Monthly Archives: January 2008

Your friendly guide to stealing an election

‘Foreign Policy’ has an interesting article on how to steal an election. It’s focused on third world autocratic regimes.

Their list of techniques is:

  • Control the process
  • Manipulate the media
  • Keep out the observers
  • Misreport results
  • Foster incompetence and chaos
  • Resort to the crude stuff

In my perception some of this applies to the US. As an example, the US media is typically very shallow in it’s investigation or coverage of election irregularities. I don’t think that the US media is controlled by those in current political power but is driven by the rules of access, expediency, and a frame of reference that assumes a two party system without any critical thought of why such a system is so persistent.

Please share your thoughts on whether any of these techniques apply in any degree to the US.

Bob Koehler on election integrity and voting machines

Bob has a short, well written article on election integrity entitled Conspiracy Theorist. It’s a good resource to point people to whose reaction to election integrity issues is to ask “What’s the problem? Just vote and trust that the votes will be counted accurately.”:

“We should at least get votes back on paper and get people counting them by hand.”

This is not what I’d like to be writing about. Our nation’s soul is bleeding, its future up for grabs. The candidates jockey for a mandate — our mandate — and they’ll define it as narrowly as possible unless we define it for them.

Why, then, must I divert my attention from matters such as this and ponder . . . memory cards and molded plastic deflectors? Ah, democracy! We can’t simply leave it to the voting machine vendors any more than we can leave it to the politicians. The O-rings and gusset plates of democracy are poised to fail in every election; every vote does not count. The media and most government officials are still in denial about this, still dazzled by glitzy, electronic voting technology or maybe just trapped in their billion-dollar commitment to it. Besides, when has technology ever gone backwards?

But the call for paper ballots and hand counting — however jarring and quaint it may sound in the 21st century — comes most urgently not from Luddites or flat-Earthers but the technophiles and self-proclaimed geeks who understand computers most intimately, and know their vulnerabilities.

While security concerns are paramount in our financial and just about all other dealings…, we maintain a remarkable sense of denial that hunger for power could ever lead to breaches of democratic integrity. What are you, a conspiracy theorist?

No, but I’m from Chicago and I cut my teeth as a reporter back in the waning days of the Daley (Senior) Machine, when precinct captains didn’t need no conspiracy to know they needed to deliver their precinct, or else, and would do what it took. The quest for political power is raw and all too often dirty. That basic truth hasn’t changed.

My thoughts:

  • I’m glad to see more attention to the problems with electronic voting machines
  • The praise for the ritual of placing a ballot into a ballot box is bogus. That is just an argument for status quo and could be used to justify all sorts of poor practices – such as having voting occur on a workday (Tuesday).
  • I’m not a fan of electronic voting machines but it is unfair to say that there are no benefits to using them. I list a few benefits and problems below. To me the problems far outweigh the benefits.
    • Some benefits of electronic voting machines are: faster initial reporting of results, ability to handle many ballot variations with minimal waste (eg: variations for each precinct and for language preference), improved disability access.
    • Some problems with electronic voting are: very serious election integrity issues, cost (in my understanding), limited number of machines available in a location so unacceptably long waits when sufficient number of machines are not in a precinct, potential use in vote suppression via technology and access barriers.

Sacramento to tally votes centerally

From the SacBee, Sacramento County machine flaws to delay results:

Problems with Sacramento County voting machines will stall Feb. 5’s election results for hours. Results may not come until well after your morning coffee – the next day, county elections officials said Wednesday.

“It might be slow, but it will be accurate,” offered Brad Buyse, a spokesman for the local election office.

He said the county discovered problems with the equipment used to count ballots in neighborhood polling places a couple weeks ago.

After days working with the ballot printer and election machine vendor to try to solve the problem – and Feb. 5’s presidential primary only days away – elections officials decided to take the faulty machines out of the mix.

So rather than scan ballots at each of the county’s 548 polling places, ballots will be taken back to the central office and tabulated using larger, faster machines that have passed required tests.

Tuesday election results usually come in by midnight. This time around, it could be 9 a.m. Wednesday before all the ballots are counted, Buyse said.

Comments:

  • An 8 hour delay in knowing election results is not an issue in my view
  • It would be nice to understand what specific issues were found with the machines.
  • In addition to not providing feedback about over/under votes (brought up in the article) there is an election integrity concern with moving from precinct tallying to central tallying. The chain-of-custody of the ballots becomes more suspect and the possibility of tampering while ballots are in transit or storage arises. Most election integrity advocates (who are not pushing for end-to-end verifiable systems) advocate for counting the ballots at the precinct level so that chain-of-custody issues are less pressing. For an example of recent chain of custody issues with central counting, consider the case of New Hampshire’s democratic primary (scroll down to the “Butch” and “Hoppy” part).

Review of ‘Uncounted’

I stayed up late on Tuesday to watch the late screening of Uncounted at the Crest Theater in Sacramento.

The whole experience was great. The movie was lucid and clearly demonstrated that our voting system has serious election integrity issues and that these issues are exacerbated by the use of electronic voting machines. I liked it so much that I bought a copy of the movie so that I can re-watch it later, look through the extended interviews, and show it to friends.

After the screening there was a panel discussion and Q&A session with David Earnhardt (the director), Peter B. Collins (local progressive radio host), and Brad Friedman (investigative journalist focused on election integrity).

I chatted with Brad a bit during the first screening. Continue reading

Count me in to see ‘Uncounted’

I’ll be at the Crest theater Tuesday night to see the film Uncounted by David Earnhardt.

I’ll post on my thoughts after I watch it.

I also hope to check the pulse of other attendees interest in starting a local election reform meet-up that is more focused on discussion, debate, and networking then on pushing for a particular agenda.

UNCOUNTED is an explosive new documentary that shows how the election fraud that changed the outcome of the 2004 election led to even greater fraud in 2006 – and now looms as an unbridled threat to the outcome of the 2008 election. This controversial feature length film by Emmy award-winning director David Earnhardt examines in factual, logical, and yet startling terms how easy it is to change election outcomes and undermine election integrity across the U.S. Noted computer programmers, statisticians, journalists, and experienced election officials provide the irrefutable proof.

UNCOUNTED is a wakeup call to all Americans. Beyond increasing the public’s awareness, the film inspires greater citizen involvement in fixing a broken electoral system. As we approach the decisive election of 2008, UNCOUNTED will change how you feel about the way votes are counted in America.

Prisons Warp the Vote

Brett Blank just posted an interesting article discussing how districts that contain prisons get more political weight then those that do not have them:


Prisons Warp the Vote

…apportionment plans must be based on population and where voters reside should not affect the power of their vote. As a result, an industry or other economic interest can only exert political influence in proportion to the number of people that support it. The Reynolds case intended to permanently the settle the question of whether other interests besides population can be the basis of representative democracy.

Except it didn’t.

The Census Bureau counts people in prison where their bodies are located on census day, not where they come from and where they will return, on average, 34 months later. Forty-eight states bar prisoners from voting, and most states have constitutional clauses or election law statutes which explicitly declare that prisoner remains legal residents of their home addresses. When states draw districts based on the Census Bureau’s padded counts of prison locales, they give those districts extra representation just because the prison industry has a facility there.


Of the 12,594 people in the district containing the New Hampshire State Prison, 11 percent are incarcerated. As a result, every group of 89 residents in this prison district has the same political power as 100 residents elsewhere in the state.

The article references an advocacy site for this issue called Prisoners of the Census. That site has some good information about the issue including historical background for why the Census counts prisons in this way and arguments for why it is appropriate to change the way that prisoners are counted but not to change the way that college students are counted.

Our Voting System Is a Loser

An article featuring Range Voting is in the news. William Poundstone is interviewed by Mother Jones. This is also featured on Slashdot.

The basis for the coverage is Poundstone’s new book Gaming the Vote: Why Elections Aren’t Fair (and What We Can Do About It)

From the MotherJones interview:

It’s heartening to know, as primary season begins, that ours may be the worst of all the voting systems in common use. That’s the takeaway from Gaming the Vote: Why Elections Aren’t Fair (and What We Can Do About It), the latest of eleven books by William Poundstone, a professional skeptic who studied physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before he began pumping out nonfiction in 1982.

Poundstone became interested in voting theory after reading about Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem, a 59-year-old paradox wherein economist Kenneth Arrow, now a professor emeritus at Stanford University, identified what he perceived as a fundamental flaw in our democracy: Put simply, he argued that devising a perfectly fair voting system is mathematically impossible.

Mother Jones: Is there a way around Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem?

William Poundstone: For decades, there was almost a kind of despair among voting theorists of getting any better system than we had. What’s interesting, though, is that the impossibility theorem doesn’t apply to systems where you score the candidates rather than rank them. With scoring, you’re essentially filling out a report card—if you think there are two candidates who deserve four stars you can give them both four stars—whereas with ranking you have to artificially give one a number one and one a number two. That turns out to be crucial.

MJ: And yet plurality voting—where a person can vote for only one candidate for a particular office—is the most common system in use. What’s wrong with it?

WP: Whenever you have two candidates whose support overlaps, that’s bad for both of those candidates, the obvious example being Nader and Gore in 2000. So a candidate can be a spoiler and cause the second most popular candidate to win. This is something that’s been appreciated at least going back to the 18th century, and people have tried to devise different ways of dealing with it, but for a very long time this was one of those unsolvable problems.

Continue reading