An Electoral House of Cards – When votes are not publicly verifiable

An Alternet interview of Jonathan Simon: Something Stinks When Exit Polls and Official Counts Don’t Match – A discussion with an exit poll expert reveals an electoral house of cards.  <read>

When their were claims that exit polls did not match in the Democratic Primary, I said that neither side made the case  saying, “I stand with Carl Sagan who said, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

Now a very thoughtful interview with Jonathan Simon who outlines the case that we should be concerned about the exit polls and concerned just as much that we cannot verify our elections:

We try as carefully as we can. I’ve been doing this pretty steadily now for the last 15 years along with some of my colleagues, and I would be the first to acknowledge that there is a lot of smoke there and there’s a lot of probative value to this work, but that bringing it forth as ironclad proof is very problematic. So we’re stuck at a place where I pivoted to is looking at the risk involved in having a computerized, privatized, unobservable vote counting system and just taking on faith that that system is not being manipulated when there is such a obvious vulnerability (on which the experts strongly agree) of the system to malfeasance and manipulation. That is where I’ve tended to go, is to look at that risk rather than screaming fraud from the rooftops and claiming proof…

Simon goes on to refute many of the reasons raised to be skeptical of exit poll data, yet also acknowledging that without evidence, the polls could be consistently wrong. Yet, errors strongly trend in the same direction.

In this past Tuesday, again we saw a very consistent pattern of exit polls that were more in favor of Hillary Clinton, more in favor of Democratic senatorial candidates and then vote counts were shifted from the exit polls to the right towards Donald Trump, towards the Republican senate candidates. Those are the figures that I pulled down and did a very basic analysis of. You have a column of numbers of state by state showing the degree of that shift and we’ll eventually do that for the national vote for the House of Representatives as well…

What it means to me is that neither system is self validating. Neither system can be trusted. If you look at accounting, you do double entry accounting. I’m not an accountant so my terminology may be off, but you basically audit by checking one column of numbers against another column of numbers. If they disagree, you know something is wrong somewhere. There is some arithmetical mistake, some failure of entry, possibly fraud … you don’t know. You just know that if two things that are pretty much supposed to agree had disagreed, there’s a problem somewhere. I can rule out mathematically and scientifically, by this time, errors due to random chance. Errors due to random chance, sampling errors, what we call margin of error issues, would not be expressing themselves so consistently in one direction. They’d be going in both directions and they’d be much smaller…

If you want to sleep well at night, which I also prefer to denial, and you want to say to yourself, Yeah, it must have been people just lying to the exit pollsters and I’m not going to worry about it, that’s fine. What you’re missing at that point is the fact that if you challenge me to say, How do you know these exit polls are valid? I would turn right around and challenge you and say, How do you know the vote counts are valid?

The fact is, and this is cold hard fact, neither of us can prove our case. That is the problem. We have an unobservable system that cannot answer the challenge that it might be subject to manipulation. It can’t demonstrate that it is not rigged. Exit polls are just a tool that we use to look at it and say, Well folks, there might be something to dig deeper into here. The problem is virtually never is anyone allowed to dig deeper. We have optical scanner equipment all over this country right now that have the voter marked ballots that drop through the optical-scan reader device and sit in their cabinet below. Those voter marked ballots need to be saved 22 months in theory, although they’ve been destroyed early, in fact, in many cases, especially if when there was an investigation going on in Ohio…They are corporate property. They are off limits to public inspection. It might as well, in the 99.9% of cases, be a paperless touchscreen that has no record whatsoever.

The bottom line is that Democracy requires citizen engagement and action:

[Around election time concern] passes briefly in front of the public eye. There’s a lot of stirring about it and then it dies out and it’s basically left to us hardcore election integrity advocates. This is catastrophic. This is tragic. What we’re left with is a system that was accepted more or less without real proof.

If that’s what democracy is worth to us, then we deserve what we get. Democracy requires support. It requires citizen support. It requires an investment of care and an investment of vigilance and an investment of participation more than deciding, Yeah, I’m going to vote or I’m not going to vote. It requires the fulfillment of a duty to be part of the public that counts and observe the counting of the votes so we don’t have the ludicrous situation where we hand our ballots to a magician who takes them behind a curtain, you hear them shred the ballots, comes out and tells you so-and-so won. This is what we’ve got now and it’s what we’ve accepted. We spend more money in two weeks in Iraq then would cost us for 30 years to hand-count our elections. This is surrealistic, this is absurd, but it’s the very strong inertial reality. Getting the energy up to change that reality, especially when that reality has worked well by definition for everybody who is sitting in office. They’re the people with the least incentive to look under the hood and say, Hey, we need to change this. It’s what put them in office.

It is an outstanding interview.  I highly recommend reading in its entirety.


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