Thursday, July 12, 2012

Right To Inspect Ballots Does NOT Conflict
With Right To Voter Privacy (the ".org" is important; there are other unaffiliated "BlackBoxVoting" sites with different top-level domain extensions) points to several states in which either election officials or state courts are denying citizens' requests to examine original ballots, asserting that doing so violates voter privacy. Both rights are intrinsic in America. Quoting from the linked article:
RIGHT TO INSPECT - The public, in exercising its right to self govern, and under principles of Freedom of Information, has a right to examine the original evidence (the ballots) to authenticate reported results in elections.


RIGHT TO SECRET BALLOT - The public also has a right to a secret, anonymous ballot.
At ground, there is no actual conflict between these rights: ballots from an election, paper or electronic, may be stripped of identifying information and published for inspection and (presumably) verification by interested parties.

But some states, e.g., Washington state on 21 occasions, have denied many requests by citizens to inspect ballots. And New Hampshire's 2003 Right-to-Know law included a provision, apparently never discussed publicly, explicitly exempting ballots.

Colorado has a different kind of problem: officials have been placing unique bar codes on individual ballots, allowing someone with the key to learn how any individual voted. So much for the privacy of the ballot! The judge in the Colorado case has threatened a gag order on proceedings, an act guaranteed not to inspire confidence.

Here's my personal interest in the matter, even though I don't live in one of the named states:
One voting machine vendor, Hart Intercivic, has been especially brazen about printing unique bar codes on each ballot, a dead cinch for stripping out data on how you voted with absentee voting. Hart dominates most Colorado counties (where absentee voting is approaching 50% of all votes), and Washington State, which is now 100% vote by mail.

Hart InterCivic manufactured the voting machines used here in Harris County, TX (i.e., a large part of Houston). The Hart InterCivic system was chosen by a Republican county clerk some years back. Word has it that all electronic voting system manufacturers are owned by Republicans; I have not personally verified that, but it's a troubling assertion if true. Mind you, I have no objection to Hart's voting machine interface; it's very straightforward and uses a finger dial instead of a touchscreen. But there's the same problem with the system as with any electronic system: its software inevitably stands between the "ballots" and the person wishing to examine them.

And those bar codes... those are news to me. You know how everyone says you should vote absentee because that way there's a paper ballot in case of a "recount" (word used with reservation)? Well, here's a counterbalancing reason not to do that: your ballot privacy is utterly gone.

Some people have said I have an unreasonably negative opinion of the Republican Party (just because I despise every policy it espouses, I suppose). But my biggest complaint has nothing to do with policy positions: it is that the GOP acts in ways that are antidemocratic (small-d) every chance it gets. And this is one of those chances.

Democracy is meaningless if the votes are manipulated: deleted, diluted, whatever. It's also meaningless if votes are individually identifiable, so that people can be threatened (or bribed) based on how they actually voted. And it's meaningless if independent organizations are prohibited from examining the cast ballots to verify the election results (which is trivially always the case with e-voting systems).

You want democracy, for real, not just the appearance? Paper ballots, with a strict chain of custody and a counting process involving representatives of all interested parties, are still the way to go, after more than two centuries of use. Take all your electronic voting systems to the middle of an ocean and deposit them in the deepest trough you can find. I understand fish don't care if their votes are secret and properly counted.



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