ACLU Forum on Electoral Dysfunction

On Wednesday night I participated on a panel in Waterford, CT on Electoral Dysfunction, sponsored by the ACLU, Common Cause and the LWV.  It was a very good discussion with a variety of views from the panel, a wide range of excellent questions, and unsurpassed moderation. In the near future we may have video available. I promised to provide more information here on the topics covered. I will start by adding links to my prepared remarks:

Introduction

I appreciate the opportunity to talk to you tonight.

  • CTVotersCount is dedicated to voting integrity for the benefit of the voters of Connecticut. We want your vote to count; We want your vote counted accurately; And we wanted it counted exactly once.
  • As a technologist, I am dedicated to the responsible, effective and efficient use of technology.
  • Beyond elections and technology, I am committed that Democracy Flourish and to Government that Works for Everyone.

Basic and Bold Steps

Last November, President Obama saw the long lines and said “We need to fix that. In response we posted three sets of basic and bold steps to fix our elections and democracy; For Connecticut Elections;  For U.S. Elections; and steps Beyond Election Integrity. Ten basic and bold steps in all.  Tonight I will highlight just four.

  • First, for Democracy: Media Reform – A necessary requirement for democracy according to the founders. Saving the Internet is a last ditch start.
  • If you want more details on these or any of the other topics I discuss today, visit CTVotersCount.org tomorrow.
  • Second idea, for U.S. Elections: Mandate paper ballots optically scanned, nationwide; With recounts and independent manual audits; H.R. 12 co-sponsored by each of Connecticut’s House Members would do just that.
  • Next, fix the 12th Amendment and the Electoral Count Act; [I wonder how many of you know what they are? I will have more to say later].
  • Finally for Connecticut: Do For Elections What We Have Done For Probate:
    • Regionalize, Professionalize, Economize
    • Our town-by-town election system relies on 339, registrars of voters, often very part time, inadequately funded and trained. This system limits our capacity for serving voters and providing voting integrity. We can save money, yet also improve service and integrity.
    • Regionalization is key to efficient early voting and fixing our woeful ballot chain-of-custody.

IRV

Now for IRV and the NPV. I have three concerns with IRV

  • First, surveys show voters do not understand IRV. I am opposed to any voting scheme that requires a smarter voter.
  • Second, in close elections, where it might have value, it can take days or weeks to determine a winner, IRV is technically challenging to count, audit, and recount. The challenges grow with the size of the jurisdiction.
  • Finally, IRV does not deliver as promised – it provides the smarter voter with an impossible challenge to help and not hurt their candidate.

That is all I will say for now on IRV. Like all voting methods can be a crap shoot.

National Popular Vote Agreement

There are more serious issues with the National Popular Vote Agreement.

Like many of you, I learned in the fifth grade, in Ms. Hesbelt’s class, of the odd and unique Electoral College. She taught that we should elect our President by National Popular Vote.  I believed that. I still do.

I have come to view our election system, through the eyes of a computer scientist. Reading the Agreement in 2007, I immediately saw unrecognized problems. Since then, I have continued to study our presidential election system, the Agreement, and those unrecognized problems,

I am convinced that the Agreement, cobbled onto an already risky system for determining the winner adds to that systems flaws. Seriously so.

I suspect, many of you also believe in electing the President by popular vote.

Today I do not expect to change many long held beliefs, but ask you to be to open some to ideas that you are not aware of, some consequences you have yet to consider –unintended, unrecognized, and unacknowledged consequences of the Agreement.

Choosing the President is governed by the 12th Amendment and the Electoral Count Act. The Supreme Court has ruled that they must be followed exactly — Causing the debacles in 1876 and 2000. Legal scholars call these laws a  “Ticking Time Bomb”. The Agreement would not change that.

Just some states have audits and recounts. In 2000 the Supreme Court ruled that there was no time for Florida’s recounts and that they were insufficiently uniform.

Some say Recounts and Audits are unnecessary in a national popular vote. Some say they are possible under current law. I beg to disagree.

Many believe Al Gore won the popular vote in 2000. I say, “Without audits, how do you know”.

If just Florida had sufficient, timely recounts in 2000, and just Ohio had sufficient audits in 2004, we might have had a different candidate declared President. Or! Or we might have a lot more evidence and confidence that the winner was correctly decided.

Under the Agreement there would be no recount or audit to verify results in any election. Current audits and recounts, available in only about half the states are based, on close votes within a single state. Most could not be accomplished in time to satisfy Electoral Count Act. There is no national body to call for a recount, audit, or assess results.

Even worse, there is no official national popular vote number available in time to determine a winner, for Secretaries of State to choose their electors.

The official numbers are required to be sent to the Federal Government days after electors must be chosen and vote in each state. If you think that a future Ken Blackwell or Catherine Harris would not delay their official results to hamper the process, I would like to know what planet you live on.

Add to these risks several items;

  •  There are many reasons under this scheme that voters, candidates, and officials could challenge the results provided and used by Secretaries of State. Any close election would likely end in a Supreme Court; likely to choose the President based on the precedents set in 2000 and 1876.
  • The Agreement does not make every voter equal, and cannot make every vote equal. Each state has a different franchise. A different level of voter suppression or encouragement.
  • The result of the Compact will be a race to the bottom without uninform voting methods, access, enfranchisement and integrity from state to state.
  • Currently fraud, error, and suppression is limited to swing states, with the Agreement it would be open season, without audits, recounts, or an official popular vote number.

Many of you will ask “If we elect our Governor by popular vote, why not the President.” The answer is that we have uniform election laws across Connecticut. We have an equal franchise, audits, and recanvasses.

Finally, let me encourage you to keep an open mind. Consider these unrecognized consequences. There are prerequisites to a trusted, credible National Popular Vote.

Thank you,

We had two minutes each to reply to questions from the audience. A couple of those merit additional links.

  • Media Reform – for ideas on where to start, I suggested John Nichols excellent book: The Death and Life of American Journalism
  • Better Voting Systems – I could only allude to the possibility and promise of better voting systems designed to serve the voters and officials, while providing election integrity. We are aware of two efforts, led by Dana DeBeauvoir, Travis County Texas, and Dean Logan, LA County, California. We will have more to say soon on Debeauvoir’s latest update presented at NIST and Logan’s effort. For now here is our coverage of DeBeauvoir’s effort as of two years ago <read>

Note: Deputy Secretary of the State James Spallone participated in the panel, replacing Cheri Quickmire from Common Cause, who unfortunately could not attend.

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