On Voting Integrity, Johnny We Hardly Agree With Ye

For the second time in as many weeks, I find myself disagreeing on an election integrity issue with John Nichols of The Nation.

We appreciate and admire Mr. Nichols.  When it comes to media reform, he a combination of William Lloyd Garrison and Rachael Carson for our age. In that sphere we generally agree with him, we attended the Media Reform Conference sponsored by his group, the Free Press in 2007, and are half way through his latest book, The Death and Life of American Journalism: The Media Revolution that Will Begin the World Again.   If we were not so involved in election integrity we would spend more time on media reform.  Like election integrity it is a necessary ingredient to democracy; perhaps more fundamental; with a reformed media we would have a much easier time arousing the public and causing election integrity.

This week in The Nation: Going Postal in the Digital Era by John Nichols<read> we find much to agree with. He describes the decline of the U.S. Postal Service, the causes of the decline, the Service’s to value print journalism and democracy, and his proposed solutions.  Yet, when unsupported conclusions are quoted as fact, we cannot overlook them:

These “efficiencies” threaten more than just the Postal Service. They pose direct and indirect threats to democracy. Oregon Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley noted as much when they asked Congress and the USPS to avoid taking steps that would damage their state’s mail-in balloting. “While we admire and encourage examination of avenues to modernize the postal service, the implementation of this proposal would pose a direct threat to democracy in Oregon,” wrote the senators, whose concerns have been echoed by election officials from around the country, which increasingly relies on the Postal Service to carry regular and absentee ballots.

The PRC’s Goldway [,Ruth, Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) chair] has been at the forefront of arguments for taking state-based “Vote by Mail” experiments national. “Voters would not need to take time off from work, find transportation, find the right polling station, get babysitters or rush through reading complicated ballot initiatives,” she explains. “The country’s 35,000 post offices could provide information, distribute and collect voting materials and issue inexpensive residency and address identifications for voting purposes. Perhaps most important, given the concerns about voting machine security, mail ballots cannot be hacked. Tampering or interfering with mail is a federal crime, and the United States Postal Service has its own law enforcement arm, which works closely with a variety of enforcement authorities including the F.B.I. Trained election clerks can take the time to check signatures without delaying or discouraging voters. And the advantages of a paper trail outshine the glitter of black box electronic gadgetry.”

We disagree and offer this recent example from Dallas of vote “hacking”  and our post on an opinion  by the Board President of Coloradans for Voting Integrity,  Keep Colorado’s voting integrity which includes our other references.

Perhaps Mr. Nichols is just not talking to a wide enough range people  Just Monday last week we read another note in The Nation on Instant Runoff Voting (IRV):

I.R.V. BUZZ: Instant runoff voting, the smart reform that makes majority rule possible in multi-candidate elections, is finally capturing the imagination of the opinion leaders, who just might jump-start this movement at the national level. Über-influential New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman–not a frequent recipient of praise from this magazine–started things off with a March 24 column that noted how some Republicans had voted against healthcare reform because they feared retribution in party primaries, and how Democrats are similarly fearful on other issues. “When your political system punishes lawmakers for…doing the right things, it is broken,” he wrote.

What to do? “Break the oligopoly of our two-party system” with redistricting reforms that take the power to draw Congressional district lines out of the hands of partisans, argued Friedman, and “get states to adopt ‘alternative voting'” that allows voters to rank an independent candidate “your No. 1 choice, and the Democrat or Republican No. 2. Therefore, if the independent does not win, your vote is immediately transferred to your second choice, say, the Democrat. Therefore, you have no fear that in voting for an independent you might help elect your real nightmare–the Republican.”

The New Yorker’s  Hendrik Hertzberg, a veteran reform advocate, welcomed Friedman aboard “for what we electoral-reform monomaniacs call…I.R.V.,” and an elated FairVote executive director Rob Richie chimed in with a note that “Hurt Locker won the best picture Oscar with this system, and voters handle it well in major elections in Minneapolis and San Francisco and in nations like Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.” Now if we could just get Friedman excited about reforming our broken “free trade” policies. JOHN NICHOLS

As luck would have it, we were scheduled to attend a Connecticut ACLU event that evening, featuring John Nichols as on one of two panelists on Media Reform.  Once again, we agreed with everything he said on the panel.  After the panel I mentioned my concerns with IRV.  Mr. Nichols was very open to considering alternative views.  He had received one email on the subject and asked if it was mine. It was not and he asked that I follow-up with an email.  I did, with a summarized version of my recent testimony to the Connecticut legislature along with supporting links.

As we have said before, IRV is complex to compute, complex for voters, and does not provide the intended benefits.  It  is simply not true that IRV  “makes majority rule possible in multi-candidate elections”.  Sometimes it does and sometimes it does not, just like winner take all elections – but at an increased complexity, cost, and risk, especially in multi-district, statewide, and national elections.

These “efficiencies” threaten more than just the Postal Service. They pose direct and indirect threats to democracy. Oregon Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley noted as much when they asked Congress and the USPS to avoid taking steps that would damage their state’s mail-in balloting. “While we admire and encourage examination of avenues to modernize the postal service, the implementation of this proposal would pose a direct threat to democracy in Oregon,” wrote the senators, whose concerns have been echoed by election officials from around the country, which increasingly relies on the Postal Service to carry regular and absentee ballots.

The PRC’s Goldway has been at the forefront of arguments for taking state-based “Vote by Mail” experiments national. “Voters would not need to take time off from work, find transportation, find the right polling station, get babysitters or rush through reading complicated ballot initiatives,” she explains. “The country’s 35,000 post offices could provide information, distribute and collect voting materials and issue inexpensive residency and address identifications for voting purposes. Perhaps most important, given the concerns about voting machine security, mail ballots cannot be hacked. Tampering or interfering with mail is a federal crime, and the United States Postal Service has its own law enforcement arm, which works closely with a variety of enforcement authorities including the F.B.I. Trained election clerks can take the time to check signatures without delaying or discouraging voters. And the advantages of a paper trail outshine the glitter of black box electronic gadgetry.”

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