A Martian Looks at Election Day

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Tomorrow, election day will be only one week away. In this post I want to talk about two distinct subjects. First, I want to talk about the sort of calculation that a Martian might make when confronted by the choice we will face in the voting booth. Then, I’d like to paint a brief picture of what election day would look like, in a world where I didn’t want to claw out my eyeballs.

A Martian Looks at Election Outcomes in 2016

I say “Martian,” because a Martian is so detached that the 30,000-foot view looks like a close-up, and I think in this election detachment is a virtue (see above at “claw out my eyeballs”).

So a Martian would feel that despite the all the sound and fury, the numbers have not been that crazy (assuming one trusts them). Among registered voters:

RealClearPolitics has a similar chart averaging all the polls with a vertical scale that makes the swings a lot bigger. To me, the pattern of the race is that Clinton starts out with, and retains, a natural institutional advantage of around four points. Again from the head-to-head RCP chart, Trump has closed and then pulled even six times: September 2015, December 2015, February 2016, May 2016, July 2016, and September 2016. And each time either Clinton’s institutional advantages have re-asserted themselves, or Trump has shot himself in the foot (take your pick). Trump is closing now. Can he pull ahead and close the deal? Unknown. Based on past performance, no. Then again, as I remarked before the latest email eruption, “a week is a long time in politics,” Wikileaks has yet to drop its final shoe, and each campaign probably has a garbage truck full of oppo fired up and ready to go.

Paradoxically, Martians are not warlike, since the thin air, small population, and harsh conditions on Mars make war a species-threatening event. For the same reason, Martians prize the deep memories of elders while treating every child as precious. And Martians resist “Marsization,” because the one time there actually was a single, Mars-wide, cosmopolitan class of elite overlords they tried to invade the Earth, and who knows where that would have led! So if you were a Martian, and you believed that Clinton’s election would lead to a new war, and you believe that endorsing Bowles-Simpson and “hemispheric trade” in a speech at Goldman Sachs mean a Grand Bargain and TPP passage respectively, then you might look askance at a likely Clinton victory. What do do? If you had a Martian friend who followed American elections obsessively — this is similar to Southeast Asian countries where people obsessively follow English Premier League football — this is what your friend might tell you:

The last thing you want is for Clinton to be able to enact her (real, private) agenda. Sure, she might make some small good changes, but if you throw war, a Grand Bargain, and the surrender of national sovereignty with another so-called trade deal on one side of the scale, it’s hard to see what outweighs them on the other, at least in terms of concrete material benefits.[1] So, working on the assumption that Clinton will win, what you need is:

A Republican House. Here, the checks and balances built into the American system favor gridlock, and gridlock is your friend, since little legislation will get passed. Whether the House Republicans impeach Clinton if the Senate is in Democrat hands is an open question, but with Clinton having privatized the email server for her public office and the shenanigans at the Clinton Foundation, the Clinton administration will provide a target-rich environment. I woudn’t put it past them to try to take Clinton’s security clearance away!

A Democrat Senate. The emergence of left(ish) party barons with independent power bases is the untold story of election 2016. Warren is at least sound on banksters and financial power, and Sanders, while not a Bolshevik, is well to the left of the Democrat mainstream. That’s a Good Thing. Both are prolific fundraisers who don’t need the DNC. If the Republicans hold the Senate, the tendency will be for Democrats to stick together. If the Democrats do, then Baron Warren and Baron Sanders (and allies like Sherrod Brown) will feel more free to drag the party left.

A close race. If Clinton wins, she’ll claim a mandate if the margin is a tenth of a percent. But in the same way that anybody can print money, but the trick is getting other people to accept it, others will be less likely to accept her claim the closer the result is. (I think the result would have to be better than the four points Obama beat Romney by — 51.1% to 47.2% — and as of today, Clinton’s margin is 2.8% in RCP’s four-way average.) Of course, Bush claimed a mandate in 2004, too — true story: I managed to Google-bomb “Bush mandate” to Mandate magazine, back in the day when Google-bombing wasn’t hard — and proceeded to try to gut Social Security, whereupon the Democrats promptly gutted him and went on to win the 2006 mid-terms. But why make it easy?

So, that’s the Martian perspective on the race. Surprisingly or not, the personal characteristics of puny Earthling candidates are not a factor! Nor are cultural or class markers!

Elections on Mars

Here is how Election Day works on Mars. Again because of planetary and cultural characteristics, Martians reserve tricky and complex electronic devices for important things, like distributed Martian parallel chess, or space operas. They are also convivial, and they hate to be manipulated by large and opaque forces (that time the Jovians invaded). Obviously, I can’t provide links for most of this — the Uniform Resource Locator is a global standard, not an interplanetary one — but in short form:

1. On Mars, Election Day is a national holiday. That’s because Martians, unlike American Earthlings, think that everybody should have an equal opportunity to vote. Voting is equally easy for almost every Martian, whether they work or not.

2. The Martians use hand-marked paper ballots, hand-counted in public. This is remarkably similar to international standards on Earth (which the United States does not use):

Last March, the country’s highest court found that secret, computerized vote counting was unconstitutional. Unfortunately, the country was Germany, and the Constitution violated by e-voting systems was the one that the U.S. wrote and insisted Germans ratify as part of their terms of surrender following WWII.

Paul Lehto, a U.S. election attorney and Constitutional rights expert, summarized the German court’s unambiguous, landmark finding:

  • “No ‘specialized technical knowledge’ can be required of citizens to vote or to monitor vote counts.”
  • There is a “constitutional requirement of a publicly observed count.”
  • “[T]he government substitution of its own check or what we’d probably call an ‘audit’ is no substitute at all for public observation.”
  • “A paper trail simply does not suffice to meet the above standards.
  • “As a result of these principles,…’all independent observers’ conclude that ‘electronic voting machines are totally banned in Germany’ because no conceivable computerized voting system can cast and count votes that meet the twin requirements of…being both ‘observable’ and also not requiring specialized technical knowledge.

Hand-counting paper ballots is no good at all, argue critics, unless you really want to know who the actual winner of the election was…

After the verdict in the case — filed by a computer expert and his political scientist son — Lehto wondered how it could be that open, observable democracy is seemingly an inviolable right for “conquered Nazis,” but not, apparently, for citizens of the United States…

3. The Martians throw a big party at the precinct after the paper ballots have all been hand-counted. That’s partly because Martians are convivial, but also because the Martians think that democracy is important and ought to be celebrated. (Again, because the Martian population is small, they wish to begin the conciliation process between winner and loser immediately, lest fratricidal violence result, and there’s no better way to do that than over food.)

4. The Martians regulate all forms of political advertising for size (small) and frequency (not often), whether for candidates or policies. That’s because the Martians wish to minimize manipulatio by encouraging face-to-face forms of persuasion and deliberation in public venues wherever possible.

5. The Martians ban published polling data thirty days before the election. That’s because Martians believe that they each should vote for their own reasons, and that elections (unlike markets) are not (manipulative) beauty contests.


Crazy Martians! What are they thinking?


[1] Sadly, the time for an all-out assault on Republican “obstructionism” was 2009, when all the stars had aligned: The Republicans had no credibility, and the Democrats had the House, the Senate, the most powerful orator of our time (so it was said), in the White House, and a mandate for “hope and change.” Of course, Obama (assuming good faith) squandered this opportunity, starting with his inaugural speech, if not before.


And then there’s Evan McMullin, doing well in Utah. I haven’t seen any actual evidence that he’s Mitt Romney’s straw in case of some kinda electoral college debacle….

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. RabidGandhi

    If the Martians are as rational as you claim, then I doubt they would be able to distinguish clearly between HRC and Trump, as doing so takes far too much wishful thinking and an utter lack of priorities.

    I’m certain our rational Martians would be amazed at all the energy and resources spent on an election when there is serious organising that needs to be done that will ultimately have a far greater impact on the future than who wins some farcical electoral charade.

    Also, if they’re as anti-war as you state, then they might want to think about renaming their planet.

    1. craazyboy

      Well, we named it Mars, after some old earth warrior dude. They don’t call themselves Martians either.

      But Mars does have a comedy channel – Earth Central.

      1. REDPILLED

        “But Mars does have a comedy channel – Earth Central.”


        It also doubles as their horror channel.

    2. Optimader

      Well.. the Martian might differentiate based on which one used Citizens of Earth resources to kill alot of .. Citizens of Earth.
      Thats the one that has a cranial UV shield spectral analysis reporting dead gray protein strands coated in a blondish pigment with an inorganic lacquer unitizing matrix and take rest periods in a box with unknown properties that rests in a bed of Earth soil.

      The other one that hasn’t (as yet) killed any Citizens of Earth has a cranial UV shield composed of an unidentified microfiber mat that is cloaked with a spectral shifting orange substance held in place with a epoxy like unitizing matrix.

      The latter ones cranial sheild merits further inspection / field sampling for it potential use as a separation membrane in the failing pressure swing adsorption Oxygen concentrator core.

      Schedule for the next available specimen retrieval mission.

      1. jrs

        maybe they would wonder why we don’t seem to care about climate change and environmental destruction. So wait these human things have only really been able to live on one planet called Earth, they are destroying the livability of that planet, they are conscious enough to be aware of it, and they seem to spend their potential for collective action (politics that is) thinking about things of little matter like emails and Miss America.

  2. Jim Haygood

    ‘The Martians ban published polling data thirty days before the election.’

    Counts of early ballots according to party affiliation now are being published.

    WTF? Why are they doing anything other than locking these ballots in a mail sack until election day?

    So now we are to believe that election officials open the ballots, confirm the name and party affiliation … but then carefully refrain from tallying the candidate selection, since they don’t have a warrant for that?

    Ooh, ooh, that smell. Another reason I shitcanned voting for anybody.

    1. dk

      Information about who has already voted is published so that campaigns can eliminate these voters from their Get Out The Vote lists, and not spend resources chasing voters who have already participated.

      They don’t “open the ballots”, the sealed ballots have barcoded voter ID’s on them to identify the voter. The the county or the campaigns match the voter ID to the voter’s registration info. Not all states record a declared party.

      The ballots are unsealed and counted on election day (or after, it can take a while, see CA Primary 2016).

      1. human

        So … the early ballot count numbers are determined by party affiliation.

        All of this polling and early voting numbers are a crap shoot where 40% of the electorate considers itself independent.

    2. Oregoncharles

      I can only speak for Oregon, with a vote-by-mail system that has stood for a while:

      Voters receive a ballot and TWO envelopes: an internal “privacy” envelope, and an external one with their name on it, which they sign. So voters are checked off as their ballots arrive, without opening anything. At some poiint, they separate the privacy envelopes, with ballot concealed inside, from the external, signed envelopes, which I assume are kept. Doesn’t really matter when they do that, could be doing it as we type.

      The privacy envelopes are opened election day.

      I can see several ways to cheat on this system, one of which has happened (it was an election official, filling in unvoted positions for the Republicans). But all would depend on very poor supervision at the elections office. Because all ballots are counted at the county elections office, only the county-by-county results are sent, probably by email, to the SOS’s office for statewide tabulation. That eliminates a vulnerability, transmission from precincts to the central office.

      So far, we’re very happy with mail-in voting. It empowers voters and is very convenient. The caveat is that Oregon is a “clean” state, with minimal scandals. Not sure how well it would work in a “dirty” state: Illinois, Indiana, NY, for a few examples. Would need very aggressive supervision – but any system would.

    3. Lambert Strether Post author

      I should have banned early voting, too. It’s an utterly noxious idea that reinforces partisanship and renders the home stretch of the campaign irrelevant for a large part of the population. (Of course, to both parties, but especially Democrats this year, those are not bugs, but features.)

      I can only plead that data transmission rates from Earth to Mars are paltry, and the Martians needed confirmation that even Earthlings wouldn’t do something so stupid.

  3. shinola

    If one expects HRC will be elected (as I do) then, I don’t quite understand the suggestion to vote R for the house & D for senate. Perhaps I don’t quite understand this statement:

    “If the Republicans hold the Senate, the tendency will be for Democrats to stick together. If the Democrats do, then Baron Warren and Baron Sanders (and allies like Sherrod Brown) will feel more free to drag the party left.”

    If, as I understand it, this means an R majority senate is an opportunity to drag the D’s to the left. That would be a Good Thing! Wouldn’t an R majority in both house & senate increase the odds that there would be an impeachment attempt against HRC? (Another Good Thing – anything to distract HRC from warmongering would be good).

    I have my paper mail-in ballot in hand & ready to fill out and I would like to get it into the mail by tomorrow. Since there are no candidates who really “float my boat” I am reduced to “strategic” voting i.e. keep the pol’s squabbling amongst themselves and, hopefully, too busy to inflict more damage on the country or the rest of the world.

    1. Yves Smith

      No, no, no!

      The Clintons remain fully in control of the party apparatus.

      Having a R majority in the Senate and House gives Clinton every excuse to say she has to compromise and work with them. She can ignore Sanders and Warren.

      By contrast, with a Dem majority in the Senate, she is forced to deal with them.

      Just look at how it would play out on Cabinet positions. With a R majority, the Rs hold Clinton hostage. With a Dem majority, Warren and Sanders hold Clinton hostage.

      1. TheCatSaid

        In the recent interview (link in my comment below), when asked to speculate about outcomes, Bev Harris commented that HRC has the networks at local level to fixers who can do the necessary (including the Fraction Magic but not only that). Trump does not have the same network in place.

        If enough people request the ballot images (see end of Fraction Magic new Detail Version video) maybe it will make a difference–or at least enable remedies for future elections. Harris emphasizes the importance of local elections, which are happening every year. Local elections determine who will control contract-signing authority for contracts worth over $100 Billion a year.

        1. dk

          I’m not a big fan of Bev Harris says, but she’s dead right on that one, local elections count.

          And local representatives and officials can have a lot of influence over how state and federal policies are implemented and executed. And, small seats, city council, mayoral, and the like, are the first steps to higher office, the hatching grounds of future federal candidates.

          Aaaaand… redistricting is in 2020! Everyone needs to get on this. State legislatures set the districts. It’s critical.

      2. Synoia

        Warren and Sanders hold Clinton hostage…

        Can we hope they “accidentally” pull the trigger of the weapon holding Clinton hostage?


      3. shinola

        Ahh, makes more sense to me now – thanks for the expanded explanation. Strategic voting can be tricky.

        As a personal aside, the way the pres. candidates are arranged on the ballot gave me a chuckle; Stein is listed last, at the bottom. So I get the chance to actually vote FOR someone I would like see actually do (relatively) well and as a real, actual proxy for “none of the above”.

      4. uncle tungsten

        Hellary is only hostage to the extent that enough repugnants are available to vote with her on propositions that Warren, Sanders etc oppose. Won’t that come at a price?

        The volume of the repugnant hierarchy announcing for Hellary, there is every chance for bi-partisan new right business as usual. Obama will be able to say how wonderful bi-partisan deal making is for the USA.

        He could even become the leading bi-partisan deal negotiator AND accept small contributions from super pacs to his foundation for good global works.

        1. Yves Smith

          Warren all by herself was able to block two Obama appointments with the Republicans in control. She’ll have even more sway with the Dems and charge and potentially with Sanders as an ally, who now has a vastly increased bully pulpit and the ability to raise lots of money for other candidates. And that was without either even getting to a vote. She made a huge stink about the candidate’s backgrounds, and both withdrew their nominations as the whip counts were moving in Warren’s direction.

          1. Lambert Strether Post author

            The last date I can find Warren on the trail for Clinton is October 26, in North Carolina (which Trump must win to have a path to victory if he wins Florida, Iowa, and Ohio, where he leads). She said:

            If Richard Burr is just going to be Donald Trump’s lap dog, then let him go off and do that,” she said. “But the people of North Carolina need a strong, independent voice to fight for the families of North Carolina and that is Deborah Ross.”

            I hear a difference in tone. The blue part sounds like it’s Warren’s voice (“let him go off and do that” is very Warren). The red part sounds like some Clinton operative in Brooklyn wrote it out for her.

            Or maybe I’m being to charitable to Warren. She does tend to speak in terms of “families,” which rubs me the wrong way (a) because I’m not married, (b) there are all sorts of domestic arrangements anyhow, and (c) hearing “family values” from Republicans year after year makes my back teeth itch when I hear “family.”

            And then there’s the fact that Democrats are always “fighting for” and never winning. That gets old.

            1. ekstase

              Damn. This article is funny. In many ways this just seems like the worst, most cartoonish, debauched election ever. “Nixon’s the one,” take a back seat. And I can’t help but wonder, as you brought up red and blue up there, why some people clearly chose to take that pill.

              Were they wrong? (No.) Can they ever go back? (No.)

              Also, “Lest fratricidal violence result, and there’s no better way to do that than over food.” Yeah. That’s one thing that transcends it all. Good food, like animals, is not a great big liar.

              I think they use the “family” thing. because they think it can get a herd of people in one fell swoop. Such a timesaver.

      5. aab

        Except handing Chuck Schumer and the Corporate Ds a majority will be just as bad, basically. Look at what happened with Obama’s majorities. They just pretended 60 votes was written in the constitution, so they were “forced” to “cede” power to Lieberman, Baucus, Nelson, and the Maine ladies. It worked great! Why there are law professors who write on the Internet who will assure you right now, this minute, that Obama did the very best he could, in the face of all that dreadful Republican opposition.

        There are Republicans in the Senate opposed to the trade deals. I literally can’t vote for any non-Democrat for the Senate seat, but if I could, I would. We have to crush all federal level power for the Democrats if we’re ever to make it or any other party responsive to citizens instead of capital.

        1. Lambert Strether Post author

          Times change. In 2009, we hadn’t had an avowed Socialist pick up 45% of the vote. We also didn’t have today’s (data-driven!) disgust with the political class. And we didn’t have party barons like Warren or Sanders.

          None of that is to say that Schumer is anything other than the sleazebag he is (and, oddly, Weiner was an aide to Schumer from 1985 to 1991, when Schumer was in the House. No doubt somebody’s digging in that…)

          1. aab

            Sometimes, I post some negative assertion here late at night, and you come in behind me with solid, valid reasons why maybe things aren’t as dire as they appear. And it helps me get to sleep that night.

            I hope you’re right. But if any of those forces mattered to these people, someone would be getting Hillary to step down. Today. My impression is that the burbling rebellion has just hardened their resolve to bring down the hammer and ramp up the pillaging for as long as possible.

            Maybe I’m wrong. And I can already construct a scenario where the Clinton/Kaine presidency achieves none of its goals, even if the Ds do take the Senate. Bernie and Feingold being the 49th and 50th votes could be interesting. But I still think it would be better to strip the Ds of all federal power this election. Not that I can do even the tiniest thing about that, living in California.

  4. TheCatSaid

    For those not currently living on Mars–the Fraction Magic Detail Version (video) is out! I’ve just watched it. It is devastating and illuminating. On You Tube, look for “Fraction Magic”.

    Oh–it names names. Name, rather–of the person responsible. This capability started being inserted into US voting machines in 2001. (Per a short public talk Bev Harris gave in May where she talks about the history of electronic voting machine fraud.) The program, used central tabulators, spread as voting machine companies combined and as ownership changed hands and names multiple times. Now it is in almost all of them–even going back to 15-year-old machinery. (Per an interview with Bev Harris on October 28, interview starts after about 4.5 minutes.)

    There is good news at the end of the video, with specific practical things that people can do if they want to change this state of affairs.

    The “Short Version” came out last week, which just focuses on showing the hack. The Detail Version gives more background, explanations, and more info about both remedies and vulnerabilities.

    1. JCC

      I watched the short version last week, and the long version today. I wish they would slow it down and give a better explanation of exactly what is going on with these systems.

      I found it to be very disjointed and sections whipping by the screen way too fast to get any kind of a handle on exactly what was happening.

      Clearly something bad is going on but without full understanding of exactly what it is it’s not a video I’ll be passing on to anyone.

      1. TheCatSaid

        The full verbal explanations are in the 6 Fraction Magic reports at blackboxvoting.org Highly recommended background to the videos.

        There is a lot in those videos. It flies by fast too fast to take it in on the first go, you’re right about that! (Especially if you haven’t read the Reports) After watching it through the first time, I watched again and paused the screen wherever I needed to, to take it fully what was going on.

        The Reports are also excellent. The combination is amazing in its implications.

        (The videos show a number of things–you get a feel for the various human beings involved and their connection to the events that unfold, you see recorded examples of many forms of obstruction by election officials in numerous locations, including unauthorized entry into server rooms, servers being removed that a judge had ordered to be retained, a sympathetic judge being swapped for an unsympathetic one, not to mention actually seeing what the program does in action–including seeing that Counties selected to be “Audited” can be set up so that their files are not tampered with. It also shows how the reports that display at the end look normal–and if you didn’t know about Fraction Magic, you wouldn’t know there was something wrong.

      2. Lambert Strether Post author

        > I wish they would slow it down and give a better explanation of exactly what is going on with these systems.

        This is why I’m allergic to videos. Nine times out of ten (I may exaggerate, but not much) they are presented as being transparent. “All you have to do is look at the video,” and then, when a viewer gives the video a shot, and doesn’t understand it, the response is always “Oh, you just have to look here.”) As here.

        Text is just so much more efficient

        1. TheCatSaid

          The 6 Fraction Magic reports came out gradually a couple months ago and were mentioned and linked in comments on a number of threads during those months by numerous NC commenters. The videos supplement the Reports and add aspects that can be only shown in video–such as election officials dissembling, and showing in real time how an exploit impacts what an election official sees.

    2. Crazy Horse

      Speaking of Martians, care to guess which country has the fairest and most technically advanced electoral system of the hundreds of worldwide elections that the Carter Center has monitored? Venezuela!


      As Vladimir Putin said recently about Hellary Klinton’s claim that the Russians were manipulating the US presidential election: “What is the USA anyway, a Banana Republic?”

      1. TheCatSaid

        I just got off the phone with someone who knows a lot about elections in Venezuela. What a coincidence. I knew they were the best, e.g. their machine security is very good and they audit 50% of the paper ballots to ensure they match.

        I learned some things that surprized me. In pre-Chavez days, the ballot box rigging was so comprehensive that the hand-counting systems that work so well where used in the USA would not work. They political machinations were such that everyone in a local area would come together to rig the results, so having 2 different sides checking one another wouldn’t be possible. When Venezuela first started using exit polls at the last election, political operatives (I assume the current opposition) manipulated the election polls by huge margins, then tried to use that to cast doubt on the accurate correct results from the machines & audits.

        That’s a constrast to the USA, which knows how to do polling well (though in the last 10+ years that is now being manipulated, and raw polling data is hard to get because the companies don’t want to reveal it). (In the CA primary and other states, when a lawsuit was filed to require handover of the raw polling data, Edison Mitofsky’s response was to cancel all the upcoming polls.)

        This shows how important it is to have local knowledge. Also, when methods are developed to limit or avoid tampering of one kind, the local network of “fixers” will simply change to different methods to try to get around it. Constant vigilence by an active citizenry is required.

        1. hunkerdown

          Actually, constant vigilantism might be more interesting and effective. if something terrible and permanent were to happen to one of these fixers, would the responsible Party dare to stand up for them? I suggest fixing won’t happen when people start taking things away from fixers that fixers can never, ever get back.

      2. TheCatSaid

        I just got off the phone with someone who knows a lot about elections in Venezuela. What a coincidence. I knew they were ranked the best in the world, e.g. their machine security is very good and they audit 50% of the paper ballots to ensure they match, and the whole election system is administered in a way that leaves most other countries in the shade.

        I learned some things that surprised me. In pre-Chavez days, the ballot box rigging was so comprehensive that the hand-counting systems that work so well where used in the USA would not work. They political machinations were such that everyone in a local area would come together to rig the results, so having 2 different sides checking one another wouldn’t be possible. When Venezuela first started using exit polls at the last election, political operatives (I assume the current opposition) manipulated the election polls by huge margins, then tried to use that to cast doubt on the accurate correct results from the machines & audits.

        That’s a contrast to the USA, which knows how to do polling well (though in the last 10+ years that is now being manipulated, and raw polling data is hard to get because the companies don’t want to reveal it). (In the CA primary and other states, when a lawsuit was filed to require handover of the raw polling data, Edison Mitofsky’s response was to cancel all the upcoming polls.)

        This shows how important it is to have local knowledge.

        Also, when methods are developed to limit or avoid tampering of one kind, the local network of “fixers” will simply change to different methods to try to get around it. Constant vigilance by an active, informed citizenry is needed.

  5. TheCatSaid

    I bet Martians also use some form of ranked-preference voting.

    Peter J. Emerson has compared many different voting systems with respect to how well they reflecting a group’s desire, and to what extent they enfranchise more people. Majority-style voting comes out worst.

  6. Synoia

    A technical question:

    The Martians use hand-marked paper ballots, hand-counted in public.

    From where do they get the paper?

  7. dk

    The only important words here are: “… because the Martian population is small …”. That makes all the difference.

    1. TheCatSaid

      Why wouldn’t the described system work equally well with large populations?

      It is fast and easy to hand-count votes in public. It’s also inexpensive. A number of places in the USA have done it this way for years.

      1. dk

        Do those places have large populations, or small ones?

        Here, btw, are the current deployments of different kinds of ballot equipment and media: https://ballotpedia.org/Voting_methods_and_equipment_by_state

        Why wouldn’t the described system work equally well with large populations?

        Because of uniformity of large groups. They have less of it. The larger the population in the region, the more likely there will be factionalism within the region. Some factions may feel they should disrupt the public tally. They agitate, they sabotage. They doubt their peers that are doing the actual counting. Or maybe they plant their people among the counters and the precinct or county officers, and stage a theater of a false count, they destroy or alter ballots, or introduce fakes. In any case, they 1) disrupt the process, and 2) they damage the credibility of the results, even if they do not actually change the result.

        And the larger ballot volumes are logistically more complex. It’s harder, and harder to do fast.

        Paper ballots are good, really the only way to go. Hand counting is good, but there can be accuracy problems; I would want to do keep recounting until I get the same count twice (at least). Public tallying is good! Transparency is good, as long as one can keep up with the information volume.

        But it’s silly to think that transparency (of anything) is invulnerable, that it protects against all tampering. It prevents some kinds, makes others more difficult, and makes further ones easier.The perception of transparency can reduce critical review.

        Is it (paper/hand/public) fast? Depends on how big the ballot volume is, and how big the ballots themselves are. Ballots can run multiple double-sided pages, and between federal, state, and municipal seats, plus judges, plus ballot measures, 50-100 separate races may have to be tallied. Again, smaller communities have shorter ballots than bigger ones… and as above, it also depends on the quality (and maybe quantity, at the high end) of the participating observers, as well as tally personnel.

        Is it easy? Go participate in a recount: recounts are often done on paper ballots, machine recounts move too quickly for observers to feel they can see what’s going on. I’ve participated in them (in various capacities), I don’t think they’re easy at all, but what do I know. I’ve done 4 (ran one almost by myself, but it wasn’t full-on public, and we used computers to keep tally, I wrote the software myself).

        Are public paper counts cheaper than other methods? Mmmm tough call… yes, but by how much depends a lot on the details. Counting at the precinct level is a lot of personnel, can’t see it being all volunteer, and it’s harder to coordinate. At the county level, maybe less personnel but we may have a (much) larger observer crowd and everything that entails (facility, security), and we have to transport the ballots, so vehicles and fuel (maybe no drivers though, ha!). Of course machines need transport and storage and maintenance. I would say that county/state official consider the speed of machines to be the payoff for significantly higher costs.

        3,038 counties, 179,371 precincts, what could go wrong? I just don’t want you all to think that public paper hand tallies will work equally well in all scenarios.

      1. dk

        You’re looking at what can go right, I’m looking at what can go wrong.

        You’re assuming valid trust, I’m not.

        You can have two people per precinct, if they don’t trust each other, their quantity only limits the extent of the inevitable disaster. If even one of them has an interest in shafting the other that overwhelms their interest in cooperating together, there will be incidences of fraud. Humans are clever.

        TheCatSaid’s comment from her friend in Venezuela is relevant (to a lot more than elections):

        when methods are developed to limit or avoid tampering of one kind, the local network of “fixers” will simply change to different methods to try to get around it. Constant vigilance by an active, informed citizenry is needed.

        Think like the IT person that has to think like a hacker. We have to be as critical of the solutions we like as of the ones we don’t (also my big problem with the historic and contemporary left (and right), and I look forward to further installments of The Spirit of Liberalism).

        Bottom line, it’s about what’s sustainable. Given entropy, everything breaks eventually.

  8. reslez

    Voting seems like one of those topics, like health care reform, that’s very easy for laypeople to have an opinion on. And that opinion should be listened to — because the problems with the current system are obvious and nasty. Here’s my attempt:

    The Ten Commandments of Voting
    Voting should be simple, transparent, and easy. In accordance with these goals,

    1. All voting shall take place on the same day
    2. Votes shall be cast on paper ballots, hand counted in public, as per Lambert’s mantra
    3. There shall be a national voter registry consisting of all citizens of voting age
    4. All citizens shall be eligible to vote regardless of imprisonment status
    5. Voting day shall be a national holiday
    6. All voters shall be given paid time off from work to cast their vote and voters shall be paid a nominal fee at the polls to reimburse them for transportation expenses
    7. Voting places shall remain open 7 AM – 7 PM nationwide. Equal voting facilities will be provided with a view toward local population size and distance to the polls
    8. Since “first past the post” elections are pretty terrible, elections shall use score-based voting (RCV has some complicated disadvantages)
    9. Political advertising shall only be permitted within 45 days of the election
    10. Campaign ‘donations’ above $27 are forbidden, indexed to the minimum wage. Donations can only be made by human persons

    #4 is a relic of slavery days. If there are so many people in prison that it might sway elections maybe we should look at why we’re imprisoning so many people.
    #6 is necessary because income inequality is such a big problem.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      This is a very good list (though I didn’t want to get into registration or campaign finance, because my focus was election day).

      I think there needs to be an effort to populate the database in #3, but I’m not sure how it should be done (and I don’t necessarily know if I want a centralized national database if it can be hacked and/or sold and/or used by law enforcement). I’m very happy — granted, my privilege in Maine — to walk up to my voting place in the town office and have the volunteer lady cross me off her list.

      Again, if the Democrats really thought voter registration was important, they’d treat it as a 24/7/365 party function. They don’t. Maybe give the League of Women Voters — who should handle the debates, too — $100 million and have them register people in their local precincts.

  9. RabidGandhi

    This post makes me even more enthusiastic to send our gazillionaires to Mars post-haste, for democracy lessons. Any way we could just lob a whole Acela Mars-wards?

  10. Petter

    A Mad Magazine joke from, uhmm, the fifties? It’s stuck with me:
    Is there life on Mars?
    Well, Saturday nights aren’t too bad. The rest of the week is kind of slow.

  11. Oregoncharles

    Speaking of mandates: if the margin is at all close – say, only 2.8 % – the next president won’t have a majority, because as of now, the duopoly candidates are polling at about 45 and 40%. 45% would win, but would not confer a mandate. It promises to be a good year for various versions of “none of the above.” And we can hope the polls are missing a lot of (mostly young) alternative-party voters, as they consistently missed a percentage of Bernie voters. That would mean a chaotic election, and even less mandate.

    I assume turnout will also be very low, probably set records. We haven’t had candidates this unpopular before, a sign that the duopoly is in terminal decay. (to be optimistic).

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      Good point on turnout. That’s generally not used as a “mandate” talking point, however. After all, people who don’t vote have nobody to blame but themselves.

    2. aab

      Didn’t Baby Bush demonstrate that declaring a mandate is merely a function of chutzpah? He was gifted the Presidency by the Supreme Court, but that didn’t slow him down for one second. And who has more chutzpah than a Clinton? They are literally the real-life version of that joke about someone killing their parents and then asking for leniency because they’re an orphan.

      And Trump won’t have the institutional support to do any mandate-ish stuff, no matter how he is inclined.

  12. craazyman

    This post is a smoking gun that rips the face off NASA’s Mars cover up. The Mars photos have evidently been tampered with to remove all evidence of life and, of course, Martians

    Even the Martian animals have been ‘airbrushed’ out of the photos. Or Photoshopped out, to be more precise

    Mars’ gravity is only 38% of earth’s gravity, so an invasion of earth would probably be easy to repel, since they’ll be unaccustomed to being so heavy. Can you imagine being 400 pounds trying to tackle lsomebody and beat them up?

    NASA should relax and admit the truth. If Martians can post on earth blogs and talk about elections, we shouldn’t keep pretending they’re not there.

    1. uncle tungsten

      There is every chance that the Martians hacked the DNC server. They knew the Hellary would blame the Russians and war would unleash. They did it before on the Earth moon in 1077 and before that Saturn in 777.

      Cunning war mongering b#ggers aren’t they?

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