Two Reminders: Transparency and the Limits of All Paper Elections

This week we have had two demonstrations of themes we have discussed in theory at CTVotersCount.

First from Connecticut, amid the sad tale of our past Governor, heading once again for food and shelter at the expense of the public: Jury Finds Rowland Guilty On All 7 Counts; Attorney Vows Appeal <read>

A reminder from the prosecutor:

Prosecutors called the verdict a victory for transparency and the electoral process. The jury agreed that Rowland conspired to do work on two Republican congressional campaigns and had pitched a scheme to keep his pay hidden from federal election regulators.

“It ought to be — no it has to be — that voters know that what they see is what they get. In this case, the defendant and others didn’t want that to happen,” Michael J. Gustafson, Criminal Division Chief of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, told reporters.

We would add that transparency is insufficient. Somebody, like the public, has to use the transparency. And occasionally the system needs to assist in assuring transparency.  As we have pointed out in theory: <Vote Audit Observe> <Public Transparency and Observability>

Second a reminder from Scotland, pointing to some of the same risks and the insufficiency of paper only counting. As we have discussed in theory:
Common Sense: Paper Ballots are Insufficient for Voting Integrity <read>

Take a look at this video alleging irregularities in the Scottish Independence vote:

We cannot vouch for the accuracy and know the actual implications of the allegations in the video. Perhaps some of the footage is rigged. Perhaps the incorrectly classified ballots and stacks were double checked and corrected. Yet the video reminds us of several theoretical questions and issues with paper only counting and elections:

  • It would be much more credible and provide higher confidence to have a machine publicly count and print results then followed by solid ballot custody and an audit or recount. To accomplish fraud or cover error then would be much harder, since the numbers have to at least come close to matching when machines are rigged ahead of time, and ballots must be changed in a corresponding way.
  • Paper counting demands double checking by multiple individuals, observed by opposing interests.
  • In addition, central counting of paper ballots requires strong ballot security from the polling place ballot box to the counting place.

In Connecticut we are fortunate to have paper ballots, recanvasses, and post-election audits. Unfortunately, we also have very weak, vulnerable ballot security, and a post-election audit that is weal in many regards, and far from adequately executed.


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