Friday, November 21, 2008

Votes: Accounting for the Counting

By Jon N. Hall

Of all the problematic American elections in recent years, the 2004 gubernatorial election in the state of Washington is the clear winner in the fraud category.

What makes that election stand out is not just that it was probably stolen, but rather the volume and sheer audacity of its irregularities. The loser, Dino Rossi, won 2 of the 3 vote counts, and won the count with the widest margin, 261. But no one knows what the lawful correct vote count was, nor can anyone demonstrate it.

That, however, can be said of just about every American election ever held. So, why can’t we know the correct vote counts in our elections? Here are the 2 main reasons:

Reason #2: There is no “linkage” between the voter and his ballot. Which is to say, there is nothing ON a ballot to tie it to the voter who cast it.

Now, folks will say that’s the way it has to be because of the right to a “secret ballot”. OK, but what that means for our elections is: The vote counts aren’t correctible.

The lack of “linkage” between voter and ballot means that when an election official knows that an unlawful registration has been used to cast a ballot, he cannot then identify that fraudulent ballot so that he can subtract its votes from the vote totals. What he will most likely do is just let the election stand, warts and all, even though the votes of legitimate voters will have been canceled out by the fraudulent votes.

Some pooh-pooh the idea that voter fraud is a problem in America. But in contests with exceedingly close margins, like that 2004 election in Washington, any fraud at all can tip the outcome. Take Unity, New Hampshire, where Obama and Clinton each received 107 votes. If you can’t back out the fraudulent ballots, then you can’t know the correct vote counts. And therefore in close elections you can’t know the winner.

So what we have here is a head-on collision of 2 fundamental rights: The right to a secret ballot versus the right to a fair election, where only legitimate votes are counted. For me, the interest of fair elections trumps the right to a secret ballot.

However, if “linkage” cannot pass constitutional muster, then it is incumbent upon Congress to make fraud as close to impossible to commit as they possibly can. If we aren’t going to be able to back out fraud that has been committed, then we must do everything we can to prevent fraud from happening in the first place. Which means we must fix the “front end” of our election systems. And that brings us to the other reason why we can’t know what the correct vote counts are:

Reason #1: America’s voter registries are unreliable.

But no registry on this earth can be totally correct—at least not for long. That’s because eligible voters become ineligible—they die, slip into comas, become felons, become incapacitated, etc. The finalization of a voter registry doesn’t stop any of this.

So there is always a “lag” between changes in eligibility and when those changes get reflected in a voter registry. The “lag” means that even at the moment of its finalization, a registry can already be out of date, as changes that have already happened may not yet have been reported. Even if a registry were online and could be updated during the voting on Election Day, it would still be impossible to keep up with the march of change.

Bottom line: Regardless of how carefully engineered a voter registry might be, almost invariably there will be more folks on it than there should be.

Of course, after an election we could “scrub” the registries to account for changes in eligibility. For instance, an election official could read the obituaries and create a list of recent deaths. Then he could look at the signature rosters to see if anyone had signed in using the registrations of those recent decedents. That would allow him to detect fraud, but it would do nothing about correcting the vote counts. To adjust the vote counts—perhaps changing the winners—would require the aforementioned “linkage”.

But, if the Constitution forbids “linkage”—forbids us, say, to put a unique identifier on the voter’s ballot and his signature roster entry—then I’m afraid this situation where we can’t back out fraudulent votes and correct the counts is going to persist.

So far, we’ve only been considering the voter fraud that comes to light because of public announcements, such things as deaths and felony convictions. (Again, if “linkage” were allowed we could fix this type of fraud.) But there is a 2nd category of voter fraud that we wouldn’t be able to fix even if we had “linkage”, and that’s because we wouldn’t even know it’s happened.

This undetectable fraud is due to people who should never have been registered—but were. If, say, a foreign student or an illegal alien manages to get on a voter registry and then actually votes, the chances are it’ll never be detected. Unlike the 1st type where we have a tip-off from public notices, we must go looking for the 2nd type of fraud. And that would be one monumental chore, as you’d need to vet each and every voter, essentially re-registering them. And this is all due to the failure of registrars to fully vet registrants. (Currently, only one state, Arizona, requires proof of citizenship to register.)

Since the 2nd type of voter fraud is undetectable, the extent of it is unknowable.

This sorry state of affairs is why fixing our voter registries should be the first order of business in any serious election reform.

Recently, representatives of ACORN—the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now—have downplayed the significance of the problems in their registration drives. They say it’s only a registration problem, NOT actual voter fraud. But once an ineligible gets on a voter registry, the game is up—all the ineligible need do is show his ID and off to the voting booth he goes. Mail-in voting can be even simpler.

Voter registries are the gateway to voting. Fix voter registries, and whole species of voter fraud become extinct.

The good news is: We have the means to fix voter registration so that the 2nd type of voter fraud can’t happen. That is, we have the means to keep those who aren’t eligible OFF our voter registries. (I’m talking about those who register fraudulently, not those whose registrations should have been purged, like decedents.) Also, we can easily ensure that citizens aren’t doubly registered. All we have to do is adopt my plan. Its features:
  • ALL eligible U.S. citizens will be registered
  • ONLY U.S. citizens will be registered
  • Each U.S. citizen will be registered in ONE state only
  • Automatic registration—citizens needn’t do anything to be registered
  • Voting won’t require a photo ID
  • The maintenance of voter registries will entail much less work

If I do say so myself, my method of establishing voter registries may be the cleanest, quickest, cheapest and most correct method out there. And not only that, it puts the voter registration arm of ACORN and similar outfits out of business.

Nonetheless, there may well be resistance to it. Not from the voters, they’ll love it, but from the professionals. I’m talking about the little empires of the secretaries of state and the election boards. My plan won’t make them obsolete, but it will diminish their duties. They will no longer be in charge of maintaining the registries. Instead, they will receive a pristine new registry before each election. The professionals would, however, retain the responsibility for purging those who had become ineligible. But with fewer duties, they’ll be able to devote more time to that chore.

You can read my plan HERE.

Jon N. Hall is a mainframe programmer/analyst from Kansas City.

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