The last two presidential elections revealed that American
democracy is in distress. A full public airing is much needed and
the stature of the Carter-Baker Commission promises to garner the
national attention and respect required to truly grapple with the scope
of the problem. That is, until people begin to look at the make-up of
the Commission and its agenda.
Perhaps the hottest issue in
election reform is making sure that votes are counted accurately. It is
now widely understood that paperless computer voting systems are
vulnerable to human error, computer failure and malicious tampering and
therefore verification of the vote is essential. Paperless electronic
voting vs. voting with a voter verified paper ballot (VVPB) is now an
issue under consideration in state legislatures across the country. So
far, 14 states have passed laws requiring a VVPB, many others are
considering bills and still others traditionally vote on voter verified
Sadly, the Carter-Baker Commission has
compromised itself at the outset by including a figure with an
embarrassing corporate conflict of interest on the key question of vote
counts. Ralph Munro is the Chairman of VoteHere, a company with
millions invested in the ‘vote verification’ market. VoteHere is
literally banking on the successful marketing of their cryptographic
product as the verification method in spite of the fact that
voter-verified paper ballots are the solution most recommended by
independent computer security experts. Munro should recuse himself to
save the Commission from further awkwardness.
A model election is one which is so transparent that the losing
candidate and their supporters trust the process completely. Make
audits a routine practice of every election and deliver a refreshing
boost to voter confidence. The good government practice of routine
audits, required in the business world, elevates the credibility of the
results. Imagine elections where the candidates truly earn the good
will of the losing party. The only remaining decision should be what
constitutes a sufficient audit, i.e. what percentage of hand counted
paper ballots should be compared to the electronic count to be sure the
election outcome was accurate.
Full audits, also known
as recounts, are another essential for transparent and credible
elections. Rather than fearing recounts election officials should
welcome them as an opportunity to build public confidence in the
process. Unfortunately in recent years election boards and state
legislators have been moving 'to legislate recounts out of existence'
as one state official describes it, by adding costs to those who
request them and creating other hurdles. Administration of meaningful
recounts - whether initiated by candidates and/or citizens – should be
viewed as a fundamental duty of election officials in a democratic
nation. After all, if voters do not trust election results, the
legitimacy of government is undermined.
Also related to
how we vote is the non-partisan administration of elections. This
effects every aspect of voting from voter registration, candidate's
being on the ballot, the machines used for voting and the conduct of
recounts. We saw in the most recent presidential election a secretary
of state in Ohio, who also served a chairman of President Bush's
campaign in Ohio, allegations that voting machines were provided in
greater numbers in Republican-voting areas than in Democratic voting
In Maryland, paperless electronic voting has
been blocked by Democrats trying to protect their Democratic election
administrator who bought the machines. The Republican Governor has been
trying to replace her with an administrator of elections of his
choosing, so the Democrats are afraid to admit that she made a mistake
– by spending $55 million on machines that cannot conduct an
independent recount. The Democrats have put partisan election
administration ahead of machines voters can trust.
we solve the problem of paperless e-voting by putting in place voter
verified paper trails, routine audits and transparent, independent
recounts not only will voters be more confident in the results, but
political parties will feel less need of administering elections with a
partisan at the helm.
We hope the Commission proves us
wrong but the corporate conflicts of interest of the Carter-Baker
Commission raises initial doubts.
*Linda Schade is
the director of TrueVoteMD.org and communications director of
VoteTrustUSA.org. Kevin Zeese is president of VoteTrustUSA.org and a
member of the board of Velvet Revolution.
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