Monday, July 30, 2007

Paper ballots--why not?

All over the civilized world, people vote on paper ballots, which are then individually hand counted. Why don't we?

My hero, Debra Bowen, California's secretary of state, recently commissioned some computer experts to try to hack the voting machines in use in California. Guess what? They were able to hack every single computer!

This is a threat to our democracy. And it wouldn't be that way if voting machine interests didn't have such a cozy relationship with elected officials.

If the Germans can hand-count votes, why can't we?

Let's say 150 million ballots are cast in an election. (I think it's quite a bit less than that, but we'll use that number.) Counting a thousand votes would be an easy task, so if 150,000 people volunteered--or were paid--to count votes, we could get it done in an evening. Say we paid each person $40. The total would be $6 million, a pittance compared to what it's cost so far to turn our elections over to the computers of for-profit corporations with their own private agendas.

Or if we don't want to pay the $6 million to insure democracy, why not shut down a couple of government offices, like the motor vehicle department or the county general services department, on the day after the election and have them count the vote--with citizen oversight, of course?

All the problems with malfunctioning machines, hanging chads, butterfly ballots and election officials with hidden agendas would simply disappear. We could even have optically scannable ballots, so we can compare the scan with the hand count and make sure there is no error or shenanigans in either system.

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At 7/31/07, 9:58 PM, Blogger Gail Jonas said...

Good post, Bonnie.
The arguments against paper ballots appear to be:
1. There are too many issues on a ballot because we have direct democracy, i.e., initiatives and referenda. Germany, which you mention in your post, uses a parlimentary system of government, which means one vote covers many offices and apparently there aren't any initiatives or referenda.
2. There are too many people per precinct to allow hand counts.

The solutions to these objections:
1. Hold special elections for intiatives, etc., leaving just candidates on the standard ballot.
2. Reduce the size of precincts. I understand 500 people per precinct is considered the ideal size for handcounted paper ballots.

At 8/1/07, 3:15 PM, Blogger Weedgardener said...

During the California recall election, we election workers had to count and tally the votes in our precinct for a) the recall and b) the replacement candidates, before turning in the ballots. Four of us accomplished this task in less than an hour.

I realize counting the 20 or thirty races that might be on a California ballot might be time-consuming, but here's an idea: why not have an election holiday after the election and require all citizens to donate an hour of their time to counting ballots? The schedule could be set up ahead of time.

I predict this would have the added benefit of increasing people's involvement in the political process.

Of course, that means that all financial interests would be against the idea, but what if the idea caught on with voters, and we demanded it?

Another alternative is to require a handcount of only federal races and have the states decide what to do about the rest.

Yet another is to randomly handcount 10 percent of the ballots, triggering a full recount of the precincts that have a significant discrepancy between hand and machine-counted votes. You could only do this if you had paper ballots.

There are things we can do to make the system more accountable!


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