Monday, November 15, 2004

Why don't we have the American People count the vote?

It's no secret that I have been following the election problems pretty closely. If you have even a bit of doubt, you should do the same.

News: The GOP wants to end exit polls! Now those pesky exit polls are the source of all the questions surrounding this past election. The pattern is clear:

Instead of actually addressing the problems in a trustworthy and transparent way, the GOP insists on solutions that deny the American people, whom they are supposed to serve, the ability to know the truth about their own elections!

And these folks have the nerve to ask us for our trust! To be fair, the Dems are just as guilty through their inaction. However, the burden currently rests with the GOP and their clear majority and obvious incentive to maintain it.

Did you know that most of Europe uses people, real people, to count their vote, with the exception of Norway? Imagine that! Votes counted by those that cast them, under the watchful public eye? Isn't that what we are supposed to be all about? You know, by the people, for the people and all of that.

President Bush was elected, or selected depending on your point of view, in a highly unusual 2000 Presidential election. This election brought the issue of election vote fraud into the minds of more Americans than any past event ever has. You would think we would have learned from this. (Actually a bunch of us did.)

Those events lead to the passing of HAVA, the Help America Vote Act. At first glance, this legislation appears to be noble in that it aims to prevent another 2000 style election from happening. However, things are not as they seem.

Rather than address the problem, HAVA opened the door for new solutions that are best at keeping the American People from actually being aware problems exist! While the results are roughly the same; namely, mostly quiet and orderly elections with definitive results, the devil is in the details.

Enter Electronic Voting machines. I have written on these before, so go read those posts. Heck, why not get to the meat of the matter here.

Did HAVA work? Well it made the problems with this election more subtle than the chads of Florida. If it were not for the troublesome exit polls, we might have noticed anything significant wrong with the elections at all! In that sense, HAVA did nicely.

Frankly, I am ashamed to learn other nations involve their own people in the important democratic process, which we stand for by the way, more than we do. Why is that? Doesn't that seem rather un-American to you? It does to me.

Growing up, I learned about the democratic process the same as most of you reading this did. We learned about civics in classes, held elections and learned about our founding fathers and what they stood for. Do you think for even a moment, our founders would accept a vote counting process hidden from the people and performed by secret machines and processes?

We, the people, should be counting our votes. It should be a public event --the kind of event you can take the kids to. The kind of event that brings communities together to learn where they stand on issues. An election should be something we do and have faith in, not something broadcast during prime time.

Elections should not make anyone any money!

Money you say? Yes, money. Private companes make lots of money during a national election. The companies making the machines (that we cannot see the workings of), have made millions selling them to state officials seeking to implement HAVA. Other companies do the counting in secret. These companies are connected to still other companies who distribute the results of the count to still more companies who broadcast it to us "live" and charge nice high rates for commercial breaks during what should be the peoples event!

I don't think there is another issue more important to the American People right now than this one! How we vote, more importantly, how we count the votes directly impacts our most powerful check on our own government! If our will passes through a third party, that party has the power to manupulate those views and bias the nation as a result. Nobody should tolerate this, yet we see no media coverage and the few real statesmen who do the right things are largely ignored and marginalized for their actions.

Here are the basics of much needed voter reform. If you value your right to vote and have that vote counted, take a hard look at these and send them to your elected officials and demand action. This is more important than war, the economy, healthcare and moral values because we cannot properly address these issues in a way that reflects our best interests without proper representation and that representation happens through our votes! (And how they are counted.)

Respect Americans Voter Rights! (RAVR)

1. Any election must keep a record of actual votes cast in order to be certified. This means voters mark their votes on physical media in ways other humans can read.

2. Votes cast must be counted by the people for the people. This means a public counting process where all parties are represented and accounted for.

3. Independent audits must be mandatory and seperate from the efforts to arrive at the final tally.

4. Polls, particularly exit polls are to be encouraged, provided they do not infringe on basic voter rights; namely, anonymity, freedom from intimidation and discrimination.

5. National ANSI type standards for the formatting of ballots. All ballots must meet minimum standards in order for an election to be certified.

6. Electronic means are only to be used to facillitate rapid communication and analysis of election results. They are not to be used for the count.

7. Elections officials cannot also serve in any partisan campaign efforts as so many of them do now. This prevents partisan interests from tainting the count through rulemaking on spoiled, provisional and absentee / military votes.

Critics will say this will cost too much and take too much time. I beg to differ and this is why:

Retired people are a constant, as are homemakers and others in a position to perform civic duties. We will also find plenty of other people willing and able to help hold an election for the people and by the people. We don't have to pay for these people, we only need to build a process that they can work through.

Distributed counts, under the public eye, sharply limit the potential for fraud seen in this election where centralized counts are the subject of much doubt right now. Why invite disaster when its easy to distribute the problem and incorporate time tested checks and balances? Many people counting votes slowly together gets the count done just as fast as a few machines counting all the votes quickly.

Done right, we can still get solid election returns in the late evening on election day.

Modern electronic communication means can help collect and analyze the data from the distributed pools of people counting votes just as easily as they can from machines, with the added bonus of strict accountability. Fraud in electronic communications will easily be found with audits and polling detailed above.

The money being spent on increasingly complex and obtuse electronic solutions would easily pay for the legislation and education and standards setting necessary for elections run by the people. If we need some advice, why not ask the Europeans? They are doing it right! (Doesn't that humble you just a little?)

You may not agree on all the points I have outlined above and that's fine. I know you agree that your election should be as trustworthy as it can be. Take a moment and express your views to your elected representitives. Encourage trustworthy elections before you no longer have the ability to do so.

Elections should not make anyone any money!


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