Blaze, Georgetown University, etal.

[9] https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2019/09/defcon-2019-hacking-village/

[10] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/26/magazine/election-security-crisis-midterms.html

Highly Significant Dysfunctional Election Examples

In 2000, computer hacking was likely involved in the infamously dysfunctional Gore-Bush presidential election in Florida. Among the strange and suspicious election events was one in Volusia County, where Gore was winning by 21,000 votes. A short time later, the Democratic Party field director in Florida looked at the county’s website and found Gore’s total had dropped 16,000 votes. Officials blamed the drop on a faulty memory card, which is almost certainly incorrect since no other candidates’ votes were affected.[1]

Even more appalling elections than the one between Gore and Bush occurred in 2016 and 2018 when Tim Canova, a Nova Southeastern University law professor, challenged the Chairperson of the Democratic National Committee, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, for her seat in congress. Tampering with digital voting records likely played a role in what these elections revealed to be several seriously defective systems, not just election system, in and beyond the congressional district.

In 2016, Canova received widespread support, and internal polling showed him with a substantial lead. He raised almost $4 million with an average donation of $17 from over 209,000 individual contributions. At the time, it was the highest percentage of small donations for a federal campaign.[2] So when the final results showed him at 43.52% of the vote and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz at 56.48%, he was shocked. But what was a kind of “shock and awe” campaign against Canova began before election day and continued well after it.

In the campaign’s final days, Canova’s campaign website came under a sustained denial of service attacks, including his funding platform. Then, bizarrely, the local NBC television station reported on their website the day before the election that 69% of the precincts in his district had reported, and Wasserman-Schultz was ahead 58/42. They have never explained the reporting of results before the election very close to the election’s computerized vote counts.[3]

After the election, Canova made three public records requests to see the ballots and instead received months of obstruction. So in June 2017, he filed suit in Florida’s 17th Circuit Judicial Court to see them. Three days after receiving the lawsuit’s discovery request for the ballots, the supervisor of elections, Brenda Snipes, signed an order to destroy all of them, which required that she falsely certify the ballots were not the subject of pending litigation.

In May 2018, the court ruled Snipes’ ballot destruction violated State and  Federal criminal laws. Besides the false certification, she violated the law that requires retaining ballots for 22 months.[4] Naturally, Canova thought the ruling would initiate a law enforcement investigation, including into whether the destruction of the ballots was part of a cover-up of the rigging of the voting machine software to create a Wasserman-Schultz win.[5] Instead, the shocking sequence of events that started before election day continued, providing more evidence elites are descending us into a wealthy version of a banana republic.

After the court’s ruling, Canova and his lawyer gave then-Acting US Attorney for South Florida, Benjamin Greenberg, the evidence of the criminal violations. After lengthy discussions, Greenberg seemed very interested and even excited about investigating potential election rigging and prosecuting the destruction of ballots. But he then went to Washington, DC to discuss the case with other Department of Justice officials. When he returned to South Florida, he gave Canova the lame excuse of not having the expertise to prosecute an election case and did nothing.[6]

A top Florida election official told Canova that Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General at the time, stopped all work on his case.[7] Trump appointed Rosenstein, and at the time of his confirmation as Deputy Attorney General in April 2017, he was the nation’s longest-serving U.S. Attorney. However, his involvement in several scandals—that did not include the Canova case—caused him to resign in April 2019.[8] 

Not just the U.S. Justice Department, but also the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and the State Attorney for Broward County did nothing regarding Canova’s case of election rigging and ballot destruction. In his testimony to The Florida Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission of Civil Rights, July 23, 2019, Canova provides his explanation:

“A trusted, well-respected Republican lawyer reported back to me that I should not expect any help from any of these Republican law enforcement agencies because the Republicans had the same friends as Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the same corporate financing, the same corporate lobbyists, the same political consultants…It’s not a pretty picture which we see here. Instead of the rule of law and equal justice under the law, we seem to have two systems of justice. Election rigging with impunity. The politicalization of law enforcement agencies at every level.”

Despite knowing what he did, Canova ran again in 2018, which required extraordinary determination. This time he ran as an independent. His internal poll showed him in second place and Debbie Wasserman Schultz with a substantial lead.[9] However, an internal Republican poll reported in the Floridian Press, showed Wasserman Schultz and Canova tied with 34% each, the Republican candidate at 13%, and 19% undecided.[10]

The official election computer count had Canova at close to 5% of the vote, and it was near 5% in every demographic group and precinct—a distribution next to a statistical impossibility. Pushing it even closer to the impossible is 29% of registered Broward County voters are not affiliated with either the Democratic or Republican Party.[11] Was the 5% designed not just to defeat Canova but to destroy his prospects for running again?

In 2018, Snipes did not destroy the paper ballots, but they were unreliable because many were left unattended in a truck, and others were transported with only one person in the car, violating the required chain of custody rules for ballots.[12] Apparently, to eliminate the possibility of using the scanned images of the ballots as a check on the official count or ballot recount, Snipes ordered the destruction of all of them just ten days after election day.[13] But Canova could not ask for a recount anyway because the official count had a margin of win far beyond the 0.5% that Florida law requires for one.[14]

The United States is descending to the status of a “banana republic” or “third world” country, where elections are rigged with impunity and grotesque inequalities exist.

Wasserman Schultz resigned her position as head of the DNC during the 2016 campaign as party activists booed her off the stage of the Democratic Convention. She rigged the 2016 presidential primary by allowing Clinton’s campaign to control the party’s finances, strategy, and all the money it raised.[15]

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/26/magazine/election-security-crisis-midterms.html

[2] Canova’s testimony, The Florida Advisory Committee To The U.S. Commission Of Civil Rights, 7/23/19

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Canova email to author.

[8] https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2019/04/30/rod-rosenstein-leaves-diminished-man-shamed-laywer/

[9] Based on my communication with Canova

[10] https://floridianpress.com/2018/10/gop-poll-may-have-wasserman-schultz-and-canova-tied/

[11] https://truthout.org/articles/11000-votes-may-be-missing-in-florida-congressional-race/ and Canova’s testimony, The Florida Advisory Committee To The U.S. Commission Of Civil Rights, 7/23/19

[12] https://truthout.org/articles/11000-votes-may-be-missing-in-florida-congressional-race/

[13] http://www.trbas.com/media/media/acrobat/2018-12/69848543917900-05144454.pdf

[14] https://www.ncsl.org/research/elections-and-campaigns/automatic-recount-thresholds.aspx

[15] https://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/358569-former-dnc-vice-chair-democratic-primary-was-rigged-for-clinton, https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/11/02/clinton-brazile-hacks-2016-215774

Recount Audits and Exit Polls

The conventional wisdom is that recount audits can reliably verify election results. However, many states perform them by running the ballots through the voting machine’s scanner a second time, allowing hacked software to re-express itself. Fewer than half the states do manual audits,[1] and thirteen states use electronic machines that leave no paper record.[2]

A type of ballot recount, “risk-limiting” audit, varies the ballot sample hand-counted based on how close the election is. The number counted is selected to most cost-efficiently achieve the desired confidence level on a chosen margin of error that the election outcome is valid. But the closeness of an election is uncertain because the computer-counted election results are uncertain, so the audits are based on an unreliable foundation. However designed, the vote count accuracy determined by auditing a sample cannot be as high as that resulting from hand-counting the entire set of votes on election day.

Besides sample size, an audit’s usefulness depends on the paper ballots being reliably secured during transport, handling, and storage from election day until the audit, in a manner such that even insiders cannot alter or replace ballots. But as we have seen, ballot security can be violated.

Partial and total hand recounts are both far less common than exit polls, which have also been used to detect fraud. Exit polls have detected fraud in many elections internationally, and predicted the outcome of thousands of races.[3] Exit polls played a key role in exposing fraud in Serbia and Mexico in 2000, Georgia in 2003, and the Dominican Republic and Ukraine in 2004. U.S.-funded organizations have sponsored exit polls as part of democracy assistance programs in Macedonia (2002), Afghanistan (2004), Ukraine (2004), Azerbaijan (2005), the West Bank and Gaza Strip (2005), Lebanon (2005), Kazakhstan (2005), Kenya (2005, 2007), and Bangladesh (2009), among other places.[4] The Bush administration paid for exit polls during elections in the former Soviet republics of Belarus, Georgia, and Ukraine as one of the “ways that would help to expose large-scale fraud.” The administration claimed that the discrepancy between exit polls and the official vote count showed that a Ukraine election was stolen.[5]

Edison Research conducts exit polls of U.S. elections for the National Election Pool (a consortium of ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox, and The Associated Press).[6] Although Edison’s polls are designed for purposes other than as a check on the official, computerized vote counts, some of their results are useful for this purpose. Edison’s polls suggest that the integrity of the vote count was compromised in the 2016 and 2020 Democratic presidential primaries.[7]  

Edison is contracted to use its exit polls to make projections as close as possible to the final official counts and provide information on the differences in vote patterns by gender, age, region, and other demographic and geographic groups. Their poll design minimizes biases, except for the bias they intentionally introduce after voting ends.[8] Edison adjusts their poll results to the official, computerized counts as they become available to improve their projections. But they also provide their results before this bias is introduced, several minutes before poll closings. As of the time of writing, these results are available for the 2020 primaries in eight states.[9] In all eight, there was a large, statistically significant combined discrepancy between Sanders and Biden’s exit poll vote count and the official, computerized vote count in Biden’s favor.

Elites detested Sanders and his agenda for higher taxes on them and a more egalitarian society. Did their operatives hack what may be the most important election in history to serve what they see with narrow vision as their interests? If they did, only the elites and their operatives are likely to ever know.

We are at major crossroads where wrong choices by the elected leader of the most powerful nation in history can send us all into hell. But, at least in close elections, our democratically determined choice on who this leader will be may be irrelevant to the outcome, which is determined by election riggers.

[1] Ibid.

[2] https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/analysis-opinion/smart-and-effective-way-safeguard-elections

[3] https://scholarship.law.stjohns.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=&httpsredir=1&article=1247&context=lawreview

[4] http://democracyinternational.com/media/DI%20VCV%20Study%20(2011).pdf

[5] Ibid.

[6] https://www.edisonresearch.com/edison-research-provides-national-exit-poll-data-and-vote-count/

[7] https://www.change.org/p/u-s-citizens-officially-request-emergency-electoral-assistance-from-the-united-nations, https://www.edisonresearch.com/edison-research-provides-national-exit-poll-data-and-vote-count/

[8] https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/11/02/just-how-does-the-general-election-exit-poll-work-anyway/

[9] https://tdmsresearch.com/

State-Of-The-Art Voting Technology:
Pens and Paper Ballots, Hand Counted

According to a Pew Research Center poll, 55% of Americans are “not too” or “not at all” confident that election systems are secure from hacking and other technological threats. An additional 37% are only “somewhat” confident in election security. Only 8% of Americans are “very” confident votes will be counted accurately.[1] Lack of confidence in vote count accuracy is another cause of our low voter turnout.[2]

Computers should not count the votes that determine who makes and enforces our laws, establishes foreign policy, involves us in wars, determines our taxes, and decides how to spend those taxes. As most Americans know, computers are “black boxes” where votes cannot be reliably viewed and can be changed outside of view. So I propose a simple solution that will remove all doubt of the validity of elections: Ballots will remain in public view from the time they are cast through the time they are hand-counted. Election outcomes will be determined on election day, which will be a national holiday.

Vote counters other than regular poll workers will count votes and arrive to prepare for the count shortly before poll closing. People doing the work of discovering the will of the people after polls close should not be the poll workers exhausted by a day of work monitoring the voting process.

Vote counters will work in three-person groups, each composed of randomly selected volunteers, one from each major political party and another from outside these two parties. Offering $20 per hour to new vote counters and $30 per hour for counters with experience in at least one prior election would help ensure sufficient numbers of counters would be available for every election. The significant social contribution of the vote counter role will also motivate many to participate.

Counters will be trained by viewing a half-hour instructional video and have about an hour of paid or volunteered in-person training/practice time.[3] No training/practice time would be needed for returning counters. The $10 per hour higher pay will help motivate counters to return for subsequent elections.

I propose we encourage college students to be vote counters with campus promotional campaigns emphasizing the role’s important social value. These promotional campaigns have the additional advantage of motivating other kinds of civic engagement among young people. Now, too few young people are civically involved, and 56% of poll workers are over 61, only 10% are under 25, and 18% are under 40 years of age.[4] College professors in sociology, political science, or civic engagement classes may help motivate their students to serve as vote counters with some value toward their grade.

Mutual monitoring among the vote counters will ensure the accuracy of the vote count. Further ensuring it will be district election staff, anyone viewing streaming vote-count videos to the public from district cameras above the counting tables, and citizen witnesses in the polling place with preference to those who will also record and live video stream the count. The number of people witnessing the counting will make fraud and even unintentional counting errors impossible. And the resulting widely dispersed knowledge of the vote count at each polling station will allow many people to verify the district totals, so hacking the district computers to alter election results will not be effective. The same will be true for state and national computers that tally results from lower levels.

One estimate of the cost per election for my proposed system I based on the experience in a polling place in Maine that hand-counted votes. Six teams of two people each counted about 1000 ballots with seven races and two initiatives in two hours.[5] Assuming the same average ballot-counting pace existed nationwide, and a voter participation rate 10% higher than in 2016, it would require $109 million to pay vote counters $30 per hour for their time counting. Three-person teams would require $164 million per election.[6]

The cost to hand count almost 3 million ballots in Nevada and Washington State for elections with 2 or 3 contests and no ballot initiatives was between $0.22 and $0.36 per ballot.[7] These costs included training time and other expenses and would result in elections costing between $33 million and $55 million if they existed nationwide.

One would expect much lower costs to accompany the sacrifice of transparency and reliability involved in using computerized voting machines; instead, they are far higher:

On March 23, 2018, Trump signed into law Help America Vote Act grants of $380 million for states to make election security improvements. States must provide at least 5% matching funds to receive the grants,.[8]  Little of this about $400 billion total would have been needed if we had instituted my proposal.

The Brennan Center for Justice estimates the total cost over the next five years to replace voting machines, state and local election cybersecurity assistance, and post-election audits of computer counts is $1.67 billion or an average of $333.4 million per year.[9] These estimates do not include voting machine maintenance and reprogramming, testing, secure storage costs, and the costs associated with breakdowns. My proposed system would cost several hundreds of millions of dollars per year less than the current system, including the following wait time economic costs.  

An insufficient number of functioning machines has often resulted in long waits to vote, in some cases, several hours. In 2012, 500,000 eligible voters didn’t cast a ballot because of polling place problems such as long lines, which would not have existed if voters were able to mark a paper ballot with a pen and drop it in a box.[10]  Even when voters tolerate long waits, they are less likely to bother to go to the polls in the next election, which is a significant cause of our much low voter participation rate than most developed countries.[11]

In 2012 and 2016, the average wait time to vote was 12 minutes and 8 minutes, respectively. Let’s assume my proposal is in effect, and we eliminate an average of 8 minutes of wait time and an average hourly wage of $29 (it was $28.62 in March 2020) and the same number of voters as in 2016. Then we would save $534 million worth of time waiting to vote—hundreds of millions of dollars more than my proposal’s cost.[12]

[1] https://www.people-press.org/2018/10/29/election-security/

[2] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2016/12/26/why-dont-more-americans-vote-maybe-because-they-dont-trust-u-s-elections/

[3] Based on my conversation with a Rockport, Massachusetts election official with long experience with hand counted ballot elections

[4] https://www.eac.gov/documents/2017/11/15/eavs-deep-dive-poll-workers-and-polling-places

[5] https://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/letters/2016/08/08/clear-and-fair-process-for-hand-counting-ballots/eSUZBBkWa9G1aS14gffE4L/story.html

[6] Based on 138 million voters in 2016

[7] http://www.votersunite.org/info/CostEstimateforHandCounting.pdf

[8] https://www.eac.gov/payments-and-grants/hava-funds-state-chart-view

[9] https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/analysis-opinion/what-does-election-security-cost

[10] https://www.propublica.org/article/these-voters-had-to-wait-for-hours-it-felt-like-a-type-of-disenfranchisement

[11] https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/05/21/u-s-voter-turnout-trails-most-developed-countries/

[12] Wages: https://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.t19.htm, average wait time: https://medium.com/mit-election-lab/insights-into-voting-wait-time-from-the-2016-elections-performance-index-6693576e9b99

The Convenience of Voting by Mail is Outweighed by its Risks

Voting by mail is growing in popularity, and five states now conduct all elections entirely or almost entirely by mail: Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, and Utah. Voters sign an affidavit on the ballot envelope so election officials can compare the signature to other documents in their files to verify the ballot is from a registered voter. These verified ballot envelopes are stored until election day, when they could be hand counted with the other ballots. However, mailed ballots offer opportunities for election fraud and manipulation even if they are hand-counted.

The transport and storage security of mailed ballots cannot be certain. Even security camera recorders at storage locations are vulnerable to tampering.[1] If persons intending fraud could access mailed ballots, they could remove those from zip codes that tend to vote against their Party or candidate. Fraud is also enabled by methods to undetectably unseal envelopes to replace ballots. Dozens of convictions on criminal or civil fraud involving mail-in or absentee ballots exist.[2] Likely, these cases represent a small fraction of the instances of fraud involving ballots not cast in a polling place. The Commission on Federal Election Reform, which former President Jimmy Carter co-chaired, determined that “absentee ballots remain the largest source of potential voter fraud.”[3]

Potential also exists for intimidation or financial incentives to influence who voters select on mailed-in ballots. For example, a head of household can intimidate others in the household to record a vote they would not have chosen if they voted anonymously in a polling place.

In close elections, mailed ballots have been rejected in numbers larger than the number of votes that decided the election. A ballot is rejected if it is not included in the proper envelope that shows a signature on it for election officials to verify the enclosed ballot is from a registered voter. But even when voters sign the envelope, it does not ensure their vote will be counted because officials often decide their signature doesn’t match the one on record. And many ballots are rejected because they arrive late. More than 550,000 mailed-in ballots were rejected in the 2020 presidential primaries.[4] Studies have shown that voters are much more likely to have their mailed-in ballots rejected in low-income or predominantly Black districts.[5]

Also, after ballots are mailed, it is impossible to safeguard the privacy of vote choices.

Only by keeping secret ballots cast in polling places until they are counted there in public view can we ensure the validity of an election and the privacy of votes.

Many people believed the Covid-19 pandemic required voting by mail in the 2020 election because vaccines were not yet available. Most choices bring some risks and some benefits, and the benefits of voting by mail during the pandemic may have outweighed its risks. But in-person voting could have been done safely. People were shopping safely by wearing masks and following social distancing guidelines. We could have had more restrictive guidelines at polling places, including widely spaced ballot boxes, and, where possible, some or all of them outdoors.

In a historic insurrection on January 6, 2021, hundreds of Americans invaded the U.S. Capitol building motivated by the belief that the votes for president were not counted accurately and that Joe Biden’s election was not legitimate. A Quinnipiac poll found just 60% of American voters (only 23% of Republicans) believing Joe Biden’s victory was legitimate.[6] Many signs exist that we are approaching failed state status, but those resulting from a lack of confidence in election results would not if we institute my proposal.

[1] https://www.theverge.com/2013/1/28/3925338/security-camera-recorder-vulnerabilities-could-allow-tampering

[2] https://www.heritage.org/sites/default/files/voterfraud_download/VoterFraudCases_5.pdf

[3] https://www.newsweek.com/vote-mail-absentee-elections-covid-19-1495373

[4] https://www.businessinsider.com/over-550000-primary-absentee-ballots-were-rejected-for-2020-primaries-2020-8

[5] https://www.usatoday.com/in-depth/news/investigations/2020/10/08/rejected-mail-ballots-projected-major-factor-2020-election/3576714001/

[6] https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/meet-the-press/when-third-voters-say-biden-s-win-isn-t-legitimate-n1251089


Vote Counting in other Technologically Sophisticated Countries

Most developed, technologically sophisticated countries know enough about computers to conclude that they should not trust them to count votes, so they hand count paper ballots. Belgium, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Norway, Spain, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Lithuania do not use electronic voting machines in national or local elections. Canada and Australia do not use them in national elections but use them in some local elections.[1]

The German Federal Constitutional Court ruled in 2009 that the use of computerized voting machines is unconstitutional because they do not allow citizens to reliably examine whether votes have been recorded in an unadulterated manner.[2] Germany, as the fourth-largest economy in the world, is prominent  on the world stage. Yet our mass media entirely ignored the fact that electronic voting machines have been effectively outlawed there. Given the multitude of problems we have had involving electronic voting machines, including questionable election results, Germany’s Federal Court ruling should have been a top mass media story at least on the day of the decision. That our mass media did not even mention the ruling is more evidence that we need to reform mass media enterprises fundamentally.

 

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electronic_voting_by_country https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/01/world/europe/netherlands-hacking-concerns-hand-count-ballots.html

[2] https://www.bundesverfassungsgericht.de/entscheidungen/cs20090303_2bvc000307.html

 

For my more direct democratic system for creating and instituting some public policies see the “Deliberative Democracy” page.