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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 7/14/09

Alastair's Prescription for Healthy Elections

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Interview with Scoop's Alastair Thompson, part four

We resume our conversation with Scoop's Alastair Thompson. You may be far away [New Zealand] but you get it about election fraud, stolen elections, and broken election systems. We in America who are working towards meaningful election reform feel like we've essentially been banging our heads against the wall for the last five years. Any advice for us?

Having watched this process now for seven years, I have some strong views on this.

Okay, Alastair. Take it away.

Firstly, there is the question of what you should be seeking.

Since the beginning of this debate, there have been arguments about what technology is acceptable. In particular voter verified paper ballots [vvpb], paper trails and optical scan systems. And then there are arguments about audits and recounts.

We now know that none of these systems can protect actual election integrity.

Optical scanning machines are hackable - Harri Hursti showed that conclusively. Paper supplements to voting machines simply do not work - the printing machines jam, the paper records get lost and most importantly it is impossible to get a proper recount performed.

For the same reason - the human and legal problem of recounting - I have no confidence in audit systems used around optical scan ballots though this would be much better than what you have now.

Basically, in order to function an election system must deliver a reliable result on the night or shortly thereafter. The result should not be capable of being manipulated except through a massive conspiracy. If you set the bar high for the fraudsters then they will stop.

In terms of understanding the solution to the problem, you need to also consider the problem from a cautionary perspective.meaning, the solution to the problem needs to deter an active criminal conspiracy from its evil ways. If you simply assume that the system is vulnerable but not actually under attack you will find the wrong answer.

On the basis of this analysis, I have come to the conclusion that the only method of voting and vote counting that works is: hand counted paper ballots, counted at the place of voting on the night of voting.

Yes, this requires thousands of poll workers but it works perfectly well everywhere else in the world - why not the USA?

And to make it easier to vote I would also suggest you make election day a public holiday.

So that is where I think you need to go - next question is how to get there. And here is where it gets horribly difficult.

The first problem: Not understanding the enemy.

Because there are so many people who do not believe elections have been hacked, and perhaps simply as a defense mechanism against the enormity of realization that democracy is being attacked at its very core, even staunch election integrity activists sometimes miss the wood for the trees.

The ability to control who is elected at a micro level is the ultimate form of political control. It makes Jim Crow, ballot stuffing intimidation and other forms of election fraud pale into insignificance.

It is an enormously profitable venture and one which will be being extremely well organized and it will have its tentacles into everything. It will be growing more powerful and more sophisticated with every electoral cycle and it will be growing ever harder to detect.

The solution:

Do not buy into the bullshit about whether this is a real or imaginary threat. If the system is as vulnerable, as we know it to be - and if we have criminal conspiracies of the kind that occurred in Ohio in 2004 preventing recounts then you know that this is real. Act on that knowledge. Assume that everything you do is being actively undermined by sophisticated vested interests - a criminal conspiracy - and be very determined about sticking to your game and ignoring distractions and disruptions. Defeating this enemy will be hard and it will require a massive political will from the grassroots up; the political superstructure is already unreliable.

The second problem: Lack of common purpose

Meanwhile what we actually have is an election reform movement is unfortunately somewhat riven with internal arguments - many of them around the issues raised above. And people have dug themselves into trenches around these points. Hand counted paper ballots are impractical and impossible. Auditing is the answer, etc.

As long as there is no clarity of demand from the public it is astonishingly easy for the politicians and corporate cowards to dodge the issue. Recall what happened with the Holt Bill.

Clearly some kind of unity of purpose is required. This means discipline and compromise.

The solution:

Hold a national meet-up of election reform outfits and hammer out a consensus - it may not be one everybody agrees to but that's what politics is about. And progress is better than no progress.

The third problem: A cycle of interest

We have all seen what happens in this movement. Around an election, and especially in the weeks immediately after it, everybody gets upset and excited.

Months pass and interest wanes people get frustrated and by the time the next election comes around it is too late to do anything about it.

The solution:

As a movement, aim for a realistic timetable for change and then pursue that doggedly. 2010 is probably too early for real change to be implemented, so aim for 2012; aim to pass a bill which fixes the 2012 presidential election in 2010. That way, the "there is not enough time" tossers can jump in a lake.

And I have more thoughts but those are the biggies.

Well, this certainly gives us a lot to think about. When we return for the last installment of our interview, Alastair will talk about the fourth estate, and the role of independent online media.
Correction to part one (later amended online), as pointed out by Bev Harris: "Each instance of in part one should be replaced with Bev Harris - I owned, but it was a publicity site that had nothing to do with the voting issue." Thank you, Bev.

Part One of my interview with Alastair
Part Two of my interview with Alastair
Part Three of my interview with Alastair

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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