Category Archives: incompetence

voting in the America – epic FAIL

I gave a 11 minute talk on voting in the US and it’s issues last night at the Urban Hive in Sacramento. This was to a very small audience and was something I threw together at the last minute.

These are my notes for the talk:

voting in America - epic FAIL
---

intro
 * not well prepared speech - expect a very bad talk on a very important topic
 * goal is to make people think about democracy in US and whether it
    works / could be improved

principals of democracy
 * choice by people
   "Democracy is a system of government in which people choose their rulers
    by voting for them in elections."
   root demos = people
   FAIL: $ in politics, single winner districts, gerrymandering,
         2 party system due largely to plurality voting
 * representative democracy (vs direct democracy)
  * communication more effective (direct democracy does not scale)
  * specialization (reps are knowledgable about issues)
  * delegation
  * representative
  FAIL: unrepresentative representatives, in pockets of large special interests,
     gerrymandered to get reelected
 * consent of governed
  FAIL: see representative democracy list
        current #s: 26% approval rating for congress, 49% for president
 * accountability
  FAIL: unrepresentative representatives
 * transparency
  FAIL: voting machines, lack of publicly observed counting, vote by
        mail to a degree, blind trust in election results
 * US specific concepts:
  * federalism for national powers
    FAIL: In my view this is inappropriate; people should be
          represented nationally rather then states
  * Separation of Powers - legislative vs executive vs judicial
    OK

off-topic:
 * majority rule vs minority rights
 * - democracy not necessarily enough and/or need for compromise
   *unless* people moderate their views to respect the minority

problems with US system:
 * single winner districts => unrepresentative representatives.
   In extreme only 50%+1 represented
 * gerrymandering => representatives choose voters instead of vice versa.
   In extreme only 25%+1 represented
 * money in politics, money as 'speech', corporate personhood under the law
    => corporate money as speech
   "A bitterly divided Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that the government may
    not ban political spending by corporations, labor unions or other organizations
    in elections. The court’s majority in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission
    swept aside a century-old doctrine in election law, ruling that the campaign finance
    restriction violated the First Amendment’s free speech principles"
 * national government is a federation in which *states* are represented NOT people
  * eg. senate weighs each state equally
  * house of representative does not weight states fully equally - rounding errors,
    formula for # of reps, etc...
  * president elected by electoral college - not national popular vote
 * single winner election systems - plurality voting.  lesser of 2 evils.
   Bush v Gore v Nader
 * => 2 party system - systemic issue

we can do better
 * takes political will
 * understand that there are proposed reforms and that some have obstacles
   or are contradictory
 * some are worse then what we have currently!

what you can do:
 * donate to relief efforts in Haiti - not strictly related but important :)
 * read and be aware of the recent news on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission
 * sites and organizations to check out:
   $ in politics: "changeCongress.org" "maplight.org"
   and "Center for Political Accountability"
   voting systems: "score voting.net aka rangevoting.org"
   general: "allaboutvoting.com" - my site
 * terms to research:
   "election reform"
   "asset voting"
   "approval voting"
   "score voting" aka "range voting"
   "delegatable proxy"

Q&A

shenanigans in Chicago

From the Chicago Methods Reporter comes this story about poorly trained election administrators and misapplied overrides. One of the affected voters writes:

“Jim and I went to vote at 7 a.m. We were given Democratic ballots and pens. But when I got to the booth, my pen didn’t work — it was like a felt-tip marker with no ink. So I went back to the desk and was told — along with several other confused voters trying to swap out their nonfunctional pens — that these were “invisible ink” pens that would not leave marks on the ballot but would absolutely be read by the scanners.

Except that they weren’t. The optical scanners were spitting out ballots until one of the election judges used a key to override the system and get the ballots into the box. After my ballot was rejected once, I got a confirmation that my vote “counted” (when the number on the ballot box blipped from 19 to 20), but Jim was given a regular ballpoint to fill in his, and it counted right away.”

The voter made enough of a fuss that they managed to get the precinct to try to “make good”. They did this by contacting the first 20 voters at that location and inviting them to re-vote.

The Chicago Tribune covers this too.

(Aside: There are voting systems that really do use special pens. For example the soon-to-be publicly described Scantegrity II system uses invisible ink on part of the ballot that is only visible when highlighted.)