Most of us have run across Snopes in its 13-year history. It has become the most well-known website to investigate urban legends, rumors, and myths. On numerous occasions, I have been saved from passing on unsubstantiated claims by a timely look at Snopes.
This weekend, I got an email from my brother, John. He was passing along something that he had received from a friend. It was Snopes’ validation of citizens’ concerns about STV – Straight Ticket Voting.
Having sounded the alarm for years about the perils of electronic voting, I was thrilled that such a well-respected source chose to deal with even one aspect of this subject. As far as I know, this is Snopes’ first foray into election issues.
I spoke with Ellen this morning. She pointed out that votes get lost in every election, for a variety of reasons, including straight ticket voting. It is impossible to know exactly which ones, where, or even how many are lost or changed. Just today, an article in the Houston Chronicle tells of early voters who voted a Democratic STV and saw their presidential vote flip to John McCain.
Ellen has talked to numerous election officials across the country. She was struck by how many of them weren’t quite sure themselves of their particular state’s rules regarding STV. So, here are three ways for a potential mix-up:
The officials may not provide the correct information to the voter, the voter might not execute the vote properly (either because of not understanding what was said or because of confusion over the use of the voting apparatus) or the programmer might have goofed it up. Also, the way STV works in one state may be completely different than the way it works in the state right next door. Because of these reasons, Ellen sees STV as “one more layer of opportunity for an electronic miscount”. Even if you familiarize yourself with all the ins and outs of your state’s requirements, there is still too much risk of something going wrong if you vote STV.
Ellen went to a tremendous amount of trouble to gather the information for the fifteen states that use STV. It is provided at the VotersUnite! website. Nevertheless, her advice would be: avoid using STV. Vote for each and every race individually, even if it takes a little longer. This is a clear case of more convenient not being better. Avoid Straight Ticket Voting!
Here are the fifteen states that offer STV (sometimes known as SPV, straight party voting). Alabama, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin. If you add up the population in those states, you’re at around 90 million. So, we’re talking about tens of millions of voters including those from four of the ten most populous states. It is quite likely that all of us have contacts in at least one of the fifteen states. Since early voting has already started, it’s critical to get this information out to as many people as possible as quickly as possible. Millions of votes could be at stake.
Of course, if you were to say that this should be the job of the Election Assistance Commission, you would be 100% correct. The EAC was created by the Help America Vote Act in 2002, to be a national clearinghouse for election information. They have fallen far short of the mark up until now; it is unlikely that they will suddenly drop everything to sound the alarm about this. On the other hand, this is a perfect opportunity for us to step in.
In making this information widely known and urging people to avoid STV, we can make a difference!
Many thanks to Ellen Theisen for her help!