This evening's Socratic edition of Voice of the Voters featured hosts Mary Ann Gould and Lori Rosolowky, who interviewed EI celebrities Ellen Theisen of Votersunite.org and Susan Pynchon of Florida Fair Elections Coalition.
The paradox unfolded through a dialogue between Ellen and Susan that broadened the dimensions of EI discourse. First came the conclusion that there is no ideal voting system. But then, the method is only part of the complete story. Rotating around the act of voting and the machines we use is the Who does it? Lots of people, some of them with malicious forethoughts.
What is needed by the process is supervision. Elections must be verifiable as well as verified; observable as well as observed. The act of voting is what must be private. The rest must be open to and participated in by the public-a concerned public committed to accurate and honest election returns. That is how our democracy will continue.
In other words, said Ellen, privacy must be protected in a public venue.
Counting the votes must be public. Observers, from all walks of life, must be honest. Citizens must observe the entire process. Different self-interests create a good balance.
The vote belongs to the people but the administration is out of our hands, said Mary Ann.
Partisan interests run elections, said Lori, quoting Professor Alex Keyssar, last week's guest on Voice of the Voters.
Said Susan, hands-on observation is a huge challenge. Ballot transportation and storage are vital parts of the process. The time between the machine calculations and the counting of the ballots must be secure. In Florida, the ballots are stored in manila envelopes, which are in turn stored in vaults. Her group is working on a citizens' guide to elections, trying for grant money to complete it. Bev Harris has an election "tool kit" on her Web site blackboxvoting.org.
When hand-counted paper ballots are used, said Ellen, every single part of the voting process can be observed.
We focus so much on actions, said Mary Ann, attempting to turn the mindset. What are the key principles?
To encourage citizen ownership of a transparent process, answered Ellen. We take democracy for granted until serious problems result from this apathy.
Added Ellen, we must watch the government in action as much as we must watch elections.
Either we control our destinies or we don't, said Susan. People want easy answers; they don't think it is exciting to observe elections.
How many activists have been poll workers? asked Lori. For her it was a most exciting process, filled with subtleties that must all be visible and observed.
The problem is that the average age of poll workers is 72 and they work 13-hour shifts. This should change. Shifts should rotate every four hours. Youth must become involved. Each voter should participate in some part of the process.
Susan said that all those interested should find out the relevant laws in their states about citizens' rights to observe. In Volusia County, twenty-three provisional ballots were discarded because poll workers had forgotten to obtain signatures on the outside of the envelopes.