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.

4 responses to “Bob Koehler on election integrity and voting machines

  1. I don’t put much in the ritual of voting in person at a ballot box either. Since the act of voting should be anonymous and free of influence, I go just the opposite way on that issue. If people want to commune and talk politics, that is great. Just not at the exact point in time they are voting.

    When Bill Clinton was President he suggested making Voting Day a national holiday, and I agree with that — I think it sets the right tone for the day and would allow the election to be held on the same day as it is now without it being a workday.

  2. Check out WhyTuesday? for an organization that focuses on the question of why we vote on Tuesday and what can be done to improve turn out.

    One potential issue with the national holiday idea (and voting on weekends idea) is that people will choose to go on vacation instead of voting. Some have proposed a half day holiday for voting.

  3. Move it to Wed., make it a national holiday. Mid-week, it’d be tough for folks to turn it into a long vacation weekend.

    Sound good?

    P.S. One prob you forgot (among many) with e-voting systems: When they break down, as they frequently do, people can’t vote. Period. See Horry County, SC in last weekend’s Republican Primary as just one brutally ugly example.

  4. Brad: I agree on both points. My little ‘pro’/’con’ list was quickly hacked together. My point was that there are items in the ‘pro’ column and that pretending that they don’t exist is silly. But the items in the ‘con’ column are much more compelling to me.

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