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February 07, 2008


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Well professor, you raise some very interesting points. I'm all for using technology, so long as fears about security are addressed. People are resistant because they know there is a lot more at stake here than one's checking account in compromised voting machines. Most people also fear what they don't understand, and most people have no idea what electricity is let alone how semiconductors work or computer code is written.

But a lot of that fear is legitimate given the potential costs of rigged elections. We live in a country that went to war without a declaration in a country that posed no threat to us based on widespread intentioanl dissemination of misinformation about the theat that cuontry was to us. I'm no consipracy theorist, but there are vested interests at work in the highest levels of government in maintaining the status quo, especially when it comes to military spending. If these interests were able to successfully bring us to this point, spending more on the defense budget (not including war and nuke maintainence costs) than we have since WWII (as a % of GDP), having billions spent each year on an endless war, maintaining bases and weapons systems that we no longer need, rigging an election to favor their candidates does not seem so far fetched, especially if the makers of such voting machines have certain partisan ties, which they do.

But the even more interesting part of your post is increasing the ease and decreasing the costs of voting, which should be our #1 priority. We get Christmas off but not election day? Columbus day but not election day. ATM voting is genius, espcially if people are sent one time uese cards. But more ingenious would be to make not just election day a national holdiay twice a eyar, but the day before it so people have time to actuallys tudy teh issues and candidates. Imagine how much better our democracy would work if there was a social norm to study the issues and vote, and shame associated with non-partcipation.

But again, there is a reason why election day isn't a national holiday, and why republicans consitently fight against voter particiaption and making voting easier. They don't want voting to be easy, they don't want same day voter registration, or voter registraion at the DMV. They want ID cards to be able to vote. They want disenfranchisement. Non-participation serves the status quo and monied Republican interests.

Tom Zeller

The ATM analogy is attractive but flawed. The key difference is the need for anonymity in voting. With ATMs the bank knows who did what and each user gets a physical receipt. With voting machines at the end of the day there's just a number. Is it right? Even if the machine had to be rebooted? There's no audit trail. I think paper fill-in-the-circle ballots give the best of both worlds. fast counting via scanning but a paper trail for recounts.

Samuel Myler

Let me start out by saying that I admire the willingness of all of those individuals that participate in this blog to open themselves up to criticism.

It is on a rare occasion that I find a post on this blog that is not beyond my comprehension. This is one of the rare occasions.

I think that the comments posted by LAK regarding the hesitance of republicans in making voting easier are correct. Voting can be made much easier and can be made easier with relative ease, so why not? Of course, any new voting system is going to have a potential for misuse, but the system we have now if far from perfect, and I would claim that it's greatest imperfection lies in its disuse.


I am assuming that ATMs now or in the future can be programmed so that there is no record of who voted, or at least no more so than at my local votting place. This seems easier to accomplish at ATMs than with absentee ballots.
I don't mind conspiracy theories from time to time, but it seems awfully unlikely that anyone conspires to keep millions of voters from the polls. As far as I know, all surveys suggest that those who have not voted have quite similar preferences, if that is the right word, as those who do vote. Indeed, one explanation for "rational" voting and non-voting behavior, is that many who do not vote see from pre-election polls that the electorate represents "their" views. In any event, if I were inclined to cynicism here, it would be to the view that if millions of new voters materialized, and they had very different wishes or frustrations, then politicians would, with their usual entrepreneurial skill, adjust a bit to capture these new voters.

Sam Myler

There are myriad ways to ensure anonymity while at the same time having some sort of a paper trail, some sort of receipt scheme could work. If we are worried about people stealing each others cards to vote at these machines, why not just use assigned pin numbers that voters get when they first register to vote. While I am not sure exactly how it would work, I am positive there is a way to make it work.

So, like you said, why not? Maybe the people who would institute this change have no real incentive for doing so. I mean, they were already elected using our good ol' fashion paper system.

Finally, in our economy, an economy that has been accused of being excessively capitalist, I find the idea of voting at ATM machines to be completely appropriate, and kind of funny. Why haven't we thought of this before!


Well professor, that's exactly why it is so important, because as a statistical matter those who do not vote *don't* have very different wishes and frustrations, and don't . Those who vote are statistically skewed toward white people, educated people, wealthier people and older people. I'm pretty sure the census backs me up here. Blacks, Hispanics, the poor, the uneducated and the young are all underrpresented in the population of voters as compared to the population at large. If I have time I'll look up some stats.

So if you had a massive increase in voter participation through the adoption of national holidays and easy to use APMs (and that's nothing to say of what I'm for - mandatory polling participation even should you choose to refrain from voting), presumably it would dampen the current skew in them distribution of voters, and more non-white, non-old and non-upper middle class voters would participate as a percentage of the total.

And that would be great, because politicians *would* have to adjust as you note, and this would almost certainly mean that the [perceived] political middle would shift to the left. As you taught me, politicians that win are all moderate and hug the political center for damn good reason so this would actually affect who ends up running things (Obama considered a moderate? A man can olnly dream.) Such a shift to the left in voting demographics would almost certainly favor the party that would spend on education, social welfare and who doesn't hate immigrants (though you could argue greater participation of hispanics, the poor and the young wouldn't cause a shift to the left I suppose. I wouldn't believe you though).

I don't think I'm being a cynic or a conspiracist when I claim that there is good reason Republicans are consistently opposed to making voting easier. I think if you had a massive increase in participation, the middle moves left.


I think the only reason people bring up voting technology issues in close elections is that the real problem with election-related problems are the voters themselves. Low IQ, uneducated, and ignorant voters will have a hard time mastering any system. It's hard for High IQ people to fathom quite what life is like for these people, but the idea that you only vote for one party, bubble in a single choice, or look on the front and back of a ballot is difficult for these folks. And, since so many are poor, there are many more of them in the Democratic camp. Any system devised will be a big challenge for these people, but Democrats can't admit this fact because it's embarassing, and it explains better than racism or a bad economy their endemic, multigenerational poverty.


"They don't want voting to be easy, they don't want same day voter registration, or voter registraion at the DMV. They want ID cards to be able to vote. They want disenfranchisement. Non-participation serves the status quo and monied Republican interests."

Leave it to Lak in one breath to remind us how he's certainly no conspiracist but in the next breath to lay minority voting ennui at the GOP's doorstep. (And I thought, btw, that the WMD disinformation- campaign comment was a particularly relevant nexus(assuming one enjoys non sequiturs)to minority voter indifference.

Yea, it's all the damn republicans' fault. That's precisely why, say, all but six percent of 40 million Hispanics opt to stay the fck home rather than register. Ain't it great when a keep-the-status-quo-we're-all-golfing-buddies plan comes together.

The first tee-time is set for 8am, btw, just after the election of Barack. WASPS only, please. But dont concern yourself with Obama's race and ethnicity just now, as it might further corrupt this debate with some ugly truths.

Of course, in keeping with Lak's goofy theory and his suspension of common sense, one needs to accept (staying with my first example) some general conditions concerning the Hispanic volk: that they are somehow clever enough to overcome either their oft-complex immigration status or citizenship duties, but somehow equally inept at overcoming those GOP-planted voting hurdles.

Mysteriously, 35 million or so mostly impoverished Hispanics managed to figure out the daily challenges of surviving a hi-tech US culture, many of them relocating, obviously, while unable to even speak English, but only 2 million or so were able to wade thru the Gordian knot of a voting process that the GOP has saddled, confused and enslaved them with. There's national subterfuge as a fine art. Oppression in plain view behind the veil of the voting booth.

Uh, huh. And I don't suppose we might stop to consider the fact-ty to pause here, folks-that the forever-egalitarian democratic party who shall set ye free has ruled the damn congress, and the election process, for about 75 percent of the last 90 years. Oops. Minor detail. Somebody do the math. Just a minor detail, indeed, counterbalancing Lak's non-conpiracy, conspiracy theory that's worth mentioning.

Yep, all those lingering, mystifying voting hurdles are...all together now...the secret design of the oppressive, GOP oligarchy. But don't dare look behind that 75 year curtain. You might not spot the GOP. And you might spot the democrats. Or worse, you might spot the real answer, if you look close enough, that you don't want to accept as to why many folks ain't voted, haven't voted and probably won't vote. Ever. No matter how easy it becomes or regardless of who's in charge.

Cause they don't give a rat's ass about politics. Shit like survival is a bit more meaningful than the abstractions.




Resh, I accept everything you say. I did not mean to sound like I was blaming the lack of voter turnout on Republicans alone or their intentional conduct alone. Indeed, Democrats are benefitted by the status quo as well, as they represent different, though less offensive and destructive, monied special interests than Republicans to be sure, and certianly benefit themselves and the wealthy parties they represenet from a manageable electorate.

But the fact is while both parties are to blame, Republicans do far more to thwart voter participation. I don't think you can or would dispute that. It's certainly not the sole cause of poor voter turn out (nor did I ever claim as much) but merely a contributing factor.

As is poverty, as is poor education as you note. As is not feeling a part of the country, or the democratic process. And that is why a vast change in social norms with respect deomcratic particiation is needed. And that is why strong public schools are needed as well. These are more significant factors in poor voter turnout. People need to understand why it is important to vote and that votingr eally matters. The fact that it is very difficult to vote, especially for the working poor who work long hours and often have limited means of transportation and time to spare, and espcially for those with poor education and limited english skills for sure.

As you'll note, I call for elections to have 4 days of national holidays each year to allow for easier voter participation. And as I'm sure you're aware, I also call for radical changes in public school funding which would certainly help educate and assimilate all those Hispanics toward whom you clearly feel some animosity and quite obviously from whom you feel a threat.

But you should keep working on your satire. Lord knows the world needs good satirists. You're almost there.


And Resh, the topic of this post was why people are fearful of using automatic voting machines. I don't think it is off topic to cite the fact that were are spending a trillion dollars on a bullshi*t war based on outright misrepresentations and systematic disinformation and fear campaigns at the behest of the large military industrial complex as reason why people would be fearful of voting machines that can be manipulated by those interests with a command of sophiticated technology and power enough to get us to go to war for no reason.

What scares the hell out of me was that the influence happened in the normal institutional channels. It wasn't Dick Cheney in a smokey room, it was the collective but indiviudal action of very powerful and numerous special interests doing exactly what comes naturally in acting in their own self interest. There is no head we can chop off here. If only there was. That's what makes this war even scarier. A smokey room and some consiprators would be an easier problem to deal with than the reality which is entrenched institutional economic power and influence across any number of industries that benefit when people are killing each other on a massive scale.


Hi Lak-

Nothing wrong with a bit of satire when, on a "bright, cold day...the clocks were striking thirteen." It adds a little spice on this frosty afternnon in Philly to the omnipresent big brother watch that scents your little narratives.

But I'm happy to hear that you've now indicted the left as much as you did earlier the right. Inclusiveness is such a wonderful idea.

Speaking of which, and adding to your candor, I didn't mean anything untidy toward the Hispanics. They were used to visibly instantiate the point, since they are our lrgest minority, that voter indifference and neglect transcends the putative machinations of the status quo. Some acts, Lak, harmful as they may be, derive from our own volition. Staying home on election day just might be one. You can ask the 35 million Hispanics or the 100 million others who feel the same.

I do agree that four days holiday and better education would enhance the democratic exercise, but why stop there?

If your goal is to maximize voter prticpation, than utilize the glories of capitalism to achieve it. Why not award free college tuition or an equal tax credit as an option to those folks who vote? Give the voters a voucher to buy food for a month, or to pay off the car. Cmon, Lak, think out of the box, will ya'.

Quit screwing around with bandaids like extra days off to vote or improved voting techniques. Yawn. Put your money where your mouth is. Enlist the Mayor Daley approach. If a person votes, pay 'em.

Just watch. You'll have an endless queue of Jeffersonian angles at the polling booth before the banks open. But than, with money in their pockets, they might vote for the GOP, wouldnt they?



edit...then for than. Twice.


Massive numbers of Hispanics don't vote because something like 10-20 mm of them are illegal immigrants or their armies of underage children, neither of whom can vote.

Alex Macfie

The fundamental problem with e-voting is that a voting machine is a 'black box'. Votes are put in, and a result is later spat out. There is NO WAY of finding out whether it is the correct result without violating the secret ballot. How do you know the voting machine didn't make the result up? The answer is, you don't.

You say that conventional voting mechanism have problems. But hanging chads, lost ballots and stolen boxes are all issues that are visible to any election observer, and can be resolved. If there is a problem with a voting machine, there is often no way of knowing about it. Conventional voting mechanisms work because there are many people observing the process at every stage, and can see what is going on. That is not possible with electronic voting, because you need to be an expert to understand what is going on inside the black box.

If a mark, or a punch, on a ballot paper, is disputed, then someone can make a decision on whether it's a valid vote, and for whom. If ballots or ballot boxes are lost or stolen, then this is known about (the election officials know how many ballot and boxes there are supposed to be), and the election can be annulled if appropriate. If votes are lost because of a bug in the voting machine, or deliberately programmed to favour one particualar candidate, then there's no way of identifying this, or even any reason to suspect that there was a problem.

That is why electronic voting meets so much resistance. It is not a case of resistance to technology. In fact it's the other way round. Supporters of e-voting want it simply *because* it involves technology, and for no other reason. Opponents include many I.T. people, especially computer security experts who see the risks and are realistic about what can be achieved in their field. It's technology for the sake of technology, a solution in search of a problem.

Conventional voting mechanisms *work* --- the best being one involving making a pencil-mark on a piece of paper and stuffing it into a box. Hi-tech ones do not work for secret ballots, and never will.

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