November 7, 2006
SC&A rarely link to Glenn Reynolds, the Instapundit (we have it on good authority he manages rather well, nonetheless).
That said, we came across a terrific article written by Mr Reynolds in November, 2002, in which he calls for the universal application of paper ballots to count the vote.
We would only add that we believe with the inclusion of fair and reasonable ID requirements, the system would be near tamper proof.
As I write this, the voting hasn’t even started. But I’ve already gotten an email telling me that there are dozens of lawyers waiting to file legal challenges to elections in my state, and I’m sure that the same is going on everywhere else.
As with Florida in 2000, charges of fraud and voter misinformation will fly. People will say that ballots were tampered with. People will say that voting machines were rigged, or confusing. People will complain about tabulation errors and “hanging chads” and outright fraud.
To these problems (well, most of them, anyway) I have a technological solution. The technology is good. It is easy to understand. It is surprisingly resistant to fraud. And it is inexpensive. It’s the paper ballot.
Paper ballots are easy to understand – just put an “X” in the box next to the appropriate candidate’s name. I don’t find voting machines especially hard to understand, but I do always have to read the instructions on the ones I use, and I’m a law professor who works as a sound engineer on the side. So others may find them more confusing than I do. Everyone, on the other hand, can make an “X.”
Paper ballots are surprisingly resistant to fraud. Actually, it shouldn’t be that surprising. A paper ballot encodes lots of useful information besides the obvious. Not only is the information about the vote contained in the form, but also information about the voter. Different colors of ink, different styles of handwriting, etc., make each ballot different. Erasing the original votes is likely to leave a detectable residue. Creating all new ballots with fraudulent votes requires substantial variation among them or the fakery is much more obvious; that’s hard work. And destroying the original ballots in order to replace them with fraudulent ones isn’t that easy – there’s a lot of paper to be disposed of, and shredding it, or burning it, or hiding it is comparatively easy to detect. (Protecting the ballots before counting doesn’t require fancy encryption, either: just a steel box with a lock, a slot on the top, and a seal.) What’s more, because people are familiar with paper documents, fraud is easy to understand when it occurs. Paper ballots are both robust (resistant to fraud) and transparent (easy to understand).
Compare this sophisticated voting technology to that of voting machines. A voting machine captures only the information regarding the vote. Once it has done so, one vote looks like another. There’s no handwriting, no style, no ink, just a simple notation of which candidate was favored. Most voting machines store votes electronically, meaning that if they’re changed, there’s no troubling paper residue for fraud-perpetrators to dispose of. And because voting machines are complicated – and because their actual workings are unseen, and often kept secret – it’s much harder for voters, members of the press, and others to identify or understand fraud. Electronic ballots, in other words, are neither robust nor transparent.
The fact is, if you could come up with a new technology as simple and resistant to fraud as the paper ballot, people would be pretty impressed. So why do we use machines?
Perhaps in part for the same reason that some people used to prefer canned vegetables to fresh ones: “it’s more modern!” And voting machines do offer some benefits. Most importantly, they’re fast: within minutes after the polls close, the totals can be read off and sent to our ever-hungry news media, and to the dwindling, but still large, number of people who pay close attention to election returns as they unfold.
But of course that virtue is now disappearing. With charges of fraud being raised left and right, the voting machine totals are increasingly likely to be recounted anyway, meaning that it may be days (or longer, as with Florida in 2000) before a final total appears. Given that, people might as well spend their time counting paper ballots as recounting machine ballots.
Voting machines are also favored because they’re flexible – they can be reprogrammed at the last minute to take account of changes in candidates. But, again, this technological advantage has been undermined by other innovations, such as lawsuits over changing ballots at the last minute, and the growth of absentee ballots and early voting, which make this advantage less relevant.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the paper ballot: An idea whose time has come again.
November 7, 2006
The Anchoress is pensive on this election day. Her post, Believe The Troops Who Are There Or The Pols Who Are Not, is a snapshot of our world, on the day that the greatest democracy in the world goes to the polls.
That snapshot is neither benign or malignant. Her post presents unadorned reality. Given the way we presented with carefully crafted images and pseudo-realities nowadays, The Anchoress effort is that much more relevant.
Her remarks delineating and underscoring the implications of American and Coalition Forces pullout from Iraq are sublime- and crystal clear. From a report from the front lines, she notes
“Take us out of that vacuum — and it’s on the edge now — and boom, it would become a free-for-all,” said Lt. Col. Mark Suich, who commands the 1st Squadron, 89th Cavalry Regiment just south of Baghdad. “It would be a raw contention for power. That would be the bloodiest piece of this war.” [emp-Anchoress]
That of course is no secret. Iraq will descend into a bloody hell, not because we left but because for generations, sectarian violence has been allowed to bubble just below the surface, by design. If the Iraqis are deprived of the higher expectations that freedom and democracy hold, they will indeed descend into chaos.
Make no mistake- the violence in Iraq now is not about sectarian violence, per se. If that were the case, the entire country would be ablaze. The violence now is being committed by criminals and repressive religious and secular ideologues for whom democracy is a threat. There is no sectarian violence in countries where democracy flourishes. Eliminate a flourishing democracy, or threaten that democracy and violence appears. It is in that environment that repressive regimes flourish.
It is true that Iraq’s future is in the hands of the Iraqis. It is also true that we have made mistakes in Iraq. So what? In World War Two, there were plenty of mistakes made, and plenty of Allied soldiers lost to ‘friendly fire.’ Those tragic mistakes did not lessen the importance or significance of our efforts to defeat Nazism.
Iraq is no more an immoral war than the violence committed by Che and Castro in their so called ‘wars of liberation.’
From the first moment an innocent is killed in a war, that war becomes immoral- and thus, all wars are immoral. That said, some wars are ‘just wars.’ To bring freedom to those under the boot of oppression and tyranny, is a just cause.
To bring freedom to a people is to create an environment where they can choose their own destiny that best expresses their hopes and dreams, without depriving others of their freedoms and rights.
That some tyrants are freely elected is not a measure of democratic principles. Adolph Hitler was freely elected- as was Hamas. Western democracies are under no obligation to recognize or facilitate the likes of freely elected Nazis, of either the German or Palestinian varieties. Had we eliminated Hitler and the Nazi Party in 1933, 50 million lives would have been saved.
Mistakes made now in Iraq can be corrected and a new course for the future of that country can be charted. The mistake of pulling out of Iraq now will relegate future generations of Iraqis to repression, oppression and hopelessness. The Anchoress has a clear vision:
And what are we supposed to do, once we’ve “pulled out?” Our troops go to Okinawa, to sit helplessly while Iraqis are slaughtered by insurrectionists and terrorists and tyrants? How do we then, as a nation, ever hold our heads upright again…how do we – a country that has ever-disdained empire but has routinely spilled her blood for the freedom of others – ever look at other struggling peoples and say “we will help you,” and expect them to believe us?
If we pull out of Iraq, now, how does a visionary ever find the nerve to even make such an offer to another country, knowing that the “leadership” of this nation hasn’t the testicular fortitude to carry a mission through, to “keep on” when keeping on means some rough slogging?
How will we ever look at ourselves in a mirror again, or tell our children to respect us, to respect their flag, their nation, their leaders?
All fair questions- and not so ethereal. How can this great nation, this ‘great experiment’ in democracy, maintain it’s credibility? There are those that have rendered us impotent. We watched and did nothing as Rwandans were slaughtered. We watched and did nothing as the bloodletting in Sierra Leonne unfolded and we are watching as the slaughter in Darfur continues.
All these tragedies- and others like them- are allowed to continue unabated because we fail to distinguish our own morality from the morality of so many European or some Muslim nations, led by some of the most dysfunctional leaders in history. If Americans cannot distingush themselves from the actions or inactions of those nations, then America have indeed lost that most important moral compass.
Perhaps there is no greater tragedy than the belief that we cannot we redeem ourselves and our destiny. The Anchoress notes:
In pulling out we would indeed be losing. We would also be displaying feckless cowardice -a dishonorable unwillingness to keep our word and commitment. We would be showing to God and the whole world that America no longer believes in the allure of liberty over the clatter of jackboots, that she does not believe in the power of an idea to manifestly change things, that she does not believe in transcendence or hope, or in the change that can be effected through courage, selflessness, dogged determination, resolution and a firm vision.
Right now, Europe is gone mad and is dying by its own hand. Unwilling to fight for itself, unwilling to breed, unwilling to give up on government dependence, Europe has looked around, realized that in 20 years she will be the conquest of ten million Mohammeds and she has decided to sit back…
Eurabia is dawning, and nothing about that fact promises progress or stability. On the contrary, Eurabia will bring with it Shari’a. Eurabia will bring the undoing of those human rights gained over the last century…
A new darker dawn, is threatening to engulf us and the light we have shone around the world:
And for some, particularly those who have long-since forgotten how to dream, who look at the world with grounded, earthbound eyes, it is a vision that seems utterly mad and impossible and futile.
How sad for those who can no longer dream – who can no longer look at America and imagine the greatness within, and how that greatness might be shared – how the visions of the founders might be spread. How sad it is to realize that some of the people currently in leadership positions in this nation would look at General Washington and Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, and they would say…”this was a bad idea…it’s getting difficult. We should just quit.”
How sad, indeed.