Sunday, December 21, 2008

Some MN Thoughts

Patric Ruffini over at The Next Right as a post about titled 'No More Minnesotas' about some changes he would like to see in elections and vote processing...


First let me lay out my background on this.  I have been a processing judge in two different election authorities (once in DeKalb county and several times in Aurora) I also have worked as the Republican observer for about 10 or 12 elections now in Aurora, that means that during the count if something comes up I try to work with my Democrat counterpart of develop a solution to resolve an issue, if that doesn't work we call the lawyers.  I have also poll watched and gone to polling places with 'issues' for several elections as well.  Also my wife has worked as an election judge several times.


I have worked elections with the old punch card system and with the current combination touch screen and fill in the oval systems.

From the post…


  • Full electronic voting with a paper trail audit. There's a reason Paul Carmouche didn't challenge a 356-vote margin in LA-4: because the voting was 100% electronic. Critics have made good points about the lack of a paper trail on many of these machines. But MN-SEN shows that optical scan ballots, preferable only to hanging chads, are not fulproof. While plenty of bugs have been demonstrated on e-voting machines, there's no evidence (to date) of actual votes being mis-counted or lost -- and a paper trail should greatly improve the detection and resolution of these issues in real time.
  •  All ballots counted within 72 hours. It shouldn't take weeks to count absentees and provisionals. Let's set a reasonable window for counting every vote -- like 72 or 96 hours -- understanding that this might be different in states that are largely vote-by-mail.
  • Zero tolerance for lost-and-found votes. Negligence in handling voted ballots should be made a misdemeanor offense at a minimum. Election officials should pay heavy fines and face removal for incidents like the 133 "lost" Minneapolis ballots. Heavy legal penalties should be a deterrent to "losing" ballots that are then "found" at conveninent points in a recount. 
  •  An open election results standard. I want this for other reasons, but a bunch of tech people should get together to formulate a standard for the reporting of real-time precinct election results in XML that also covers 1) reporting status of absentees and provisionals, and 2) historical precinct data, including notional numbers from census block counts for re-precincted areas. For all precincts, we should know how many voters are registered to get a real sense of voter turnout as well as how many people voted in this precinct in the last few elections. Practically, this means that the spotting of anomalies can be crowdsourced to the online community. If turnout seems abnormally high or low for a precinct, we can know in real time.


Full electronic voting with a paper audit trail:  

I like this one, however I suspect most voters don't. Here voters have a choice of either using a touch screen machine (that produces a paper audit trail) or filling in the ovals.  About 95% of the voters decide to fill in the ovals. Kane County has pure electronic voting and the county clerk has taken a lot of unfair heat for it.  With pure electronic voting you are subject to the full whims of technology.  


  • If any sort of issue occurs with the tech you have to wait for someone to come and deal with it, making folks wait. 


  • The odds of being able to find two election judges who could even be taught (remember you would need one from each party) to fix even the simplest issue are slim and none.


  • Also machines are not idea for dealing with the logical flow of voters (heavy early and late in the day) also that is an expensive hunk of equipment sitting around doing nothing 360 days of the year.


  • In Aurora if you early vote you generally vote on a touch screen.  You should hear the people complain about it, say it's part of a plot not to count your vote, etc.  The advantage of the 'fill in the oval' is you can deal with peak load better and faster.


All ballots counted within 72 hours.


Nice but again impractical.  We were not allowed to even start opening the absentee ballots until 7 PM on election day, we finished opening them (not counting them) at midnight or so.  During this time we had one person just checking signatures when it seemed signatures didn't match up.  At this point the election officials had been up for almost 20 hours.  Do you really want them to start dealing with this stuff with that little sleep? Also again with the provisionals it takes even longer because you need to figure out if the vote should be counted.


Zero tolerance for lost-and-found votes:


'Negligence in handling voted ballots should be made a misdemeanor offense at a minimum’ yeah good luck finding election judges after you institute that.  Sorry grandma you forgot to bring in one of cards from a machine, officer Bob would like to have a word with you.  Good luck with that.  Keep in mind election officials on Election Day are dealing with a vast majority of folks working the election who may do this a 3 times a year.  In your job would you want to be criminally responsible if someone below you screws up?  I don't think so.


An Open election standard

Also a really cool idea it's going to cost big time to upgrade election data systems to share this stuff in real time.  Also the who voted stuff gets processed much later so real voting turnout issues would not show up until much later.  Also most turnout issues have logical reasons for example a school referendum, tight local race, etc..


Now here are some of my thoughts on improving the process.


n       Attorneys would be required to work as election judges for at least one election a year. Make it a requirement for being a member of the bar, like continuing ed.  An educated set of election judges who would do it year after year would be invaluable.


n       Encourage employers to treat working an election like jury duty (also make it if you work as an election judge you can opt out of jury duty) including the option to get paid.


n       Make early voting really, really easy.  More locations, more hours whatever it takes.


n       Create teams of people from all parties (in our case Republican, Democrat and Green) who are trained and can deal with issues on the ground.


n       You know what, if you can use the National Guard somewhat (not in uniform).


Tight elections that cover a large area or a large number of voters are always going to some extent be an issue.  You can't really get to perfect on this, too may human variables.  



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