Here’s An Idea- Pencil and Paper

Why are we trying to change what really doesn’t need to be fixed?

19 replies
  1. 1
    Benjamin Cisco says:

    Personally, I’m waiting for the inevitable rickroll.

  2. 2

    Pencil and paper can be hacked too, can’t it? Don’t get me wrong–I hate black box voting and hope that one of these days, a hacker gets through during an election and makes the Flying Spaghetti Monster the next Congressperson from the state of Idaho just to show that the problem is a serious one.

  3. 3
    Napoleon says:

    I am an attorney and I took a 2 ½ day seminar on banking law in DC in 2000 (in fact it was after the election but before they figured out who had “won”) and part of it was about how at that time it was possible to make the checking system completely paperless and if they wanted eliminate the Fed’s regional branches, but that politicians were basically afraid to because grandma wouldn’t trust a system that didn’t have a paper trail.

    Less then 10 years later and in the shadow of that 2000 election and politicians somehow think a paperless elections system won’t cause grandma to doubt the trustworthiness of elections.

  4. 4
    Napoleon says:

    @Brian S (formerly Incertus):

    Pencil and paper can be hacked too, can’t it?

    In a manner of speaking, but go and read accounts of actual stolen elections, like, say, the account of LBJ’s Senate campaign from the book Means of Accent. The votes/voting logs tend to make it easy to see that one person cast all the votes in question. For all you know in an electronic system a dog pressed the button.

  5. 5

    @Napoleon: Yeah, that’s why I tend to like the combo option–optical scan ballots. There’s the human side of actually putting pencil to paper and marking a choice and the machine side of doing the counting–counting that can be replicated by humans, whether to audit the machines or just to do a hand count. It’s not a fail-proof system, but it’s the one that fails the best, so far as I can tell.

  6. 6
  7. 7
    jwb says:

    What I find odd is the great resistance by the political establishment to fixing the systems. Cost may certainly be a factor, but it doesn’t seem like it explains the depth of the resistance. Really, it comes off as though they don’t want to fix it. The real question is why, since both parties appear resistant to fixing it.

  8. 8
    jayackroyd says:


    The only thing electronic systems add is speed. Speed is not material given the delay between the vote and the result of the vote.

    It’s really about the media wanting the story fast, rather than right.

  9. 9
    Dennis SGMM says:

    @Brian S (formerly Incertus):
    One of the things that Los Angeles County does right is using the InkaVote system. So far I haven’t heard of any move to replace it either.

  10. 10
    Belafon (formerly anonevent) says:

    Here’s what I think electronic voting would solve:
    1. Eliminates the problem of running out of ballots.
    2. Eliminates the need to be in the precinct you are voting in.

    Are we close to solving those problems with electronic systems right now in a secure manner? No, but we have to practice. And if you think about it, these types of advancements will help with secure communications.

    And we’ve always had problems with people manipulating elections.

  11. 11

    @Dennis SGMM: I live in Broward county, which was home to black box voting in the early aughts, and which is now on an optical scan system thanks to lots of people raising holy hell about it. And it was one of the few truly bipartisan things I’ve seen–neither party trusted the black boxes. Since at least 2006 there’s been a push by candidates from both major parties to get more people to vote by mail as well, which is fine with me. Anything to make the system more accurate.

  12. 12
    RSA says:

    @Brian S (formerly Incertus):

    Yeah, that’s why I tend to like the combo option—optical scan ballots.

    This is what’s used in my region of NC. It’s the best that I’ve come across: relatively efficient, understandable, auditable, and harder to hack than purely electronic systems.

  13. 13
    Emma (from FL) says:

    Personally, in my most paranoid moments, I think politicians don’t want to fix the problem because in the back of their heads there resides a niggling little voice repeating over and over this might be useful one day…. this might be useful one day…

  14. 14
    Dennis SGMM says:

    @Belafon (formerly anonevent):

    No, but we have to practice.

    Practice in a lab: good. Practice on real elections with real consequences for hundreds of thousands of people: not good.

    Although the first thing that people did after inventing elections was to figure out how to steal them, easily hacked electronic voting systems open to the door to magnitudes more of mischief.

  15. 15
    Laertes says:

    I imagine they do it for two reasons. First, new machines and new technology means tasty tasty contracts that can be dished out in exchange for kickbacks or other favors.

    Second is that politicians mostly aren’t engineers or programmers, and so don’t understand computing machines well enough to distrust them the way they ought to.

  16. 16
    Martin says:

    The problem isn’t the pencil and paper. The problem is that Americans are the stupidest fucking people on earth at dealing with security, and verification.

    Elections could be stolen with pencil and paper because they required shipping the ballots to a central registrar. Once they leave the public view, you’re fucked. You’ve lost trust and there’s NOTHING you can do to restore that.

    If you want untamperable ballots, pencil and paper, with counts at the polling place in the presence of an invited representative of each party on the ballot, and any public citizen who wants to watch the count is welcome to do so. The results are signed and copy given to each invited representative. The individual polling place counts are published publicly (as they are now) and everyone will know if there’s tampering with that part. The system works because it happens in parallel. If a party needs 1,000 votes, they won’t know it until it’s too late, and they have no way to communicate to the various polling places that they need to contest more ballots, and because the effort is distributed, you’d need a lot of people willing to push the legal limits for the party (which you’ll never get). Because it happens in parallel, complete results are compiled in a few hours.

    It’s not rocket science.

  17. 17
    Brad Friedman says:

    John – Thanks for linking up!

    Everybody Else – See Martin’s comment above! While I don’t have time at the moment to respond to each of the misconceptions posted in the other comments above it, Martin gets it just right.

    Fact is, a system of hand-marked paper ballots, decentrally counted at the polling place, by human beings who represented all parties, with all the citizenry watching and video cameras rolling and the results posted publically at the polls before those ballots move anywhere, is a VERY difficult system to game in such a way that it can effect an election — and certaiy not without a very high probability of getting caught.

    It’s also just about as fast as op-scan, or atleast that’s proven to be the case in many towns in NH, where they hand-count in 40% of the towns and often complete their counts before the op-scan towns do.

    Op-scans are easily hacked and “audits” can also be easily gamed, almost never happen and when probs are found in them, nothing ever happens to correct. We simply are forced to end up “trusting” in a concealed vote count.

    Finally, as to accuracy concerns, what do you do when you really really really need to know who won the closest of elections? Right, you hand count. If it’s accurate enough for the closest of elections, isn’t it accurate enough for ALL elections? It is Democracy’s Gold Standard after all.

    Thanks again, John and I hope that responds to many of the misconceptions and concerns in some of the comments above!

  18. 18
    Arclite says:

    Why are we trying to change what really doesn’t need to be fixed?

    To save costs and increase security of course! Oh, wait…

  19. 19
    Darkrose says:

    I’m a Chicagoan. My faith in the unhackability of paper ballots died sometime around 1982, when I first read Mike Royko’s Boss.

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