This evening’s edition of Voice of the Voters, hosted by Mary Ann Gould and Lori Rosolowsky, focused on the pros and cons of remote voting, that is, both vote by mail (vbm) and Internet voting.
The nationally known roster of guests included Barbara Simons, of the National Workshop on Internet Voting; Charles E. Corry, of the Equal Justice Foundation; and Gentry Lange, director of the No Vote By Mail Project.
Dr. Corry, first to be interviewed, pointed out that vbm ballots are counted by computerized machines; citizens can send in as many as they want to [theoretically], thereby using this modernized system for ballot stuffing. Moreover, the ballots are counted in unsupervised back rooms.
The advantages of this system are that it removes pressure from the voting process—voting can begin as many as ten days prior to election day; there is no need to hire and train election judges; the cost is less; the turnout improves; and this system is more convenient—it is possible to vote at a kitchen table rather than wait in long lines in the rain.
But another problem with vbm is that 25 percent of the population in this country move every year. The ballots, therefore, don’t always reach registered voters, and each ballot must be accounted for. Moreover, one third of the electorate is disenfranchised in that those who missed a previous election may not receive another mailed ballot. In this regard, systems of course vary throughout the country as to the category of election missed: county, state, federal, whatever.
An audience questioner wanted to know how those voting from home can deal with coercion, that is, vote buying and selling and electioneering. There is no protection, as opposed to the polls, where it is supposedly present. [Vote buying and selling can occur in any scenario imho—MNS]
But is there not more pressure in the voting booth, where a voter may have to make quick decisions about issues he or she was previously unaware of? asked Lori. Does vbm allow for more voter education? Well, yes, said Dr. Corry, but consider that over the final two weeks before an election, things can happen after one’s ballot has been sent in that can alter a candidate’s portfolio altogether. Scandals can occur, for instance. A candidate might die.
And what of all the rejected ballots? Ten to twenty percent of mailed-in ballots are returned; the database that contains address changes is not used.
Mary Ann noted ruefully that more and more localities seem to be moving toward vbm. Does this harbinger more voter fraud? The interesting answer was that the higher up the municipality hierarchy, the more difficult it is for voter fraud to succeed.
Gentry Lange, another EI activist who resides in Washington State, now opposes this system that seemed more desirable when compared with the issues surrounding black box tampering, hacking, and malfunction. He thinks it would make more sense to carry paper ballots, already filled out, to the polls.
In King County, WA, alone, six thousand votes were rejected, and half of these were simply tossed out. Lange nonetheless favored vbm until he witnessed the rejection of his friends’ votes. Moreover, he realized that there was no privacy possible in the absence of polls and secret ballots. Most people in King County oppose vbm, he said. The ballots must be folded and thus easily jam the machines that count them.
Eighteen bullet points at novbm.com, the Web site of the No Vote By Mail Project, sum up all the reasons vbm is not the ultimate in twenty-first-century voting solutions.
And if we look to our legislators for solutions, said Mary Ann, how can we better educate them to act effectively on our behalf? Are there legislators leading the fight against vbm? What of the problem that ballots can be received after election day as long as they are mailed on that day or postmarked no later than that date? This can protract the counting process right into the day certification is required.
Mary Ann waxed sentimental about the community aspect of voting at the polls on a quasi-holiday, a chance to discuss issues and mingle with neighbors and friends.
Barbara Simons wrapped up the show by discussing her interest in Internet voting. In 2002 she learned from her Stanford colleague David Dill that Silicon Valley was about to purchase paperless machines. They warned against it, unheeded, though a paper they subsequently wrote in opposition to expatriate and military absentee voting via the Internet was more influential. Three weeks after publication, this project was dropped. There was no way to keep the ballot secret and no way to verify that a vote had been received and counted.
In Geneva, Switzerland, she said, there is Internet voting, but experts are laboring to make the system more secure. And as to the future of such a system, no large program can be free of bugs, nor free from outside hackers and inside employees corrupted into manipulating votes and totals.
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