Paper ballots everywhere

This shouldn’t even be debatable. We can’t trust Republicans or Russians (increasingly the same thing) to manage an election honestly, so a paper trail is necessary. Take, for example, the case of Georgia (the one in North America, not the one in Eurasia):

To find a clue about what might have gone wrong with Georgia’s election last fall, look no further than voting machine No. 3 at the Winterville Train Depot outside Athens.
On machine No. 3, Republicans won every race. On each of the other six machines in that precinct, Democrats won every race.The odds of an anomaly that large are less than 1 in 1 million, according to a statistician’s analysis in court documents. The strange results would disappear if votes for Democratic and Republican candidates were flipped on machine No. 3.

There were other irregularities there, too. Let’s not forget the open dishonesty of gerrymandering, either.

It’s funny how the Republicans are fanatical about accusing Democratic voters of fraud and cheating, but they don’t want to fix these basic, obvious problems. It’s almost as if the accusations are a distraction to keep the electorate from noticing how blatantly they are cheating to stay in power.


  1. cartomancer says

    The one that gets me, because it is so subtle and sinister, is the insistence that one has an ID card of some sort, and that the name on the card matches that on the electoral roll absolutely exactly. Down to punctuation and such. Which seems straightforwardly bureaucratic, until one realises that the people responsible for compiling the rolls locally tend to be retired elderly white people, so people with unusual (i,e. ethnic minority) names are far more likely to be denied a vote thanks to bureaucratic incompetence.

    Okay, the outright ejection of thousands of ethnic minority people from the rolls, in the hope they don’t notice in time, is more blatant, and worse. But when you’re resorting to tricks like that to win you an election, how can you not sit down, take a good long look at yourself, and wonder when it was you became a lurid cartoon villain with no moral compass whatsoever?

  2. thompjs says

    We should use electronic machines, but they need a paper trail. Each precinct should count the paper ballots to double check.

  3. says

    There are really cool ways of doing elections so that voters can securely verify that their votes were counted. Unfortunately David Chaum holds the patents on them so the voting machine companies keep selling insecure shit. And in spite of the rather obvious fact that voting machines should not be on the internet, they are.

    My suspicion is that both parties want voting systems to remain shitty so they can scream “Russians!” and nullify an election if the other side cheats too hard.

    America’s exceptional democracy /spit

  4. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    Moscow Mitch gets big donations from manufactures of electronic ballot boxes and refuses to allow any election security bills from the House into the Senate. ?suspicious?
    – – –
    detail about Machine#3 anomaly:
    IF all the votes from that machine were flipped, one for one,IE D -> R, and R -> D , then its distribution would essentially match all the other machines in that location.
    I find it had to believe it was a simple glitch, having spent most my career writing and debugging software for test instruments.

  5. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    re @3:

    My suspicion is that both parties want voting systems to remain shitty so they can scream “Russians!” and nullify an election if the other side cheats too hard.

    too many contradictions in that. Are you saying paper ballots are a shitty system? Saying it is wrong to scream at a party “cheating too hard”, that crying “Russians” is inappropriate as an insult? What’s wrong about nullifying an election where one side cheated?
    I don’t understand. Your point flew way over my head

  6. Zeppelin says

    @cartomancer: The whole system seems unnecessarily complicated. I’ve never had to “register to vote” in Germany. Before an election you get a letter to your home address — the city needs to know where you live anyway, right? — telling you where your polling station is. Then when you get there you just show them the letter (or your ID card, if you lost the letter). There’s no extra step to register to vote, it’s done automatically along with all the other bureaucracy when you change address.

    And yeah, paper ballots.

  7. F.O. says

    Maybe we should start thinking that democracy as it is currently implemented in /western democracies/ is nothing more than a useful fig leaf to keep the powerful in power.

  8. doubter says

    We don’t use voting machines in Canada. I hope we never start! And our electoral boundaries are decided by a neutral commission whose decisions are binding.

  9. whheydt says

    I like the way elections are conducted in the county I live in. You fill out a paper ballot and then feed it to a machine that counts it, and has a display to show that the ballot was accepted. The machine stores the ballots. The net effect is that there is a paper trail for the electronic counting.

  10. Mobius says

    There is a lot to complain about Oklahoma, but our setup for voting is very good. You use the marker provided and check your vote on the ballot. That is read by a machine, but you do have the paper ballots to back up the system.

    I remember when electronic voting machines were first introduced. Computer specialist were adamant about the danger of hacking, which seem to still be a threat. Despite that, the electronic machines were introduced in many states. Alas.

  11. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    I voted early in the last IL state election (2018), and I got to try out a potential new system. Instead of usual optically read paper ballot, I received a card about the size of the old computer punch cards, and fed it into a touch screen machine. I made my choices using the touch screen system, confirmed my choices, and the machine then printed and spit out the official ballot. IIRC, I could check it on the way to the optical reader, which then officially read the data while swallowing and saving the card.

  12. mordred says

    Zeppelin@6: And if you’re not confident that the votes are counted correctly, you can simply show up at the polling station and watch the proceedings.

  13. unclefrogy says

    It’s almost as if the accusations are a distraction to keep the electorate from noticing how blatantly they are cheating to stay in power.

    Oh no they would never do that
    uncle frogy

  14. vucodlak says

    @ cartomancer, #1

    In my state, getting a state ID card (which is required to vote) essentially requires that you own property. You must present mail relating car/home insurance, bank statements, or utility bills with your name on it as proof of residence, and they will accept nothing else. I presented mail relating to my health insurance, from my doctors, etc. and was told they were insufficient. I had my social security card, birth certificate, and other documents, but they weren’t sufficient.

    I haven’t got a car, I haven’t got any money, and I live with my parents. If the clerk hadn’t taken pity on me and fudged a bit, I wouldn’t have been able to get an ID or vote. The extra fun part is that I couldn’t, in most cases, rent/buy and car, home, or apartment without an ID card either.

    Tl;dr version: only property owners are allowed to vote in Missouri.

  15. says

    slithy tove@#5:
    too many contradictions in that. Are you saying paper ballots are a shitty system?

    Sorry, I was typing on my phone and I got too confused and terse.

    Paper ballots are a good audit trail and any decent system has a separate audit trail that is not alterable from the main system. I.e.: paper ballots are no better or worse than having a line printer that just logs transactions one transaction/line, or whatever.

    What I was referring to is that there are better ways to do it, but they aren’t used. Chaum’s patents cover a system wherein you can vote electronically but the votes are masked but posted publicly – so you can verify that your vote was not only recorded correctly, but counted. That’s much harder to fool with than a system where paper ballots can be discarded anonymously but republican operatives ((cough)) Florida “dangling chads” Systems with paper ballots are also pretty easy to fake, if you’re willing to just go around outright falsifying things. The problem with Chaum’s patents is that he knows what they are worth and I think he wants a few million bucks for usage rights for his online voting stuff. So the people like Diebold just go the cheap route and produce glorified windows machines that hackers regularly blow through at DEFCON. The electronic voting machine market is very depressing. My old friend Avi Rubin at Johns Hopkins was blowing holes through Diebold machines almost 20 years ago, and they have not improved at all since then.

    It’s my opinion that voting is “critical infrastructure” and ought not to be under the control of local jurisdictions (especially not when they are run by republicans, but democrats have their own shameful history going back a long time) It ought to be run on separate infrastructure by an agency that is nonpartisan – hell, hire a bunch of Canadians or Germans – openly and auditably. If voting used some of Chaum’s techniques you’d be able to go to the internet with your voting receipt or e-receipt and verify that your vote was counted and correct. Why can’t we do anything remotely like that, now? Oh, right. The two-party system.

    My comment about the internet: most of the current crop of voting machines use off the shelf VPNs to build an isolated virtual network. Off the shelf VPNs like the ones that CIA and NSA both had penetration techniques for. In the meantime, we learn that some districts left the machines online when the elections were not happening. That means that anyone with access to the VPN cracks could potentially crack into the machines remotely. That is absolutely unacceptable. It’s amateur hour. The systems need to be designed better, managed better, and subject to external peer review and audit.

    As far as the “Russians” thing: the issue is that the US does not have an effective system for dealing with cheating, because the cheating can’t be quantified (due to lack of audit) – that’s why you have disastrous situations like in North Carolina. OK, so here’s how this plays out:
    – one district is a close decision.
    – republican operative scams an unknown number of write-in votes
    – republican wins by a narrow margin but the fraud is discovered
    – because the number of scammed votes is unknown, the republicans get to say “well we need to redo the election” (giving them a second chance)
    – if the system maintained adequate audit trail the scope of the fraud would be quantifiable and it would be reasonable to certify the other candidate as the winner

    Basically the system is set up so that an attempt to steal an election can be nullified rather than decided in favor of the other candidate. That has direct bearing on “Russian” interference. I know something about what has been going on there and, while the Russians do appear to have been probing the systems, they’re doing so along with every other hacker on the internet because the systems are crap. That means that if one side loses the election they can drag the whole thing down (like the republicans are doing in North Carolina) so that their guy doesn’t lose until he’s had a second chance.

  16. says

    I wrote:
    That means that anyone with access to the VPN cracks could potentially crack into the machines remotely.

    Including Chinese, Israeli, and Russian intelligence operatives. Now that the hacks have been published, that list is now “anyone with a copy of metasploit and some skills”
    We have no way of knowing if they will fix that crap, but with Mitch McConnell controlling the funds for doing so, what do you think?

  17. gijoel says

    I remember an episode of Eureka, where the sheriff asked why a town full of geniuses used paper ballots instead of electronic ballots. They laughed at him.

  18. says

    I’ve always liked our system here in Oz: enrol, get your name checked off the roll at a polling place, fill in paper ballots with a pencil, drop them in the boxes, done. No profiteering from machines, no hacking, no fucking chads, just simple, reuseable and recyclable infrastructure. Add to that compulsory voting for all enrolled persons & elections on a Saturday, and you get high turnout at low cost with reliable results. Doesn’t stop arsebuckets from getting elected, of course, but it removes the possibility of e-fuckery. Hell, our government couldn’t even run an online census in 2016 without the website crashing in flames, and rejected a full-fibre national broadband scheme in favour of piggybacking on Rupert’s 90s-era cable tv infrastructure, so the idea of this country using electronic voting is laughable.

  19. magistramarla says

    I just converted my Texas driver’s license to a California license, along with my voter’s registration. I was asked if I wanted mail-in ballots for elections! I was also told that I always have the right to take my ballot to my polling place (directly across the street from my new home!), if I choose to vote in person.
    My daughter has spoken of the elegance and convenience of being able to vote by mail, but this is the first time in my life that I’ve lived in a state in which it is actually done. I think I’m gonna like this!

  20. brain says

    What I don’t get in USA elections is why you get a President that has received a minority of the votes from citizens.

  21. brain says

    John Morlaes: thanks, but that is the explanation of how US election system works. It’s not something that provides a reasonable explanation on why it is accepted as normal to have people vote for A and then put B in charge.
    (this happens, at different levels, in many “democratic” countries, including mine. It seems to me that “democracy” has become quite an elastic concept.

  22. ColeYote says

    Okay, rundown of the electoral college: each state gets X number of votes for president, whichever candidate gets more of those votes wins. There are two major problems with this: firstly, the way electoral college votes are distributed means several states have a disproportionate level of influence. Wyoming is a state of 577k that gets 3 votes, while California is a state of 39.5m that gets 55. Do a little math there and that means a single person in Wyoming theoretically has 3.7x as much influence as a single person in California.

    The second, and perhaps more serious, problem is that nearly every state distributes its votes on a winner-take-all basis. In other words, margin of victory is irrelevant. Win California by one vote or by 20 million, either way those 55 votes are all yours. Because of that, you pretty much don’t matter unless you live in a swing state.

    As for why this is accepted as “normal,” it’s only really started being a problem since the turn of the millennium. Every election from 1892 to 1996 saw the man who won the vote also win the presidency. And then Bush 2 happened, and then President Idiot happened. Democrats and many independents are increasingly realizing how BS the whole system is, but Republicans and some of the less-well-informed independents keep banging on about how it’s a good thing because it makes sure small states still have influence. Even though it absolutely doesn’t. Like, they talk about how if it was decided by popular vote then only California/Texas/New York would matter, as if A) those states vote as a block and B) they make up the majority of the population. And I mean Christ, the only reason it isn’t like that NOW is because none of them are swing states!

    Anyway, it’s completely obvious Republicans only defend the system because they benefit from it. Plus I have yet to hear an actual explanation as to why it’d be a good thing that Wyoming is proportionally more important than California. The senate is BS enough as it is.

  23. PaulBC says


    Plus I have yet to hear an actual explanation as to why it’d be a good thing that Wyoming is proportionally more important than California.

    Because they are rugged cowboys who exemplify the American spirit, not effete pinko treehugging granola eaters like people in my state (which Trump calls a “disgrace”).

    You’re welcome.

  24. brain says

    @26 Colette
    Thank you for the very good synthesis. It seems to me that grouping up votes by State can have a psychological value for nationalism, but actually reduces the value of individual votes.

    Anyway, it’s completely obvious Republicans only defend the system because they benefit from it.

    This is one of the worst issues in politics. It’s obvious that each party tries and maximizi its power, but at least when you take fundamental decisions about how to rule your country it should be mandatory to look at the big picture and go for the best solution for the country, not for your next election.

    That’s utopia, and I don’t know a way to achieve this, but this is the most impacting single change that could improve everything.

  25. says

    @#5, slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem))

    It’s very difficult to prove that “one side cheated”, as long as the cheaters were competent at cheating, and without proof the grounds for actually nullifying an election are… slim. Redoing an election is complicated and costly, and there’s no guarantee that you can get the same turnout the second time around. Furthermore, it’s pretty clear that as with so many other issues like war and concentration camps, the Democratic Party, for all the noise they make when they can’t do anything about it — now and in 2004/5 — doesn’t actually want to fix the problem when they can. (Witness the lack of even proposed legislation to secure elections in 2007-10.)

    If the Democrats really cared about all the things they complain about, they would adopt the extremely effective tactic which was used with the USA PATRIOT Act: negotiate the bill within the party in advance, and put it forward for an immediate vote the minute it looks like it can pass. (And don’t complain that this was unfair and used to pass an evil bill: essentially every major Democrat voted either for the USA PATRIOT Act, for its extension in 2011, or for the FREEDOM Act of 2015 which made the USA PATRIOT Act permanent. That includes Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, and Hillary Clinton, though not Bernie Sanders. If it was acceptable for them to go along with that piece of ultra-authoritarian legislation, then it certainly would be valid to at least use it to make elections uniform and secure.) There should be, right now, somewhere in DC, a room of people compiling the “Reverse the Trump Administration Act”, to be introduced the minute the Democrats hold a majority, which would undo as many laws passed since 2016 as the party can agree on. Every time something horrible got through Congress, it would go on the list, and (presuming they are successful in 2020) they could clean up the legislative part of the mess in about 5 minutes. If you want to depress yourself, try to think about why this was not done after the Bush administration.

    As to why the Democrats don’t care, well, far be it from me to suggest that the Democrats benefit from the ability to rig elections in precisely the same ways the Republicans do. It’s not at all as if, say, the New York Board of Elections admitted after the fact to throwing over a hundred thousand likely Sanders voters off the rolls ahead of the 2016 primary, and were fined by the Elections Commission for doing so, or a party representative was recorded saying that the winning candidates are routinely chosen everywhere by the party before the primaries, or the party chair said outright that the superdelegate system exists to nullify the selection of a popular candidate that the party elites don’t like. All of that would imply that the byzantine primary system of the Democratic Party — which, oddly enough, is vastly less regular and transparent than that of the Republican Party — existed to hide fraud, and they don’t want to talk about secure elections lest any of it gets investigated.