Don't worry about Paper Ballots--
The Problem is Secret Procedures and Lack of Observers!
June 28, 2007
As a citizen activist against electronic voting machines ("DREs") and an advocate of voter-marked paper ballots and precinct-based optical scanners, the most common argument I hear against paper ballots is that "they have always been subject to fraud."
To find out more, I read Deliver the Vote by Tracy Campbell, a history of American election fraud from 1742 to 2004, and the 68-page chapter on fraud in Election Administration in the United States, which details some cases that took place in the 1920s. Here's what I learned.
Regardless of the technology used for voting, three characteristics of fraud have always been the same:
1. Fraud occurs when election procedures are conducted in secret. Secrecy has been supported by law makers, law enforcement, and the courts. People in positions of power have stayed in power by controlling the conduct of elections, and keeping what they do secret.
2. When fraud occurs, citizens are treated as outsiders to the election process, and are prevented, by the use of law or violence, from participating in or observing election procedures, and from investigating irregularities.
3. In order to control the real votes that are cast, certain would-be voters have been discouraged from voting by the use of law and violence.
It's a sorry history--observers kidnapped or beaten up, and courts refusing to open the ballot boxes to find out whether what's inside has any relationship to precinct tally sheets.
DREs, electronic voting machines, continue this tradition of fraud. Just when surveillance cameras could open our poll sites to continuous observation and prevent the hanky-panky, DREs establish a new barrier to citizen oversight. Citizens are shut out. We can't understand the procedures. We can't observe in a meaningful way sufficient to attest that procedures and counting were proper and honest. Voters can't even observe their own votes.
Just like the ballot boxes of old, DREs cannot be opened-their insides are concealed by trade secret and intellectual property claims of vendors, which have been consistently upheld by election administrators and courts. Courts today are playing the same role with DREs that courts of yesterday played with wooden ballot boxes. Our courts are protecting the secret software and any other secrets that might be inside, such as log files showing communications intrusions, alterations of tally files, and other evidence of fraud. This is the reason we sometimes hear "there's no evidence that DREs have ever been subject to fraud."
Despite talk about outside hackers, insider control of election outcomes has never been easier--just point and click, and after changing the tallies, remember to "save" before you "exit".