Election Day hash

voting_machine.jpg

Last week, Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie held a news conference to reassure voters that the state is free from the intentional or unintentional shenanigans in some other states that have roiled the confidence in the voting process.

Today, the New York Times’ lead editorial said voting rolls maintained by local officials “are one of the weakest links in American democracy and problems are growing.”

CNN today is carrying a report of a problem in West Virginia, where a touch-screen vote for Barack Obama is really a vote for John McCain.

This is one of the reasons I called Dan Wallach at Rice University this week (hear a portion of the interview on MPR’s Future Tense). Recently he gave his students some voting machines that he built based on the source code he’s seen from the commercial voting machines. He encouraged them to try to hack into them to make the results favorable to their candidate. They did it, and apparently, easily so.

Wallach says it’s possible to build a safe voting machine that works because he’s built one and he’s offered it — free — to the voting machine companies. They’ve never called.

At last summer’s Democratic National Convention in Denver, I attended a lengthy seminar on voting problems. It featured the secretary of state of voting-challenged Ohio as well as representatives of the voting machine industry. By the end of the day, it was clear we have a nutty system — or, rather, 50 of them.

Take North Carolina, Wallach says. There, voters have a choice to vote the “all Democratic ticket” or the “all Republican ticket.” But what many voters don’t know is the “all” option in North Carolina doesn’t include a vote for president. So people may not know that they really didn’t vote in the contest.

Wallach is sure there’s going to be a major polling place problem in the United States on Election Day. He doesn’t know where, although he says if it’s North Carolina, he won’t be surprised.

“Why not have one method of voting for the entire country?” I asked.

“I think that’s an excellent idea,” he said. ()

What arguments against it outweigh an accurate vote?

  • Bob Moffitt

    “Why not have one method of voting for the entire country?” I asked.

    You asked the right question. I would recommend the optical scan machine we use in MN (FL finally got wise and went this route), while “old tech,” it offers the speed of electronic voting macine with the vital backup of a real paper ballot.

    First, adopt the single nationwide system (fed pays). Next, start work on amending the Consitution to eleimate the Electoral College and go to direct popular election of the President & Vice President. Easy? No. Time to take off the training wheels? Yes.

  • http://www.trailblz.com Brian Hanf

    Bob- one argument against it – not that I am – is the States are supposed to self rule, by any Federal System covering elections would be viewed, by some, as infringement of that. (I know we have all these other Federal things, like I said some and not me).

  • Heather

    The North Carolina thing freaks me out. People generally know what “all” means, so who’s the bonehead making an exception to the definition in the voting machines? Dang.

  • Carolynn

    This is frightening. Why wasn’t this problem fixed after it surfaced 8 years ago? I’m starting to believe that our voting process is totally corrupt. How discouraging! Who will be the brave politician to step forward and fix this? I’m so over “state rights” when it comes to a federal election!

  • http://www.skyseastone.net/jvstin Paul

    Our patchwork of election laws and regulations may be uniquely American in its “local solutions to the problem” point of view, but I believe that its outmoded in this day and age.

    It would never fly, Bob, but my dream is:

    1. Election Day is a national holiday. Maybe that would help increase voter turnout.

    2. A nonpartisan Election Commission is set up to standardize voter registrations, ballot rules and actually run the elections in every district in every state. (I would make an exception for things like party caucuses–let the parties handle those).

  • Bob Collins

    I wonder if we made Election Day a national holiday if suddenly people would take Monday off, too, and make it a four day weekend, thus spending an extra day up at the lake.

    With our antiquated system requiring us to assemble in our home precinct, it may actually hurt turnout. On the other hand, if we could develop a decent voting machine, perhaps we could vote where it’s most convenient for us to vote, rather than being limited to our town.

  • daveg

    A nonpartisan Election Commission

    The words ‘commission’ and ‘nonpartisan’ are, IMHO, mutually exclusive. Especially when it comes to anything involving government.