I want to push forward a bit in my own thinking regarding voting and vote counting as a result of Maarten’s post below. It is hard to move forward rather than stand pat, as there is always more to learn, but what is learned can unsettle what is already “known.” I tend to want to come to rest in a comfortable spot, as in saying
“Votes are not counted. If they do not have to count them, why would they bother?
That may not be the case.
We have in place a vote counting apparatus of immense proportions. It consists of laws, regulations, machinery, local election officials, poll watchers, a paid and volunteer labor force and Secretaries of State.
Registration to vote is monitored to make sure that voters are citizens, of age, and often non-felons. It is an essential part of a clean system. (Same-day registration strikes me as an absurdity, or maybe an admission that officials don’t care that much about the integrity of the system.)
A roll of registered voters is maintained so that when it is time to vote, people can vote only once.
Votes are tallied by machines, as the public wants an instant result and is not willing to wait for even a day while other people go through and tally results. Machines are capable of more accurate tallying than people, and offer more accountability. This is why grocery stores use cash registers.
Machine tallies from election night, in a process called “canvassing,” are counted in a slower and less pressured fashion, often lasting over a week. Once it is ascertained that ballots have been accurately counted, a group of local officials certifies the results and forwards them to the Secretary of State for official certification.
When elections are so close that a counting error might have turned the outcome, provisions exist for a recount. State laws often dictates the percentage difference in vote tallies whereby a recount is automatically done at taxpayer expense. A losing candidate or group can always force a recount however, but must pony up the funds for the process.
Votes are reported to the public by news outlets on election night. This is the first point of concern, as results reported on television are thought to be accurate without question even though it is just people reading numbers. There is no system in place to assure the accuracy of election reporting, and newscasters have no legal obligation to tell the truth. News reporting is our first “black box.” These are just paid readers.
A process known as “exit polling” is in use – before the advent of rapid-tallying electronic voting machines, statisticians provided insight into a large body of data, the vote count, by use of random sampling methods. They stand outside polling location in selected districts, and select certain voters and interview them in depth.
Because those interviewed have already voted, a large unknown in polling, the actual intent to vote, is removed, so that theoretically the exit poll has solid data on which to base an analysis of the whole of the vote based on a small sample.
Exit polling seems reasonable. Even though we are all unique in many aspects, our behaviors tend to fall into group patterns, that is, once we are labeled as part of a group (women, blacks, soccer moms, NASCAR dads), our behavior becomes more predictable. Grouping is the essence of both advertising and polling. Exit polling merely eliminates some uncertainty, and is therefore said to be highly accurate, in fact, more accurate than vote counting itself. Or so we are told.
Exit polling is, therefore, our second “black box,” or removal of the vote count from the realm of ballot counting, placing it instead in the hands of experts. Long before electronic voting, exit polls were assuring us that votes were counted, and counted accurately. We had no way of knowing this to be true, and had to trust experts. We marveled at the ability of exit poll era to tell us the outcome of the senatorial race in Nebraska, for instance, based on maybe 2 percent or less of the vote having been tallied.
So long before so-called “black box” voting, we had already turned our vote counting system over to unidentified experts who by mysterious processes could tally votes quickly and with extreme accuracy. However, since exit polling and newscasting are unofficial, the formal system based on paper ballots that were counted using the canvassing system, with accountability vested in local and state officials, still ruled.
There have always been ways around this system. I have written about them in other places, and only briefly mention them here:
- Controlled opposition, where both candidates are subservient to the same power sources, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton the most glaring recent example. Controlled opposition is a viable technique of controlling vote outcomes at every level down to Clerk of Court and dog catcher. It does not rely on vote fraud.
- Fraud in the counting system, where by underhanded means fake ballots are introduced or real ballots destroyed. (It is said that the “mob” delivered the election for Harry Truman in 1948, though this too has a black box quality about it.)
- Voter fraud, where those casting ballots are not qualified to vote but are not properly screened, while others eligible to vote are frozen out by various means, such as not enough voting places and machines in black neighborhoods.
In addition, Maarten mentions a another aspect: Control of public opinion via manipulation, messaging, propaganda, images (Napalm Girl), all of this tending to render public oversight meaningless.
Given the potential for abuse, our faith in elections and vote counting has always been somewhat unwarranted, having a patriotic fervor all about it even as we cannot be sure, at any level, that votes are accurately counted or candidates are genuine.
But set all of that aside. Perhaps it is testimony to the power of our dumbed down education system and 24-7 propaganda in news and entertainment, but there is one feature of voting that has always acted as an anchor, a way of holding the ship if state in place and allowing at least for a modicum if trust in the system: the paper ballot. When all else fails, we can always open up those bags of ballots kept under guard and count the ballots. Even if we do not do that, having the ability to do so is reassuring.
Thus in our current era, 2000 forward, after a psyop known has Dade County in the Bush v Gore contest (in which both candidates answered to the same power source anyway), did we allow a foot in the door. That fiasco introduced loss of faith in paper ballots (hanging chads were probably deliberately planted). Congress was prompted to pass a bill most likely written long in advance of the impetus, HAVA, or the Help America Vote Act.
The thrust of HAVA is easy to grasp: Elimination of paper ballots in voting. Once in place, all other safeguards, from laws, canvassing, voter registration, poll workers and official accountability are out the window. Without legal reliance on the paper ballot, we got nuthin’.
We still have paper ballots in many states, as far as I know. Recounts are rare. I do not know the percentage of our country that does paperless voting. I can think of nothing more absurd than voting without paper ballots. For some reason, I cannot get that point across. It is nonsensical, so much so that it should cause laughter and derision, but does not.
But if they do not have to count votes, why would they? I can think of several reasons:
- If both candidates are under control of oligarchs, there is no threat to power in counting votes.
- Some issues are thought so unimportant that the vote count is of no consequence, and so those votes are accurately counted.
- Accurate vote counting in matters of no consequence reassures people that votes are counted on important matters too.
So I agree with Maarten that our votes are probably counted, by and large. But they don’t have to, and if push comes to shove, they can fake it. Most importantly, we have no way of knowing for sure when push has come to shove.