Make Your Vote Count! Understanding Electronic Voting Machines and Counting Accuracy
By Andrew Snyder and Stacy Snyder
What’s the concern with electronic voting?
While the use of electronic voting machines is viewed by some as the way of the future, others see an end to the ability to ever hold a fair election. How can we trust electronic voting? Can it be made secure? What can you do about electronic voting to make sure it is as accurate as possible? These are some of the questions we hope to explore. In the process, we hope to discover the best ways to restore and to ensure continued confidence in the validity of our voting. Voting is critical because it is the foundation of a democratically-selected government.
The last several elections been riddled with controversy. Voting machine accuracy was challenged. Calls of cheating, ballot stuffing, tampering, and intimidation, tainted the believably of election results. Even the dispute between an electoral college victory and gaining the popular vote has been cited as a challenge to the process. When the winner of an election is under dispute, the clear loser is the people; it is one thing to not have a vote, but it is far worse to know that your vote does not matter or even count. When elections results are disputed or overturned by the courts, how can we have confidence in the system? How can we trust the results and stand behind an election and an elected official if even a few people suspect suspect that the election was fraudulent? Electronic voting is a relatively new approach. While it is neither good nor bad on its own, it creates new opportunities for cheating and fraud. These problems must be addressed to ensure a legitimate election.
Where does electronic voting fit in the broader context?
The last several elections been riddled with controversy. Voting machine accuracy was challenged. Calls of cheating, ballot stuffing, tampering, and intimidation, tainted the believability of election results. Even the dispute between an electoral college victory and gaining the popular vote has been cited as a challenge to the process. When the winner of an election is under dispute, the clear loser is the people; it is one thing to not have a vote, but it is far worse to know that your vote does not matter or even count. When elections results are disputed or overturned by the courts, how can we have confidence in the system? How can we trust the results and stand behind an election and an elected official if even some of us suspect that the election was fraudulent? Electronic voting is a relatively new approach. While it is neither good nor bad on its own, it creates new opportunities for cheating and fraud. These problems must be addressed to ensure a legitimate election.
Elections must be accurate and reliable. We start with the assumption that an accurate election is desirable and necessary to select government officials to act on behalf of the people they represent. More importantly, we expect that there are correct answers (not just opinions) as to how we go about creating and maintaining a system that is safe and secure, resistant to hacking and tampering, and acceptable to voters. Our goal is to understand what is necessary in an election to ensure representation, maximize participation, and guarantee accuracy while maintaining anonymity.
Daily financial transactions are made with extreme accuracy and full transparency of validation while maintaining privacy. The checks and balances from audits and financial reporting allow for significant trust in the validity of transactions ranging from credit card usage, to balancing checking accounts, through annual financial statements of businesses and even nations. If these figures can be routinely made trustworthy, we should expect and demand the same trustworthiness in our elections. More importantly, why should we accept or tolerate anything less than accuracy and legitimacy in the democratic elections we value so highly in a Constitutional republic?
Comparison to the financial industry is a useful method to think about the level of accuracy we need and the challenges we face in holding fair elections. Precise accounting in finance is expected, and we should demand precise accountability in elections. We cannot dismiss cheating and fraud as minor or inconsequential. We cannot dismiss the obligation to validate our elections by claiming that there is not evidence of cheating. These assertions are just excuses not to validate the process and to allow room for cheating. Audits minimize cheating and are part of a legitimate election.
For comparison, would you tolerate this cavalier attitude toward fraud with your bank? Why then should you tolerate it with your elections? Banking handles all types of transactions including ATMs, in person, postal transactions, and online transactions. All of these can be made accurate and accountable. Voting should be held to the same high standards. This means, we do not oppose mail-in ballots, but we demand that mail-in ballots be processed in such a way that their integrity and validity is beyond dispute. Accurate identification and validation are parts of the process in financial transactions; these processes must be part of voting as well.
Fraud does not serve the interests of the American people. Just as preventing accounting and financial fraud requires an understanding of how fraud is committed, voter fraud requires understanding how fraud in voting can occur. In both cases, elimination of fraud preserves justice by keeping crooks and cheaters from winning and honest citizens from losing and being forced to live under a system run by criminals and cheats.
The elimination of fraud is a battle between good and evil, between right and wrong, between justice and oppression. Throughout history, evil has come to power by stealing elections—often ending in death of citizens and destruction of societies. The point is that a lot more than who wins the next presidential term or who sits on city council hangs in the balance. We need to be vigilant with the accuracy of our voting to preserve our freedom, and our way of life.
As yourself these two questions: 1) If you could cheat in an election to ensure that your candidate would win by getting an additional 10,000 votes, would you do it? 2) Is the American way of life as established in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution a precious value worth preserving? It is not possible to answer the same way to both questions. If you value America and our values, you would never commit fraud. Fraud violates the rights of individual citizens to select their government together, the very government whose function is the protection of individual rights. Finally, elections allow the people to act independently to choose as a group who is best suited for protecting their rights and interests. When the legitimacy of this process is tainted by fraud or even suspicion of fraud, the elected representative can never have the backing of the people as a whole.
Requirements of a legitimate election To understand how to think about accuracy in voting, we need to understand what is necessary to have a legitimate election.
Rules are established and followed. Simply, a legitimate election allows all eligible voters to vote with the winner being determined by a counting process established before the beginning of the election. Each vote gets counted. Each vote matters, and as much as possible the will of the people is reflected in the choice of the winner of an election. In some races, the winner is determined by a simple majority. In national elections, we currently use the Electoral College to select the president and vice president as a means of including input from people who live in less populous states. Without this procedure, national elections could be determined by people who live in a few highly populated coastal cities—leaving the geographic majority of the country unrepresented.
Even if you disagree with the Electoral College, however, what is critical is that the rules for an election are established before the election and winning is based on those rules. A key method of protecting individual rights is following the rule of law. In elections, this means that the legally established procedures are followed to ensure that every legitimate vote counts.
Only eligible voters vote. Only citizens get to vote in an election. How you become a citizen, whether the citizenship process is fair, is not the concern here. The voting system should not be corrupted to accommodate concerns about unfair citizenship practices. Instead, the citizenship problem should be solved independently without corrupting the voting process by allowing just anyone to cast a ballot.
Barriers to voting are minimized. Participation in the democratic selection of leadership is important in a Constitutional republic. We are asking our leadership to arbitrate over the use of physical force and maintain our rights. Legal restrictions like the Constitution keep them in check and from becoming dictators, but practices like regular elections allow us to change direction and select representatives who support our rights and interests. For these reasons, it is important to be inclusive and oppose deliberately excluding practices the were historically in place. Things like keeping blacks from voting, keeping women from voting, and poll taxes, have no place in a free and equal republic. Our nation got those things wrong initially, but through continuous improvement and adherence to the principles of our Constitution, we corrected these heinous injustices.
Note however, the requirement to have identification to cast your vote is not such a barrier. We must make the ID obtainable by every interested citizen, and the focus on being inclusive should be toward making ID accessible and available—not on opposing the use of ID to protect the validity of our elections. Here the parallel with banking is critical. Banks require ID. It is important to know that the person making the transaction is authorized. Similarly, in a legitimate election, ID ensures that voters are authorized to select the representatives who will impact the path of our nation.
The vote is anonymous An anonymous vote it critical to prevent influence through oppression and intimidation by fellow citizens. A show-of-hands vote does not allow the same free expression of opinion and exercise of independent judgment that an anonymous vote allows. Harsh stares and cross looks from the crowd are minor intimidations. Physical assault and threats have been associated with non-private voting. The will of the people is the combined will of independent individuals. It is not the view of the most intimidating individuals who use force and threat to impose their views on others and who gain power through coercion. The anonymous vote in the private sanctuary of the voting booth lets individuals decide on the basis of their best judgment without fear of rejection or reprisal.
The vote is validated Allegations of massive cheating, fraud, ballot stuffing, foreign interference, corrupt voting machine manufacturers and the like have cast significant doubt on our elections. We have conducted many elections without audit and have assumed that the integrity of the counters and the honesty of the citizenry was sufficient to ensure a valid, legitimate election. Close elections and an ideologically divided electorate underscore the need to critically protect and ensure the validity of our elections. Not only must we strive to elect officials who protect the rights of all citizens, but also we must have a valid election system in place to provide elected officials with legitimacy.
A legitimate voting system has a validation system that is transparent enough for everyone to accept the vote as correct, true, and accurate. Allegations of fraud are addressed head-on and not dismissed as unsubstantiated claims. Implementation of this will be challenging and there are costs—just as banking costs include accounting and auditing fees. Legitimate banking requires accounting and auditing. Legitimate voting has the same requirements.
Counting and auditing is completed promptly Drawn out recounting and validation processes delegitimize the election because counting is such a simple process. How can it take so long? Counting delays are all related to whether certain votes are legitimate or not. With a good understanding of how to qualify a voter and voter identification in conjunction with a clear voting process that ensures only citizens vote, counting can be fast and accurate.
Election tampering and cheating must have severe consequences. The merit of candidates must be the driver in determining who wins an election. When people cheat to support their candidate, this is a clear confession that the cheaters do not think the candidate has sufficient merit and value to win honestly. We must take this fraudulent behavior seriously to protect the rights and the interests of the people.
A key principle to keep in mind
Equality is a key part of our culture. It is often discussed whether this means equality of opportunity, equality of outcome, or equality before the law. The most important aspect of equality is the idea that citizens of the United States are equals. We have no nobility, no royalty, no castes. When we pick someone for an office, we are choosing an equal to do a job for us. We are not creating a king. We are not creating a new master. We are picking an equal to take on the responsibility of protecting our rights and upholding our values so that we do not have to continuously be on guard protecting ourselves from attack by foreign nations, criminals, and even our fellow citizens. With peace established and rights protected, we can focus on creating value, improving our own lives, and trading with others to create even greater abundance. In selection of our peer to take on this responsibility, we are delegating some of our own sovereignty—temporarily and with strict Constitutional restrictions—to an individual entrusted with a great responsibility.
It is critical, then, that the process of selecting these individuals—the election process—be conducted with the utmost solemnity, the utmost honesty, and the utmost integrity.