Thursday, August 1, 2019

Vote Counts, Part II

We’re talking about counting votes, and how votes are counted. In Part I we talked about why the Electoral College is still a good idea and why the National Popular Vote (NPV) compact is a bad idea.

Just one of the significant reasons this is a bad idea is that we can’t get an accurate vote total. It’s just not possible in our current reality. Today, in Part II, we'll cover some of the details of why accurately counting all votes is an unattainable wish.

Harris County, Texas, where Houston is located (and where I live), has been an epicenter working toward voter integrity for a long time[i]. Alan Vera has been working for ballot security as his main battle for the past decade—and has trained people around the country on these issues. (He trained me as a poll watcher.) He spoke at our local Tea Party meeting a couple of weeks ago, reporting on the legislative session, and generally about ballot security issues.

Hart e-Slate machine
image from here

We have, in this county, what Vera believes is the gold standard for electronic voting machines, the Hart e-Slate. It has passed every test for every election, without fail. But, as of the last election, all countywide offices were won by Democrats, and the new County Clerk isn’t about voter integrity; she’s about getting particular results.

One of her “innovations” is countywide voting. This has been allowed in certain counties of Texas—mainly small, rural counties, where it makes some sense, where poll workers are likely to recognize their neighbors who come to vote. But she initiated it here without state approval for our May special election (a day for school boards, city councils, and other smaller things that don’t happen at the usual November election time—an issue for another day).

During early voting—the two weeks prior to voting day—we have citywide voting. You can vote at any designated voting location in the county. A computer system is set up to get the voter data and update it online supposedly immediately. People like the flexibility. But there’s a limited number of polling places, about three dozen. They’re spread out across the county, an area roughly the size of the state of New Jersey, so it takes a good twenty minutes to drive from one to another. It would be hard for a nefarious voter to vote at one place and get to another one before the system updated to prevent him from voting at another location.

But on election day we typically have as many as 800 polling places in the county. When they’re set up by precinct, you can more or less guarantee that you won’t overcrowd a place too badly. But when people choose their own voting location based on convenience to their work or whatever, you don’t know what kind of bottlenecks you’re going to cause. That’s just one problem.

But, back to the updates. My polling place is located in a middle school. The elementary school next door is a voting place for the adjacent precinct. It’s a two-minute walk.

Alan Vera
image from here
How long does it take for the “immediate” updates? Alan Vera and team did experiments to find out.

What needs to happen is that electronic poll books (a handy little tablet we now use, that works pretty well, I think) needs to register that a voter was given a code, and then relay that information to all the other voting locations to indicate that particular voter has voted and cannot vote again. During early voting, locations are set up to have good internet and quick updates. Training tells polling judges that they are instantaneous, so they shouldn’t worry. But in the many locations on a regular election day, they could be in schools, where internet access may be blocked, or there may be interference. It took as short as around 20 minutes for a machine to update to as long as 17 hours. The team even found that it took a half hour for the e-pollbook to update to the adjacent machine at the very same voting location, which should be instantaneous. Vera has the data now to prove that the county cannot qualify for countywide voting.

There’s also a push toward throwing out the secure and accurate e-Slate machine and spending billions of dollars on a combination of electronic and paper system. You print out your vote, and then the machine has no other record. What could go wrong?

There’s a requirement to use electronic systems that meet a minimum standard, enacted eventually following the 2000 debacle in Florida. Paper ballots have always been subject to fraud.

Back in 2004, in the Washington State governor’s race, Christine Gregoire won against Dino Rossi, on a third recount, after Rossi had won by 261 votes, when all of a sudden, well after the close of the election, someone says, “Oh, my, I almost forgot. I have these boxes of ballots sitting out back in my shed. We have to count those.” And, lo and behold, they counted and counted until the total changed the outcome.

Look now at California. The governor has declared that they will give driver’s licenses to illegal aliens, and a driver’s license is the only requirement to vote. In other words, they are declaring that the vote total in California will include as many illegals as they can get to vote.

That means that, if the NPV compact were to be in effect, the vote outcome in any state in the compact would depend on the votes of illegal voters in California. And the outcome of the entire US presidential vote would depend on votes that should not count.

The reality is that we do not count all votes. We count enough to determine the outcome. All votes available and certified on election day get counted. Provisional votes take more time and depend on case-by-case circumstances. Mail-in votes—a larger portion and a growing fraud problem—get counted if received on time, but there may be leeway based on postmark date (different rules in different jurisdictions). Military votes that arrive this way tend to be left out of the count, unless there’s a recount that requires a more accurate count of all votes. If they’re deemed mathematically unlikely to change the outcome, they get left uncounted.

Then there are the disputed votes. Overvotes, for example, where more than one candidate is marked on a ballot (not possible on a certified e-Slate machine, but common on any kind of paper ballot and some other systems). This is the kind of detail that makes recounts slow and tedious and makes the outcome uncertain for long periods of time.

And there are issues of fraud that come up. If, for example, a particular voting place was found to contain an extra several hundred votes that all have the same signature—that means a poll worker, probably in cahoots with the presiding judge, found names from the precinct that hadn’t voted and they input votes for those names, signing each person’s name without even trying to disguise the signature. Yes, that has been done, in Harris County. And that was when each precinct was separate. With countywide voting, there could be such fraudulent voters who put in every name in the entire county at every voting place and truly mess up the accuracy of the count.

With NPV, there would be incentive for such fraud to take place—at any and every voting location that wasn’t run by honest Americans and watched over by other honest Americans from the opposing party.

Imagine how much discord there would be if states used this combination of fraud and NPV to prevent a win to a Republican president. Constitution-loving Americans would not stand for being subjugated under a corrupt, illegitimate ruler. It would end the centuries-long peaceful turnover of power that our founders designed.

The national vote total is not how we elect a president. It isn’t even possible for us to count an accurate national vote. The Electoral College isn’t antiquated and outdated; it is more necessary than ever.

[i] I’ve written about election integrity here, here, here, and here

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