Tuesday, November 02, 2004

They Haven't Counted the Vote Yet

I had a thought this morning. No matter who wins the election that is taking place today, I am going to have zero confidence that the results are not manipulated by fraud. Even if there weren't concerns about fraudulent voter registrations, or poorly-designed ballots, or people improperly removed from the voter rolls, the people who count the votes are human, and are hardly impartial.

But I couldn't think of a solution. Electronic voting just gives the power to rig elections to the hackers who wrote the software. Handwritten ballots wouldn't be as irrefutable as they might seem (how do you count a vote for James H. Carry?). And even if the idea of "registering" to vote seems silly, the alternative would allow people to easily vote multiple times. Even the early voting that's so popular this year seems to be rife with opportunities for fraud.

Then I thought of a solution, and it would work, and cut fraud to zero, but it would be a huge break with tradition, and would probably cause a number of other problems. (I can even foresee a couple of them.) The idea is this: Eliminate the secret ballot.

That's right, you read that correctly: Your vote must be cast publicly. I imagine that every vote as it's cast goes onto a web site which says "John Smith, of 123 Fourth St., votes for the Sensible Party. Mary Jones, of 125 Fourth St., votes for the Silly Party." This way, every voter knows that his vote has been counted and counted correctly; there's no anxiety that an unscrupulous or incompetent poll worker may have "lost" your ballot.

Even better, it would allow a very close vote, as in Florida in 2000 and likely in more than one state in 2004, to be resolved far more quickly. If a voter is stupid and can't read the ballot, he will have immediate feedback: "Hey, I didn't want to vote for that yutz!" If a voter says he's been disenfranchised, someone can point and say, "See, here, Mark Johnson, 678 Ninth St., Silly Party." And if fraud appears to have occurred, we can see if Zebadiah Pinchleyfeather really lives at 765½ Dung Beetle Alley, or if in fact such a person even exists, or if there's even a house with that address.

Now, I can foresee problems with public voting. For one, dissenting voices are less likely to vote if that vote is published for all to see. For example, while I praise the rise of the black Republicans as a huge step toward putting racism behind us, black Republicans are still a small minority within the "black community," and there may be social or even financial consequences to voting for the "wrong" party. The same could be said of a Democrat in a heavily Republican area. A long-term result of this could be that precincts tend toward turning in 100% of the vote for a particular party.

I think, for purposes of fraud, public voting is foolproof. Am I wrong? And what are the other unforeseen consequences to doing away with the secret ballot?


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