Ask For a Paper Ballot Tuesday

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We must recognize that political progress cannot happen when elections are not secure. If voting results are not verifiable, then getting citizen engagement is futile as moneyed power controls the outcome in the end. Control of the ballot box forces elected officials to serve the interests of those that control the tallying of votes. Corruption becomes the status quo, because one must participate to get elected.

The representative republic is broken in a fundamental way when corruption is the politician’s chief constituent. With so much power up for grabs every four years, there is no wonder that moneyed power would attempt to control elections. Honest elections encourage hard work by politicians, so that when the elections are held there are concrete accomplishments for voters to support.

Making leadership stand for election periodically is really the only tangible power average citizens possess. This relationship between honest elections and good governance has existed since ballot boxes and representative government began. It is not perfect by any means, but open elections at least give citizens a chance to remove politicians from leadership positions. Ultimately, the inherent selfishness of the political personality means they do not serve citizens without the threat of being removed from power.

The political duopoly of the Republican and the Democrat is very much a part of the electoral problems in the United States of America. The founding fathers never envisioned the amount of influence political parties hold over the American election process. Public money is used to run intra-party primaries in support of the duopoly.

The influence of parties is used by moneyed power to block “unsponsored” legislation, which make no profits for shareholders. Political parties continue to survive by serving moneyed power. Political parties exist almost solely to deliver legislation. Moneyed power pays for election results and supports the party structures for this reason.

The parties use this duopoly every ten years by leveraging the census to control elections. Politicians draw districts that guarantee one party or the other controls a seat, otherwise known as a gerrymander. As noted in the lost article of the Bill of Rights, Congressional districts should be redone after every census. Instead of the objective analysis of population distribution and seat expansion imagined by the founders, the parties invest their resources into demographic analysis to draw districts in favor of a particular party. Gerrymandering ensures that candidates must participate in the duopoly to compete, since no districts are gerrymandered to favor independents or third parties.

Gerrymandering makes districts far less representative of their constituents and creates divisive legislators hailing from partisan districts. The growing efficiency of software to gerrymander a political district, especially at the House of Representative level, helps cement these divisions. With ever more computing power and data granularity, code can be written allowing political strategists to draw districts that create just the right demographic to guarantee their bosses get re-elected.

There is no other way to explain the biennial ninety-eight percent reelection rate. This reelection rate stands in stark contrast to Congressional approval ratings in the thirty percent or lower. These so-called “safe” districts have helped widen the bipartisan divide by virtually eliminating moderate, blended, centrist districts.

Libertarian-Socialism calls for the reining in of the software-driven gerrymandering that divvies up the electorate for the two parties. Through an objective analysis of population distribution within the United States, Congressional district lines should be limited to first honor current civic divisions at the local level before radical redrawing would be allowed. This means that a district would not likely cut through five or more cities, but rather adhere more closely to the existing civic boundaries.

Currently, in some districts, citizen voters of a small city may be represented by the same mayor, but forced to vote in three or four different congressional districts. This condition can occur even though they are living on the same city block. Of course, an expansion of the House of Representatives as discussed earlier would significantly reduce the importance of geographic factors. An increase in the number of Congressional districts results in decreasing of district size and makes gerrymandering more difficult.

Limiting gerrymandering will have a profound effect. Politicians are forced to advocate positions that are more moderate when their district is more diverse. This will surely be helpful in ending gridlock. Citizens living in the same neighborhoods might now also have a unified voice in Congress, instead of having their unified voice diluted at the federal level.

Nonetheless, no matter how fairly a district is drawn, if citizens choose not to cast a thoughtful ballot then there can be no fix. There is nothing that can substitute for an engaged electorate. When the majority of the electorate chooses no longer to identify with either Democrat or Republican, there is obviously a growing discontent with the duopoly. Gerrymandering is being used to protect the duopoly from this grassroots rebellion against political parties.

Technology has brought greater efficiencies to voting, but not brought about any transparency that enhances trust. Belief that the will of the electorate is being executed at the ballot box is at an all-time low. A lack of certainty in the outcomes by the electorate is discouraging and makes it harder to get citizens to the polls. Technology is used to increase certainty in the financial world, but in the election world technology has facilitated hacking,

Technology has further called into question the honesty of American elections. The 2000 election was dominated by hanging chads in Florida before the Supreme Court ruled Gore had lost. This disputed election led to a push for more computerized voting. The justification is the greater certainty that a proper technological implementation of computerized voting should bring.

The next election was not one of greater certainty for the electorate, however. In 2004, there was a huge discrepancy between exit polling and the election outcomes. There were specific irregularities in the Ohio counts that brought scrutiny to the computerized voting machines mandated after the 2000 election. In 2004, it became clear that the electronic systems had very little in the way of audit trails and monitoring mechanisms. Audit trails are necessary to facilitate transparent tallying of the votes while protecting the system from hacking.

The 2000 election was used to accelerate adoption of computerized voting machines. The 2000 election turmoil was a harbinger of future shenanigans in the twenty-first century. When Florida was in dispute in 2000, the Electoral College did not weigh in at all. At a time, when the architects of the nation would have expected the Electoral College to step in the institution yielded to the Supreme Court. This disputed election battle seemed to drive the oligarchy to gain more certain election outcomes that technology can deliver.

The Electoral College solution favored Gore who only needed one more electoral vote to become president, while Bush needed all of Florida’s twenty-seven votes. The Electoral College had no real role in 2000. Instead, five men, several of them friends of the man standing for Vice President, Dick Cheney, decided the election. In the end, the Supreme Court installed George W. Bush to office even though he had lost the popular vote to Al Gore.

The 2000 election led to a large-scale push for computerized voting instead of a debate on why five men on the Supreme Court had swung an entire election. Why had the Electoral College not been the forum to decide the 2000 election? Why had the election not been thrown to Congress as had been done in previously contested elections where the electors could not decide? Authentic debate concerning the 2000 election should have included consideration of previous elections where the outcomes were debated in Congress.

Elections in history such as Thomas Jefferson over Aaron Burr in 1801, John Quincy Adams over Andrew Jackson in 1825 and Rutherford B. Hayes over Samuel Tilden in 1877 should be common knowledge to all Americans now had the proper public debate occurred. These were all elections where the Electoral College failed to arrive at a decisive result. Instead of discussions about the proper flow of decision-making powers in a disputed election, voting machines were advocated as solving the problems seen in 2000. The machines were adopted in many states across the country as a response to the controversial 2000 election result.

The election results delivered in 2004 after large-scale conversion to computerized voting are hardly a convincing case for computers over paper. In the presidential election of 2004, the discrepancies in exit polling to computer tallies were enormous. In New Mexico, which was decided by six thousand votes in the 2004 election, malfunctioning machines mysteriously failed to register properly a presidential vote on more than twenty thousand ballots. In Ohio, an electronic machine in the town of Gahanna recorded over four thousand votes for Bush and little over two hundred for Kerry. In that precinct, however, there were only eight hundred registered voters. Exit polling differences of this magnitude triggered Ukraine’s Orange Revolution in 2003 and 2004. In America, complacency ruled the day, though.

Common Dreams, the news and opinion website outlines some of the discrepancies in the 2004 election as follows:

The evidence is especially strong in Ohio. In January, a team of mathematicians from the National Election Data Archive, a nonpartisan watchdog group, compared the state’s exit polls against the certified vote count in each of the forty-nine precincts polled by Edison/Mitofsky. In twenty-two of those precincts — nearly half of those polled — they discovered results that differed widely from the official tally. Once again — against all odds — the widespread discrepancies were stacked massively in Bush’s favor: In only two of the suspect twenty-two precincts did the disparity benefit Kerry. The wildest discrepancy came from the precinct Mitofsky numbered ‘’27,’’ in order to protect the anonymity of those surveyed. According to the exit poll, Kerry should have received sixty-seven percent of the vote in this precinct. Yet the certified tally gave him only thirty-eight percent. The statistical odds against such a variance are just shy of one in 3 billion. Such results, according to the archive, provide ‘virtually irrefutable evidence of vote miscount.

The 2004 election put many technologists on alert. There was more activism from the technology sector. Organizations like Black Box Voting pushed for more transparency in the software collecting votes in the United States. Additionally, the lack of an audit trail was a clear shortcoming to even the most technologically naive. Nonetheless, in 2008, there were more anomalous election results.

In 2008, the American economy was in free fall. It was self-evident that the next president would be a Democrat. Hillary Clinton looked to be a lock in 2008 until Barack Obama upset the apple cart. Obama won the critical Iowa Caucuses opening the Democratic primaries with Clinton finishing third. Polling showed Obama was leading in the upcoming New Hampshire primary. However, when the votes were tallied Hillary Clinton had won New Hampshire.

Election analysts were on alert this time though. There were already many technologists looking closely at election results in 2008 after what had happened in 2004. It did not take long before someone surfaced the fact that Obama had won in hand counted districts in New Hampshire. The only districts where Clinton won were machine-tabulated districts. To add to the anomaly, the hand counted districts where Obama won matched leading polling. The hand counted districts matched exit polling that was done in New Hampshire while the machine tabulated districts swung wildly toward Clinton against the exit polls.

These results were so odd one wonders why more was not made of them. There was enough scrutiny that this discrepancy was at least reported. There were no more computerized anomalies reported in 2008. Could Barack Obama have been the Democratic nominee for president without New Hampshire’s unusual voting tallies being surfaced to a wide audience?

Off and on since the insecurity of the 2000 and 2004 elections, American voting equipment occasionally gets some airtime, but for the most part attention has been elsewhere. Polling suggested there was little chance for Mitt Romney in 2012 and the popular vote echoed these polls. The Electoral College though appeared much closer and — had Ohio swung to Romney — Obama may have been a one-term president.

The hacking group Anonymous claims to have blocked a 2012 effort in Ohio to flip votes and swing the election. The claim was picked up by several news sources after the election. In hindsight, Karl Rove’s candid facial reactions when Fox News calls Ohio for Obama would seem to lend some credence to the claim. Frankly, there is such a lack of audit trails in the American voting systems that the truth cannot be known.

In 2016, the popular vote diverged again from the Electoral College as Donald Trump became president and claims emerged of “hacking” that put Trump in office. Interestingly, all these recent claims of hacking are mostly about Russia or other foreign actors planting fake news stories in the American press and social media. This hardly amounts to hacking. This is simple propaganda and has been done since time immemorial.

If the Russians have the power to hack American elections, they may very well be taking advantage of purposeful holes put in the computerized voting machines to achieve a result by the duopoly. It seems that in a hyper-partisan environment, patriotism goes out the window. Both sides are willing to pay for a “fix” at any cost. The Russians are smart and most likely took money from both sides to hack. The losing side still does not want to expose the true insecurity of American elections to protect and preserve the duopoly.

In the twenty-first century, there have been these anomalous elections. In these elections the losing side realizes they have been had and the election swung. The rules do not change though, because delivering election outcomes is the reason political parties exist today. The duopoly treats the election manipulations as a game of political gotcha, where the side best able to master technology wins the day. With a wink and a nod of respect to the wiliness of their opponent, the duopoly will never advocate transparency. Transparent elections would dilute the power of the parties, end the duopoly’s game of technological one-upsmanship and curtail the auctioning off of American legislative bodies.

Software has been a part of the American financial machinery for decades and there is no excuse for such a vulnerable election process. These vulnerabilities preserve the ability to deliver results regardless of the will of the electorate. Using technology to win elections is nothing new. The political party apparatuses are not as technologically challenged as they claim to be. This feigned ignorance is used to excuse these election process loopholes. Such claims of ignorance hold no water in light of the leveraging of technology in other areas of electioneering.

In 2016, the reluctance of the Democrats to take up the cause of the recount demonstrated how neither side would work toward a transparent election process. The Greens surprisingly were able to raise sufficient funds for recounts in several states compelling Democrats to pretend to support the recounts or bring down the curtain on election theatrics. Cynically, Democrats did not defend the recounts. When their partners in crime sought to cancel or limit the recounts, the Democrats did not show up in court to push back. Democratic inaction led directly to a curtailment of any extensive recounts in 2016. America can no longer ignore the fact that its elections are neither secure nor auditable.

All is not lost, though. Also in 2016, there was a successful push to force the retention of ballot images by the government and to make those images public. In Arizona, an election integrity advocate, John Brakey, requested ballot images from Pima County, and was told the images were being destroyed. Brakey sought and obtained a temporary restraining order to prohibit Arizona officials from destroying the images. It is this methodology that distills down to fundamental steps to force some transparency into the election system. This simple three-part method (ballot images, unique ID, public right to examine actual ballot images), are the three legs to an election transparency stool.

These three items make up the basis of election transparency because firstly, ballot images are already available with most voting systems; secondly, ballot images are already clearly included by precedent in the Freedom of Information rulings of most jurisdictions; finally, and perhaps most importantly, it costs little or nothing to implement the simple three-part method. This method is sometimes referred to as the Brakey method. It represents a real way to inject transparency into the election process when computerized voting machines are being used.

On top of this method, if a unique id or QR code is briefly displayed at the time of voting to the voter, it becomes extra powerful in the twenty-first century, since the voter could retain the unique identifier. In the privacy of the voting booth, the voter can quickly snap an image of that unique identifier. It makes it possible later for the populace to crowd source an audit of the vote. This is a very important check on the many possible ways to game voting.

Only voters would be able to tie their unique identifier back to their vote. Once the individual ballot images are available and retrievable by unique identifier, the threat of an audit makes it much more difficult to swing elections electronically. This makes the Electoral College so important to preserve. There is much talk of the Electoral College being a problem due to its mismatch to the popular vote. The reality is that the Electoral College is alerting citizens to the gaming of the elections.

The statistical improbabilities of the occurrences in American elections this century strain credulity. The Electoral College helps illustrate this fact by showing the large divergence between the popular vote and the Electoral College outcome. The duopoly will want to destroy the Electoral College, so that simply gaming the popular vote is all it takes to get into the White House. The precincts of the Electoral College presidential represent separate discrete, auditable units that can expose election hacking. No wonder that the duopoly would like to eliminate the Electoral College.

The Brakey Method makes auditable counts for elections a real possibility, but there is more to elections. For example, the questions of who can vote in an election and who did vote are not answered by the Brakey Method, which only produces transparency and auditability of the count. Even if the first two questions have answers that are of unquestioned veracity, the chain of custody remains a concern. Are the ballots and the images, the real ballots? Have any gone missing or been added? Nonetheless, transparency and auditability of the count are powerful checks on election hacking. The Brakey Method is a fundamental reform advocated by libertarian-socialism.

The ground is as fertile as it ever has been for a new citizen-centric agenda to grab the support of the real Silent Majority. The programs that make up the social safety net, (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Unemployment Insurance and eventually a single payer healthcare system) are a threat to the tax system that the oligarchy has been manipulating for decades.

In the United States, this tax system has brought three-quarters of the income growth to the nation’s wealthy. Moneyed power wants to preserve the status quo of the oligarchy and they have the means to pay for elections results. America’s institutions have been hamstrung, preventing the representative republic from functioning as it should. To repair it, auditable elections are the only way to implement change in a nation hijacked by a greedy agenda.

Finally, if Americans do not get satisfaction on the computerized voting front, they should demand paper ballots. Paper ballots are not perfect, but they require a close election for the results to be gamed. The fact that the ballots exist in the physical universe makes adding to the counts logistically more difficult if the election is not a close one. It takes a lot more fake ballots to be produced when one side is polling below forty percent to swing an election. Digital swinging of elections do not require any closeness between the rivals. Computerized voting allows for HUGE swings of votes from one side to the other.

This nation used paper before and could do so again. When all else fails paper ballots and ink on our fingers can serve to produce election results that are more verifiable. Citizens can be a lot more confident about the results of a nationwide election when every precinct is using paper. Perhaps the next presidential election should be done with paper ballots.