Why Uniform Voting Systems will Make America Better
“In order to vote, why, why do we fill in circles on paper?” a student of computer science asked. She was sitting in on a Political Science class to understand politics better since she was thinking that maybe she could build a better voting system than the one in the news that everyone said was filled with ‘glitches.’
The state legislator who was standing in the front of the auditorium looked down at his shoes. It was a good question. He started to answer “Well, you see, we need…” and was suddenly interrupted by a heckler who yelled out “50 ways to leave your vote uncounted!” You could hear the chuckles in the auditorium.
The legislator firmly stated that Article I, Section 4 of the Constitution gave him the right to determine how the state conducts the voting. Standing next to this official was a member of the US Senate from a different state. He was about to argue that Article I needed to be updated to use Uniform Voting Systems across all states. Failing that, a separate election process should be instituted so that citizens could vote for just the Office of the President as part of a federal election.
The year is 2020. Imagine that we could still be in classes, together.
In the audience, everyone held their cell phone in their hand, waiting to text, fact-check, register for another event, or enter their credit card number to buy something online.
The world is electronic. Not Paper. The world is instant validation. Not weeks of sorting, counting, error checking.
In the year 139 BCE, Rome introduced paper ballots for the first time. It has been 2159 years since then, and we have a hell of a lot more people gathering to vote in the United States. It’s more complex today. And yet, easier.
So where are the new da Vincis and the Einsteins to revolutionize the thinking and the design for electronic voting systems?
High Stakes and Fair Elections
The outcome of a US election holds high stakes. The influence of the US in the world today is even greater than the influence Rome had in the world 22 centuries ago.
What makes the US unique is that we believe in full and fair elections. We really believe that every citizen’s vote matters. We know this is true because the right to vote is one of the five rights that we yearn for as part of citizenship in the US. (Freedom of Speech, Worship, Voting, Fair Trial, and Running for Elected Office)
Why Are We Using Systems that are Not Reliable?
Only an intent to fog the results could be a reason to use questionable systems in 2020. So where has the progress been? Why are we fighting, after the vote, for an audit? Couldn’t we have seen this coming?
There are many smart, technology-savvy people who are involved in politics. We have to ask ourselves, “Why are 20th century systems being used in the 21st century?”
The disputed Dominion and Smartmatic systems are used in over half of the states in the US. Every day we hear of votes miscounted and miscalculated. Do the discrepancies, blamed on fabricated ‘glitches,’ come from how the system was programmed, or are they caused by how the system is used / overrides by a systems administrator?
This question is tearing the US apart.
Is it possible that a programmer can rig the election of the most powerful country in the world?
Who Makes the Decisions?
Each state has the right under the Constitution to manage the voting process as they see fit. Let’s look a bit more closely at this state right.
The Constitution in Article I section 4 says that Congress and State Legislatures are to regulate the “times, places and manner of holding elections for Senators and Representatives.”
That is, the vote for Senators and House of Representatives members. Not for the President of the US.
It has merely been convenient, but not required, to have the vote for a federal office, such as the President of the United States, to occur at the same time and place.
Managing the voting process within each State, the official responsible for selecting the technology has tremendous power and can either keep the vote true or corrupt the result.
Transparency and Confidence
To keep voting processes a bit more honest, ask that each state official’s name and political affiliation be published and easily findable. Just to ensure that there is no political chicanery.
Then, publish the Request for Proposal and the associated Requirements that were used to evaluate the Voting Systems selected by each State.
By knowing the voting system and the manner by which it was selected and implemented, we can increase our confidence that our vote will be counted.
Uniform Voting Systems for the Office of the President of the United States
There is no compelling reason to use the state-selected voting systems for the vote for the President. It can be, and should be, a separate vote, using federally approved systems. The result of this popular vote can then be processed according to the rules of the Electoral College to select the most important office of the United States of America, the Office of the President.
Do we have the technology? Of course. We have the thought process and the ability to design, develop, and implement systems that are auditable, accurate, and Made in the USA.
For heaven’s sake, our national security depends upon these systems.
Validating the Voter in Three Steps
With all the concern about whether there are more votes counted than voters registered, we need to step into the 21st century and use all the brilliance of modern software systems.
We can validate the voter using three simple steps:
Unique ID: Use an identifying unique number (preferably the Social Security number) to associate to every citizen because only citizens can vote in a federal election.
By State: Cross reference to the publicly available computerized voter rolls from each state where each voter registers. This is important for the Electoral College counts. It also prevents a citizen from voting in more than one state.
Serial Number: Allow a print function so that after the vote has been performed, the citizen can print out a ‘receipt’ or ‘proof of voting’ so that if contested, there is a paper trail that has a unique serial number associated to the vote.
The result? Every legal vote cast is counted. And counted once. Moreover, you, the citizen, know that your vote was counted.
Validating the Voting System in Three Steps
Still concerned? These are another three steps to give you some comfort that the voting system is trustable. The steps are seriously complex but in summary they are:
Locking the program: Immediately before the voting begins, the computer program is ‘audited’ to confirm that the counting process is correct. Then it is ‘locked.’ Anyone opening the program will be traced. Each transaction performed is part of the record like a ‘black box’ in an airplane
Tracing your vote. Imagine that you have voted and, similar to a purchase, the screen says, “You selected Candidate X, are you sure?” You select “Yes” and the screen shows a serial number and offers you to print out or send to you as an email or text. Then you can go to the voting system later and enter your serial number and a password and it will show you what your vote says. You maintain visibility into the status of your vote in the system.
Audit the Vote: By sample testing using serial numbers, the count can be audited for accuracy. Similar to an exit poll, some voters volunteer to say the Candidate for whom they voted only this time, the voter volunteer provides her serial number and the vote which is compared to what the voting system carries. This statistical sampling gives comfort that what was done by the voter is accurately counted by the voting system.
You can let your imagination continue to defeat a possible new voting system with all sorts of evil plots by mad geniuses. However, be comforted that there are many more layers of relevant data security that would be included. Suffice it to say that this process described would be a 100% improvement on what we are doing today. Plus, a uniform voting system process increases the probability that every legal vote will be counted.
We have moved past this topic in our day-to-day transactions. Privacy concerns should no longer be an issue in the 21st century. Why? Because every transaction you make is known.
Think about it, to get a bank account and a debit card or credit card you need a Social Security number. To get on a plane, you need a Real ID or a passport. To pay your taxes, you need a Social Security number. To get paid, you need a Federal ID number / Social Security number. Even to get a welfare check, you must have a Social Security number.
So, you are known. Stop whining that you want anonymity because it does not exist anymore. Technology is a part of our world, we are all connected, and you are known.
Federal Government and Voting
If the federal Government were to undertake such a project of a President Voting System, using the same urgency as Operation Warp Speed, we could have a 21st century system in place in a jiffy. Then our important vote for President could be validated without going through the political mire of the State courts and ultimately the US Supreme Court.
Impact on States
Picture this: once the federal government implements the President Voting System, the states could have a choice. Following the Constitution, the State Legislatures could select to use the President Voting System or use Dominion / Smartmatic or other voting systems.
It is probable, however, that a 21st century system that validates the voter would be preferable to a 20th century system that fails and is not auditable. The damage done in time, credibility, and money is too expensive.
The choice to use a reliable and trusted system instead of a faulty system would become easy. Eventually, the President Voting System, which would be Made in the USA, would be selected by most of the states. Why? Because it fits with how we perform every other transaction. It makes sense. It’s auditable. It’s verifiable. It’s convenient. It’s the American Way.
If we want confidence that at least the vote for the President is accurate, true, and fair, then we need to separate the voting process for the Office of the President.
We can and should use the power of the federal government to put a 21st century system in place.
It is vital to our national security and critical for our country to believe that we are one nation, indivisible, with a full and fair process for electing the President of the United States.
We don’t need 50 ways to vote. We need one, uniform voting system for the President.
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