|September 1, 2004||Posted by Staff under Progress Report, The Progress Report|
For people here in Jackson, Maine, to cast a vote on election day is literally to be part of a real-life museum. Before long, people will be traveling a long way and buying tickets (as they did to watch the Indian dancers in Brave New World) to watch us go to the polls. The procedure is as follows:
You go down to the Town Hall on election day. The Town Clerk is there, along with three or four old ladies. In New York they would be with the League of Women Voters, and perhaps they are here, too, but I’m inclined to think this is just what these ladies do, since they inherited the job from the last cohort of old ladies who did it. They know your name, even if they don’t admit it — but if you just moved here or something, they are not above asking for a photo ID. Your name being duly listed on the roll, they issue you a folded paper ballot and direct you to the voting booth, an area with stool and a small table, and a curtain, which hides you from the person next to you (in Jackson, two people can vote simultaneously). With the pencil, which is supplied, you mark your choices. You then re-fold the ballot along its original creases, and walk fifteen feet or so to the old lady at the ballot box, who watches as you drop your ballot through the slot in the top. Then you greet anyone you haven’t yet greeted, say a few cordial words about the weather, or the turnout, and go on your citizenly way.
I suspect that readers will have no trouble recognizing the comforting assumptions we share when we vote here in Jackson. One’s identity is assumed, but verifiable if need be. One’s vote is obviously confidential.
It clearly matters. It will undoubtedly be counted, and if it needs to be re-counted, it can be. The old ladies who monitor the process aren’t just anybody; they have earned the privilege of this duty by means of a process that isn’t entirely explicable, but confers on them, at any rate, an aura of unimpeachable probity.
We’re not in the museum just yet; we still cast our ballots in this fashion. But we will be soon — and for all the effect we have on the actual vote count, we might as well be, because nationally, less than 1% of the ballots are cast by means of an actual physical mark that the individual voter makes on an actual paper ballot.
Now, personally, I don’t understand what the big deal is about this. We are proud, we say, to be part of a democracy. It seems reasonable to think that the most important part of a democratic society, the one absolutely vital component — the right of individual citizens to vote — should be sacrosanct, kept so by the most powerful human and technological resources available. It’s not that hard. In the area of banking, for instance, we have moved beyond the era of handwritten receipts for checking withdrawals.
Much more efficient systems are now in place, which can handle much greater traffic. But — who among us would agree to withdraw funds by means of an ATM machine that refused to give us a paper record of the transaction, dated, with a traceable serial number? Who among us would send an important document through the mail without access to a similarly accountable system?
Yet, between 48 and 60 million voters in the 2004 United States election will be asked to cast their ballot on machines that claim to record their votes internally, digitally, by means of a touch screen, offering no “paper trail” whatsoever. If that weren’t bad enough, the leading companies that provide these machines do not allow anyone to examine the source code of their software. (The CEO of Diebold, the #1 touchscreen voting machine provider, has publicly nudged & winked, saying he is doing everything he can to deliver Ohio — Diebold’s home state — to George W. Bush in November.)
Do I have your attention, Dear Reader? Good. Then please allow me to cast off the folksy essayist voice for a moment. This year’s presidential election promises to be exceedingly close (we all have our notions about the tweedle-dee-reasons for that, but in any case, it’s likely). Election analysts predict that it is likely to come down to a small number of swing states, and — because of the demographically pregnant region of the South — the most pivotal of these will be, just as in 2000 — Florida, where Jeb Bush is governor and Diebold provides the voting machines.
I’m just trying to get us up to speed, here.
The presidential election is by no means the only important thing about Election 2004 — there are also Congressional, and — particularly — Senate races to consider. These partisan contests are tremendously influenced (assuming the votes are actually counted) by voter turnout. If young, or black, or female voters think they have a chance to make a difference, then they may — which is why Bruce Springsteen and P. Diddy are both out Rocking the Vote. This is not going to be a ho-hum election.
It would be tremendously demoralizing if millions and millions of formerly apathetic voters were to turn out, exercise their right to vote, demand a change, and then for no change to come. “Oh well,” we’d think, “We sure thought there were more of us…”
I strongly suspect that there are more of us. It would be a great pity if that turned out to be true, and yet remained hidden from us because of our naive trust in the new voting machines.
To “re-defeat” George W. Bush in 2004 is only the beginning. That leaves us with everything else to do. We all have our own list, of course: mine includes withdrawing from Iraq and thoroughly reforming our electoral and public revenue systems. But we have to start somewhere.
So I urge every voter in the United States to assume individual responsibility for making sure that his or her vote is counted. I realize, of course, that cannot be absolute; ballots, even paper ones, can get lost. Nevertheless, we can — and we must — do better than unaccountable, unverifiable touchscreen voting machines. We must DEMAND PAPER.
Various activist groups, such as www.moveon.org and www.verifiedvoting.org, are working hard on this issue. Federal legislation to require voter-verified paper balloting is pending, and you should tell your representatives that you support HR.2239 in the House and S.2437 (also S.1980) in the Senate. But, in the event that legislation stays bottled-up in committee, which is likely, a more direct approach is needed: we must DEMAND PAPER.
The ballots exist. States maintain stocks of them for quaint little places like Jackson, Maine, and for absentee and affidavit voting.
So here’s what we’re going to do: every voter, in every polling place that offers a touchscreen, is going to refuse to use it and demand to vote on a voter-verified paper ballot. If we are not allowed to do that, then the voters who have been thus denied will congregate around the polling place, creating a traffic jam and a news event (it would be nice if each one were to hand-write a small sign that says “I demand a paper ballot!”). It seems likely that if this strategy is pursued, some voters will be given the opportunity to vote on paper ballots. Once that happens, we’ve got it made: if some voters asking for paper ballots are accommodated, and others are not, then the latter are denied equal protection of the laws — which is the legal standard mentioned (though not, I suspect, sincerely applied) in the Supreme Court’s decision to stop the Florida recount in 2000.
No doubt there are legal and logistical fine points to be worked out in this strategy, but you get the idea. Districts, start your printing presses! This is the election year that American voters DEMAND PAPER!
Lindy Davies is the Program Director of the Henry George Institute.
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