But I vote, dammit!

Was Eric Cantor removed by voters, or machines?
Was Eric Cantor removed by voters, or machines?
For elections to matter we must have good candidates. But in addition to that small matter, votes need to be accurately counted. It is not complicated, but like everything else in this country, our vote counting system has been taken over by private corporations. We have no way of knowing if outcomes are real.

Take the Eric Cantor defeat in Virginia’s 7th district. He lost by 10 points, or 8,000 votes, while his internal polling showed he had a typically American gerrymandered 34 point lead. It could happen, people make mistakes, change their minds, and last minute events can turn elections. (Brad Blog, as usual, on top of this.)

Pretty damned unlikely, but the point is that we have no way of knowing. Of the 65,000 votes cast, 39,000 were recorded on voting machines without benefit of any paper record. We can only trust the tally was accurate. We cannot do a recount. (Better said, a recount is no more reliable than the original count.)

It is faith-based voting, another sign of the deep corruption that has engulfed our country.

Election fraud is as old as elections. It am an accountant, and we are useful people. We design systems that minimize fraud. In elections, it is not complicated: each vote is accompanied by a paper record, and those are guarded at all times. For efficiency, electronic scanning of paper ballots is OK, but results must be routinely audited by means of random sampling. Scanning machines, like ballots must be kept under lock and key at all times. Machine software is public property and open access, and itself subject to audit.

[Note, I go off on a tangent here about election security, but it is all moot, as most of the votes in the Cantor/Brat election were counted on touch screen devices that do not leave a reliable audit trail. That we even allow such devices is an insult to our intelligence. Of course they are unreliable!]

Random audits are essential. Say, for example, that there are 5,000 voting machines used in an election … To have a 95% confidence level (I am making this up – statistics was very hard for me in college) we do a manual recount on 213 of them. Suppose that of those 213 machines, discrepancies exceeding two percent of the tally showed up on 54 of them. That would mean that the audit had to be expanded to include a larger sample. If the larger audit shows more discrepancies, it is expanded again, etc.

In the end, if there are too many discrepancies, the entire vote is hand-counted, and better yet, the machines are sent to the bottom of a local gravel pit, and we simply hand-count paper ballots.

This is not new or idealistic. It is how it is done everywhere else. Elections are too important to use faith-based counting systems, except in … how would I says this without offending anyone … except in … this stupid fucking country?

With electronic voting, we have to trust the machines and their manufacturers. Even the software used is proprietary, meaning state officials have no way of knowing how reliable it is. Time and again experts have shown the machines to be easily hackable, likely by design. Last minute bug fixes are common – the fixers come in the night before the election to rig the machines. As I understand it, this was set to roll in Ohio in 2012, but the Obama people intervened, so perhaps we got a fair count, or maybe the fixers rigged it for Obama. We don’t really know. We can’t.

The two parties know the system is corrupted. As we moved towards electronic voting after 2000 (easily seen in retrospect to be a predetermined goal), elections quickly began to show suspicious outcomes. Max Cleland was defeated in a whackadoodle clusterfuck in the 2002 Georgia senatorial contest. In 2004 the entire presidential election went wacky, with Kerry likely winning while the machines said the other frat boy won.

That was upsetting to me until I realized that the we are talking about, well, John Kerry, so there wasn’t a real choice and it was all academic anyway.

And then I noticed that even as Republicans were stealing elections from Democrats, Democrats did not care and refused to challenge outcomes, typical Democrat behavior. That meant that the rigging was bipartisan, and the whole system had been turned over to private corporations for a reason – to remove accountability. The people who buy the candidates also count the votes. What could possibly go wrong?

Contrary to popular belief, I vote – I do go through the motions. I vote absentee, so that there is a paper record. Where I think it might matter, I actually blacken a box, though I leave most blank. I do not trust that my vote is counted or that the election outcome is fairly determined. We do not have a system in place that assures a reasonably accurate count. But I vote, dammit.

With electronic vote counting, especially touch-screen with no paper record, there is no way of knowing if votes are accurately counted. That is by design.

2 thoughts on “But I vote, dammit!

  1. Well Mark, rest assured that you have a 79% chance of having your absentee ballot counted (MIT study):

    “Analysis by Stewart (2010) shows that the vote-by-mail pipeline is significantly “leakier” that the one for voting in person. The best data available suggest that 21% of all requests for absentee ballots in 2008 never resulted in a vote being recorded for president, either because the request was never received by the county election office, the returned absentee ballot was not received back at the election office, or the received ballot was rejected (Stewart 2010, p. 590.). In other words, the lost-vote rate among absentee ballots is an order-of-magnitude greater than the overall lost-vote rate. “


    1. It’s all a crap shoot anyway, but at least with absentee, there is a paper ballot.

      I wrote to my senator and representative while in Montana to urge that they propose basic auditing standards for elections, as it is absurd that we do not have them. (Man, I wish there was a better word than “absurd,” as Obama getting the Nobel ruined it for every other use.) Basically they agreed it is a good idea, but not politically feasible. What a country.


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