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It's a hands-on democracy

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Message Paul Jacobs
Leave the counting to the humans


On Tuesday, I participated in what has become a Mickey Mouse election operation in Riverside County, the flagship of Sequoia Voting Systems. I kid you not that from an adjoining room in the school auditorium where my wife and I voted, the band could be heard practicing Disney songs, including a "Mary Poppins" tune and Mickey's theme song.

Registrar of Voters Barbara Dunmore provided multiple instructions to voters on how to properly mark the Flintstone-sized Sequoia paper ballots. The broken-arrows ballots are symbolic of the trust that is broken when election officials exhibit loyalty to election equipment vendors, rather than basing decisions on a ballot layout that is more normal and familiar to voters.

Voters are used to boxes and ovals, and it is an outrageous disservice to democracy to use an irregular ballot design. It is conceivable that some voters will become so befuddled and frustrated with the newfangled ballots that they may decide voting isn't worth the bother. Some people might be too embarrassed to ask for help to correctly mark what should be a simple ballot.

A bad ballot system is no better than using electronic voting machines. At the end of the day, the Sequoia ballots are counted using software owned by Sequoia on the very same tally server that was used for the touch-screen voting machines. Our votes are counted in private and the tally is unobservable as ballots fly through each Sequoia optical scanner at up to 400 ballots per minute.

Nothing is more fundamental to democracy than casting a ballot in private and having that ballot counted transparently in public, by the public, for the republic. Political division has caused many of us to forget that we are a nation of, by and for the people. We need to remember.

A government of the people requires civic involvement ---- an increasingly foreign concept in a land of professional politicking. These days, in-house experts and outside consultants package public policy while a few citizens sit in the audience as spectators. Decisions are made inside a box and the people are on the outside of the box, which is where all the good ideas come from.

I have participated in the Save R Vote poll-watching project organized by Citizens for Democracy of Temecula Valley, but I find those efforts to be futile when citizen input is largely ignored in the public process. Citizens can suggest, document and share observations, but change only occurs in the direction favored by those wielding elected and appointed power.

The Save R Vote project has recruited hundreds of volunteer observers with minimal resources and only a few organizers. The citizens project provides demonstrable proof that if asked, there are plenty of people willing to contribute a few hours for the sake of our democracy.

The power of our government is literally within the hands of the people. It is unnecessary and illogical to trust privatized machinery to count our votes. A true representative democracy requires the participation of We, the People.

Politicians place their faith in the public to cast the ballot. To ensure a faithful tally of the votes, ballots must be counted in the trustworthy hands of the public.

It is time to reject this notion of machine-friendly ballots in favor of ballots that are designed to be cast and counted by human beings.

Paul Jacobs is a regular columnist for The Californian, newspaper in Southwest Riverside County, CA and on the web:  E-mail him at

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Paul has worked in health care for the past 30 years and writes a weekly column for a local newspaper in California. He is involved in local civics, a member of Citizens for Democracy, Temecula Valley and active in the election integrity movement. (more...)
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