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End secret vote counts - a story for everyone

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I received a phone call this morning from Faye in South Carolina. She got my number from the "13 Points" document,   "Thirteen Issues with the Holt Bill (HR 811) As Written" http://www.democracyfornewhampshire.com/node/view/3572 which is being handed out among election officials nationwide, and has my phone number on it apparently. She called to say she has questions about this Holt Bill.

"I was at a Republican County meeting a few days ago, and someone told me about this bill. I'd never heard of it, but it sounded bad."

Faye is a county clerk, responsible for managing and administering elections in her precinct. I asked her what were her concerns. She said "Well, they say it is going to require paper ballots, and that you can't pick up the machines the day before the election." (No sleepovers.)

I asked why these were problems for her. Well, she is responsible for picking up the machines the day before the election, five of them, on a 2-hour (each way) drive, and to pick them up in the morning would mean her election day would start at 2 AM. She typically picks them up the night before and brings them to a secure location from the County central office. I explained that I think that was fine, the problem citizens had was when the machines were brought to people's homes. She concurred that this would be a problem.

So I asked about the paper. "We just got all these machines, got everyone trained on them, to change everything again would cause a lot of confusion and trouble."

I agreed with her. It would indeed be a nightmare and contradictory to sound election administration practices to constantly change technology and other management requirements. I told her that's why so many of us ordinary citizens were concerned with this bill, because it seemed to have been written by folks in Washington ("yep, in their ivory towers," she concurred), who have no idea about running elections and who don't seem to care that every small change, never mind big changes, can destabilize the system.


I also said, two problems with the paper part of Holt is that 1) it mandates problematic solutions, adding printers that can jam and cause problems (she said, "yep, just like any computer!"), and that it offered no funding for this anyway. She didn't like that one bit.

But I asked again about the paper. Did they already have some sort of paper trail? She told me they have the paper tallies at the end, but that's it. So we talked about how voters like to feel the ballot in their hands, how they don't really know if the machine is counting their vote as intended, how without paper there is no way to do a recount in a close race. I talked a bit about New Hampshire, how all our recounts are manual, how we have a long history of reading voter intent on the ballots, and so on.

She said "I am a former federal employee, and I know exactly what you are talking about!" I didn't quite know what she was alluding to, so I asked her to explain. She said, "Well, I remember when the Paper Reduction Act was passed. Everyone was supposed to use computers and less paper. We had more paper than ever from that! People printed out everything, all their emails, everything! People like paper!" And then she said, "So why did they sell us all these machines that don't use paper to begin with???"

Good question.

"Well," she said, "why wouldn't we just go to a system like you have in New Hampshire, with paper and scanning machines. Seems easy to use and then you'd have the paper." So I pointed out that with those systems you always have a certain amount of hand counting to do, with the absentee ballots, the write in ballots, the recounts. Did she think that would be a problem?

"Not at all! I worked many years as a secretary and I know how to manage paper like that. That wouldn't be a problem at all. Maybe some folks would need to be taught how to do it, but that's easy!"

At this point I mentioned, oh, by the way, the bill also mandates a whole NEW technology! A whole new thing that we don't even know if it exists, but that will cost lots of money for every polling jurisdiction in the nation. Needless to say, she thought this was another bad idea.

And one more thing, I said, it also makes this commission of four people appointed by the White House, a permanent commission that will be deciding about our voting technology from now on. What do you think of that, Faye? I asked. Do you think it makes sense to have four people in Washington, who report to the President, making decisions about what voting technology we all need to use? She thought that was just ridiculous.

Faye gave me her email address and is looking forward to the alert and the information, so she can fax Congress and have her friends do that too.


The moral of the story: Most of our election workers are good patriotic Americans. And with respect to hand counting as the best democratic practice: as my good friend likes to say "Anyone can come to Democracy." We just need to open the door.

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Nancy is best known as a national leader in the voting rights movement for her seminal work exposing the dangers and fallacies in various election reform efforts past, present and future. She serves on the Board of Black Box Voting, and is (more...)
 

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