Monday, March 28, 2016

Does your vote count?

An open letter to my local newspaper and representatives

Does your vote count?
The other day a friend of mine confided in me that he didn't bother to vote in the recent presidential primaries.  "Why bother?  It's all rigged."
I noted that there is ample evidence, especially recently, that the process of counting votes, even at major caucuses, is secret and hampered an in many counties, quite corruptable.  We all recall the Bush-Gore fiasco in Florida and the controversy over rigged voting machines.  We all noted that Hillary Clinton took New Hampshire with 60% of the electoral votes and only %40 of the popular vote.
I myself witnessed an instance of this in 1992 in King County Washington.  I was an election judge that year and stayed all day at my local polling place to witness each vote cast and placed into a securely locked box.  At the end of the day I escorted several other witnesses and armed guards in an armored car to take the votes to King County (Washington) headquarters. I watched the ballots carefully transferred into a bag and then thrown over a Plexiglas wall to be electronically counted exclusively by a computer.  I was aghast - my entire day of witnessing was wasted.  I had absolutely no way of verifying the count, and without the count being done right, the votes and the voting process mattered not.
When I went to vote at the last presidential primary election, I asked the election judge how the votes would be counted.  He replied "oh they count them all right afterwards in the back room".
I was thankful that they weren’t being counted by some computer but why in a "back room"?  Who owns our votes anyway?  The State?  The County?  The political Parties or their Bosses?  The Candidates?  A Computer?  The County Recorder?
The proper answer is YOU own your vote - or it is not YOUR vote.  YOU are entitled to the ability to KNOW your vote was counted and counted correctly and only once and YOU are responsible to make sure this happens.
An idea occurred to me that spurred me on to do a little research.  Kathy Ackerman, our wonderful County Recorder, furnished me with the applicable Idaho statutes, Title 34, which says that counters and watchers require prior approval and must meet criteria for being admitted to the process.  The code appears to be written to allow just enough access to let those deeply involved in the election to have the ability to “check” the other side.  It does not appear to have any goal of granting public viewing of or participation in the process.  A vote recount under this system becomes an expensive and involved process that is thus rarely done.
It seems that instead of sequestering the process behind closed doors, we should have as open a process as possible.  Counting votes, especially with the technology of computers, the internet, scanners, and printers, shouldn’t be hard to do correctly and openly with full verifiability at any time yet keeping the original documents safe and secure.
Currently the county does publish the precinct totals on the web but this is not really enough information to verify the count is correct.
Here’s one way I would think it could be done:
Make blank sheets of paper printed with a unique random number that is covered and can be scratched off, similar to how our lotto tickets are printed.  This can be done cheaply in bulk and used for many similar purposes.  The uniqueness of the numbers need not be global but just for the printing of a batch large enough to accommodate the largest precincts.  Print the ballots on these blank sheets.  If the voter wishes, while voting they can scratch off the coating and copy down the ballot number they used.  They can then fold the ballot so as to hide the number and place it into the ballot box.  Secrecy is maintained yet personal and public verifiability is now possible.
The counting process can be simplified by allowing lots of counters, breaking up the ballots into small bundles that can be independently counted by different people multiple times and stored in numbered envelopes.  Each counter signs as to the count they got for each bundle onto a counting summary sheet that goes with the bundle.  The multitude of witnesses gives weight to the count’s accuracy.  Counters could even scratch off any covered numbers so that each ballot is accounted for by number and the number’s uniqueness verified.  Ballot counts on the summary sheet should match the precinct ballot count on the voter ledger so no mysterious extra ballots could be added and any missing ones could be noted.
Counters could even be pulled from the public schools as a requirement for graduation supplying lots of disinterested witnesses and forcing the process to be publicly well known.
Once the counts are established on bundle summary sheets with witness signatures and any scratched off ballot numbers, they would be scanned and placed online for all to see along with the precinct voter ledger.  Associated spreadsheets could be created to make the counting easy for online verification.  Counts can be looked up online by precinct.  Nothing fancy just public scans of documents and accompanying spreadsheets.  The documents are stored safe at the county recorder’s office yet viewable by anyone at any time with all the detail that the initial counters had in front of them.
Recounts and challenges could be done with jury oversight and most of the job cold be done online with no assistance or cost.  The jury and challengers can verify that the physical documents match what is online by going down to the recorder’s office and doing so in a controlled but open manner.  Discrepancies would be settled by jury who add their names to the list of witnesses and counters on the tally sheets and becoming publically accountable to the process. 
Participation in government is both a sacred right and duty of the free.  It also serves as training in self-government which is what the people that fled to this country long ago came for.
This is not rocket science and I am sure I am not the first person to think of such reforms.  The counting of our votes is currently controlled by state law so naturally, a copy of this letter is being sent to my state representatives.  If you like this idea, how about sending a copy of this letter to your state representative as well?