Mandatory Election recounts. Period.

The Secretary of State of New Hampshire has announced that they will do a statewide recount. Finally a state is taking sane steps to reassure its people that they in fact participated in a valid election and putting the controversy to rest. It’s about time. A lot of people have been shouted down as conspiracy nuts because they suspected otherwise. I am puzzled and a bit angry that it is controversial for progressives to insist on anything less than mandatory recounts of paper ballots for at least a random selection of districts in EVERY election. The burden is on the state to prove that the election results are correct, yet I read person after person insisting that we should be quiet. It is absurd to think that the burden of proof rests on the citizens.

Cross posted at Orange Satan, the despicable PFF, and the unstable MyLeftWing

Jon Stokes (Hannibal), co-founder of, has a nice article up about the NH election. In it he takes on several around the blogosphere for their mistatements and misunderstandings about the issues involved.

First there is Josh Marshall’s post titled “Enough”:

Now, before you write in, I too think that electronic voting machines with no paper trail are a big problem because they’re too insecure and they make confirmatory recounts impossible. But the possibility or danger of tampering is not a license to assume it or imagine it – in the absence of any evidence – any time the vote doesn’t go how we’d like.

Jon correctly takes a jab at Josh position as typical and a complete misapprehension of what is at stake. Elections are not criminal courts and the burden of proof is not on the citizenry to prove that the election was corrupt or not. If we are actually a democracy then the burden of proof is on the state to prove that the election correctly registers the votes of its citizens. Josh points to a front page post by Dhinmi at DailyKos as better explaining the issue and rejects the issue as “simply absurd”.

Except it isn’t and the DailyKos diary also completely misses the mark. To quote Jon’s article at Arstechnica:

First, it is a huge mistake to assume (like this DKos poster) that the optical scan machines used in NH are somehow more secure than the much – maligned touchscreen machines, which didn’t seem to be that widely used in the primary. Optical scanners can actually be less secure than touchscreens, because they’re just as easy to tamper with (sometimes more so) as the touchscreens, but there’s typically only one per precinct – an attacker therefore has a single point of failure to manipulate. The fact that optical scanners leave a paper record is totally irrelevant if a random audit of the results is not mandatory by law after every election.

He goes on to liken a paper trail without a post election audit to be like “buying a security system for your house and then not turning it on.”

Remember the Ohio debacle in 2004? Here’s the Secretary of State’s statement and report on Project EVEREST that looked into it.  In it they conclude that Ohio’s optical scanners (ES&S M100) can be hacked by simply flipping and unprotected write-protect switch on the scanners CF card, either accidentally or on purpose. Jon has another good article on the report. To further quote the report about other methods of hacking the scanners:

To put it in every-day terms, the tools needed to compromise an accurate vote count could be as simple as tampering with the paper audit trail connector or using a magnet and a personal digital assistant.

I can only assume that people really have not thought through what is at stake nor the technical issues, or they simply misunderstand it all. To somehow conflate this with Ron Paul’s minions or associate those who mistrust the system with conspiracy nuts, is in itself nuts.


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    • YetiMonk on January 12, 2008 at 12:34

    fair and accurate elections?!  

    • pfiore8 on January 12, 2008 at 16:07

    every reason to make sure machines are, in fact, accurate.

    clinton should be the first one stepping up to say: RECOUNT and reassure the voters.

    • Temmoku on January 12, 2008 at 16:16

    Early voting ballots using the Diebold Machines…those all should be counted and not only in the case of “close” elections! Always count ALL the ballots!

  1. Cost?

    How the hell much can it cost….in comparison to what is stake? That seems to be the ONLY reason to object.

    What a ridiculous reason not to insure free and fair elections. What is the cost of not having a voting system we can trust? A few million bucks (if that) seems to be a small price to pay.

    • Nordic on January 12, 2008 at 18:52

    was none other than DHinMI, who is Kos’s own personal little hitman, an abusive bully whose technique of trying to “set the tone” at Dailykos is to abusively ridicule anyone who dares question the authority of Herr Kos.

    To say “Because I told you so” didn’t work for my parents, it doesn’t work when I use it on my kids, and it sure as hell doesn’t work with Democrats.  

    But that’s what they’re doing over at Kos.  “Do NOT support a recount in NH BECAUSE I SAID SO”.

    It’s infuriating, insulting, and deeply suspicious.

    Why would they oppose something that would only prove THAT THEY ARE RIGHT?

    I mean, they’re right, aren’t they?  🙂  

  2. I do distinctly remember M$M exit polls stating (are you ready?),a 49% approval rating for Bush?

    Mind you polling organizations do fall into the “media” category so you have a choice between corporation A’s opinion or corporation B’s opinion.  

  3. Whenever there’s so much at stake, whether it be the finances of a business or government, or the integrity of the election process, IMHO, objective routine statistically significant audits are simply logical checks to ensure that everything is going as it should.  In the case of elections, I believe the audits should be done after each election, with members of each party (or candidate representatives in a primary) closely observing.  


  4. Wow.  NH is going to do a statewide recount.

    I hope it’s an actual recount, and not a “recount” like Ohio did in 2004.

  5. electronic voting machines.

    This is incredibly unacceptable.

    These ARE the hackable machines.

    They are using a voting system now banned/decertifed in other states:

    It will be interesting to see how DKos reacts to faith-based voting in SC….

    I have never been so shocked (and eye-opened) about attitudes at DKos, as in the last few days on this issue.

  6. is determinative of the value of the vote…..

    and therefor to the character of the putative democracy….

    ours or any others…..

    this can not be understated…..

  7. Cost is not a concern in New Hampshire.  As I pointed out (yes, that’s me; I can prove it if need be), Dennis will have to pay the entire bill unless he comes to within 3% of the winner.  And if that happens, whatever the cost to the taxpayers will be well worth it to learn of such a large discrepancy in the vote count.

    That said, I think donailin relayed a good point vis-a-vis chain of custody.  The recount in this case is likely to turn up the same count as the original without answering our questions and possibly bringing up worse.  Still, I don’t think there was much of a choice in the matter.  If Dennis was going to ask for a recount, he had to do it before Friday, which left him little time to make the decision.  And waiting for another state could be worse.  SC uses all touch-screen machines without a paper trail, as la urracca points out above, making a recount pointless (and an audit similarly useless).  IIRC, the pollsters won’t be doing any pre-vote polling in Nevada, so that makes a recount there less useful publicly.  Michigan is not useful since Hillary is the only candidate on their ballot.  Florida also won’t have any delegates.  So that leaves SuperVote Tuesday (or whatever it’s being called), and no one but Obama and Clinton have the money to call for recounts in all those states (well, minus those that use paperless voting like SC).

    The burden should be on the government to prove the elections are clean and fair.  The vote is how citizens exercise their direct power in our government.  If that power is being curtailed, then citizens lack their only direct means of influencing government, barring revolution.  If those who hold greater power wish to retain that power, it is just as much in their interest to ensure elections are clean and fair as it is in the people’s interest.

    Some of the methods that need to be used to ensure clean and fair elections are:

    • Mandatory audits of all elections.
    • Mandatory recounts in a statistically useful random selection of districts.
    • Mandatory voter-verified paper trail.
    • Recounts must use the paper ballots.
    • All audits and ballot counting (including recounts) must allow observation by the public (preferably including video made available on the internet).
    • Chain of custody must always be observable by the public (again, including video available on the internet).
    • In the event that a full recount is necessary, use public volunteers with public oversight to help cut down costs and time.
    • Simple, uniform ballot design across the nation.  That is, the process of casting your ballot should be the same, no matter where you live in the country.  The only difference should be in the names and issues up for vote.

    Some extra notes.

    Because I’ve talked with people who don’t know the difference, I want to remind everyone that ballot counting and ballot casting are not the same.  Casting ballots is the process of marking the ballot by individuals and should be done in secret.  Counting ballots is the process of reading and tallying the ballots and should be done in public.  Unless you mark your ballot with personally identifiable information, no one will know which ballot is yours when they read them.

    Machines can make casting ballots easier for those with disabilities, so I have no problems with using machines to cast ballots on the condition that the ballots must be printed out in human-readable form so that the voter may verify the ballot before casting it.  (There is no reason the printout couldn’t also include braille.)  The human-readable voter-verified printout would serve as the official ballot and paper-trail.  Audits and recounts would naturally use those print-outs.

    Audits and recounts are two different beasts.  Auditing deals not just with counting ballots, it’s also an examination of process and procedure to make sure everything has been done properly.  Both mandatory audits and recounts are necessary, and they should be performed by separate groups.  Thus, the vote is initially counted, an audit is performed, and a statistically useful sample of the votes are recounted.  If and only if all three match and the audit comes up clean is the election then considered valid.  Otherwise, a full recount must be initiated.

    I consider anyone who trusts their government to be either stupid, delusional, or living in a utopia.  The entire history of humanity is evidence that government is not to be trusted.  To advocate that it is incumbent upon the people to make the case that there is a problem with how any votes were counted before a recount or audit should be performed is to inherently imply the government is to be trusted.  I know that our nation is not a utopia because it is not perfect, nor can it ever be perfect (though that is never an excuse to prevent us from trying).  Therefore, anyone who advocates against recounting or auditing is either stupid or delusional (neither of which recognize party lines, I might add; I point to the various and sundry Daily Kos candidate diaries, and the included comments, as evidence).

    None of this addresses the fact that our voting system (plurality voting) needs to be replaced so that the interests of the people are better represented in our government.  While any sort of voting was almost revolutionary at the time it was implemented in the US, our current system has been proven to be riddled with problems.  There are many voting systems which we could use, all of which have advantages and disadvantages.  For our needs, almost all of them are superior to plurality voting to one degree or another.  If this issue is new to you, the links here are good starting points for educating yourself on voting systems.  It should become obvious why we need to change our current system.  The argument should not be over whether it is necessary, but rather which system to use.

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