Why I Am Still Worried About the Legitimacy of the 2020 Election Balloting Process

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

In a previous post, “Why I Am Worried About the Legitimacy of the 2020 Election Balloting Process,” I wrote:

Any aware person who’s been following United States elections since, oh, the year 2000 should have a chronic, low-grade worry about the legitimacy of the election results. I’m not talking about gerrymandering, or voter roll “purges,” or ballot gaming, or discriminatory voter ID requirements, or even the electoral college, but rather that, for any given voter, it is not necessarily certain the ballot as cast is ballot as counted. The United States has a rich history of election fraud, and it has nothing whatever to do with “meddling” by foreigners; we can steal elections all on our own, right here. (See the Presidential elections of 2000 (Florida) and 2004 (Ohio); the Democrat Texas Caucus in 2008; the Democrat 2016 California primary; and doubtless other examples that readers will suggest. Note that the list just given is bipartisan, as are presumably the election fraudsters responsible). [In this post I will bring] us all up to date on the continuing “ballot marking devices” (BMD) debacle — because BMDs make election fraud undetectable.[1]

If you are not familiar with the issues with “Ballot Marking Devices” (BMDs) — whose ballots are not verifiable by voters and whose results cannot be audited, making them extremely vulnerable to election theft by insiders[2] — please reread that post, because everything I wrote then is still valid today. Today I am still worried, but for different reasons.

The big news of the week is that Biden “clinched” the Democrat Presidential nomination. The Associated Press describes these elections just past:

Biden reached the threshold three days after the primaries because several states, overwhelmed by huge increases in mail ballots, took days to tabulate results.

If we think of voting as a supply chain, we can see that the electoral system was, if not overwhelmed, at least challenged, by an unexpected glut caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused people to mail in their ballots rather than vote in person, risking infecting others (and themselves). In this post, I will focus on these effects of the pandemic, plus logistical and political issues at the United States Post Office.

First, let’s do a general wrap-up of the primaries just past, which can be seen as a dry run for the general election in November. From The National Memo:

The results were a spectrum of well-run to more-problematic elections. Montana, which is used to voting by mail, had higher turnout than its 2018 fall midterm. But many voters who were not used to voting from home, especially in metro areas, did not get ballots as expected. They went to vote in person, but often found traditional polling places closed. They ended up in long lines and sometimes faced hours-long waits, where social distancing could be challenging, and, in the worst case—in Washington—police were telling voters to go home because of a curfew.

These trends, both better and worse, offer lessons and warning signs for the fall elections.

“Overall, this is a dry run for November,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which runs the nation’s largest Election Day hotline and fielded more than 5,000 calls for the primaries. “We’re bracing for high turnout that we will see in the November general election, and lessons learned from this primary season must guide states… to ensure that every eligible voter can have their voice heard.”.

“It is clear that the pandemic is having an impact on virtually every aspect of the voting experience,” she said, noting that impact was apart from a curfew in Washington that was announced by a text alert on Election Day that “did not have an exception making it clear that voters can, indeed, continue to travel to cast their ballot.”

(Presumably, we won’t have curfews in November, but if we do, it’s going to be an interesting day!) Reuters writes:

All of the states voting on Tuesday encouraged or expanded mail-in balloting as a safe alternative during the outbreak, and most sharply reduced the number of in-person polling places as officials struggled to recruit workers to run them.

That led to record numbers of mail-in ballots requested and cast in many states, along with complaints over not receiving requested ballots and questions about where to vote after polling places were consolidated.

Most in-person voting locations across the country featured extensive safety protocols – including masks, sanitizer and social distancing for lines.

A group of election officials from North Carolina give insight into their thinking about organizing voting in a pandemic. From the Charlotte News & Observer, “June runoff election in western NC previews voting problems the state will face in November.” Leaving aside legal issues for validating mail-in ballots, these are some of the

We write as Republican and Democrat election officials in western North Carolina to sound the alarm about the urgent need to prepare for the fall election. We are eyewitnesses to the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic because mail-in voting has now begun for the Congressional District 11 runoff in our region.

Conducting a fair, safe and secure election involves dozens of decisions long before the voter enters a polling place or requests an absentee ballot. We’d like to share some lessons from the past several weeks, as well as recommendations for policymakers.

First, based on our experience, we can anticipate a staffing shortage this fall…. Yancey, Macon, Mitchell and several other counties are combining polling places for the June runoff because of building and staffing problems. Some regular polls are being used for emergency programs and some are too small to permit adequate social distancing. Officials need to start now to identify larger spaces and reserve them for early voting and Election Day.

[F]unds are needed for sanitation supplies, cleaning crews, curtains and plexiglass shields, masks, signage and other materials at each voting location. Finally, we must use a variety of formats and resources to educate voters about all the ways they can register and vote in these challenging times.

The difficulty here is that all these well-meant measures have the potential to discourage voting. Changing voting locations lead to voter confusion. Staffing shortages mean long lines. Cleaning and sanitation requirements, both for staff and voters, decrease throughput, and also lead to long lines. “Resources to educate voters” can intimidate if poorly designed. And of course choking off funding and space also leads to long lines (and is indeed a classic technique for voter suppression[3]). The Brennan Center writes in “Waiting to Vote“:

Long lines and wait times have plagued several elections over the past decade. The consequences can be far reaching. For example, the Bipartisan Policy Center estimates that more than half a million eligible voters failed to vote in 2016 because of problems associated with the management of polling places, including long waits.

If 2020 is marked both by increased voter interest and turnout and nationwide bottlenecks in the voting supply chain — not just blips in a few precincts — then the entire election could turn out to be problematic (especially if there are problems in Swing States, which I’ll get to in a moment).

Now, one could argue that there is a remedy for potential problems with in-person voting: Voting By Mail (VBM).[4] Unfortunately, VBM depends on a functional Post Office, and in this very strange year, that’s not guaranteed. From the Pew Trust, “Postal Service’s Struggles Could Hurt Mail-In Election“:

An unprecedented shift in American democracy is underway, as more states and counties turn to voting by mail. But as jurisdictions prepare for a pandemic-riddled presidential election, the threat of a financial crisis at the U.S. Postal Service looms over that alternative to in-person voting.

If Congress does not pass a $75 billion bailout, the Postal Service says uninterrupted mail service may not last past September. That’s when local election officials plan to send out mail-in absentee ballots, letters with polling place information, voting booklets, new voter cards and federally mandated voter registration confirmation postcards.

A federal bailout may be a longshot. Last month President Donald Trump called the agency a joke. He also blocked congressional efforts to infuse the Postal Service with needed cash, instead hinting he would consider only loans.

He has said the Postal Service should charge more to Amazon (whose owner, Jeff Bezos, also owns The Washington Post) and other major retailers. The administration has yet to approve a $10 billion loan to the agency that was included in the March stimulus package.

This week, Amazon and other retailers launched a $2 million ad campaign to convince Republican lawmakers to oppose Trump’s proposal.

Meanwhile the president this week installed new leadership at the Postal Service, tapping one of his top donors, Louis DeJoy, as postmaster general.

This fall, the financial shortfall could have a similar impact on mail service that hurricanes and tornadoes have had in previous elections, such as delays in delivery and strains on postal workers, said Tammy Patrick, a senior adviser for the elections program at the bipartisan Democracy Fund.

There are good-faith measures to take:

Even so, Patrick emphasized the Postal Service deems mail-in ballots and other election-related mail essential.

“There might be some slight delays that might impact election mail,” she said, “but it’s not going to stop it.”

There are several ways, Patrick said, to prepare for this situation: Voters should request their mail-in absentee ballots early and send them in as quickly as possible; local election officials should use existing best practices to design envelopes that are both easily sortable by mail carriers and trackable by voters; and state legislators should shape election laws that extend early voting periods to account for delays.

Assuming good faith, of course. On the one hand, I’m very taken with the picture of election officials working away in good faith; on the other hand, they should all be fighting BMDs tooth and nail, and they aren’t.

Now let’s turn our attention to the States where pandemic voting issues could really affect the outcome of the election: The Swing States. If (following 270 To Win’s consensus) we regard Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin as the states to watch, let’s first briefly return to BMDs. Here is a handy map of the Swing State and where they are used:

(Note: Confusingly Verified Voting’s sloppy map is of counties that “use” BMDs. BMDs cannot be used exclusively, since people can request a paper ballot or vote by mail, but I find it impossible to accept that election officials would spend money on expensive machines and not try to use them as much as possibly. So I interpret the green counties as counties where BMDs are the dominant voting methods). So, as you can see, the dominant voting method in Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Michigan, and Wisconsin cannot be validated by the voter and cannot be audited. That’s not encouraging.

Turning to the Swing States themselves, let’s look at their performance in the primaries just past. Not all states have problems, but any states that do have problems will need to fix them for the general, as of this writing only 149 days away, i.e., practically tomorrow when you consider requirements for ballot design, mailer design, printing, etc. I’ll just go through them alphabetically:

Arizona: 2018 was a debacle, especially in Maricopa County, which contains Phoenix. Apparently, however, 80% of Arizonans vote by mail. So we’ll hope that the USPS is allowed to continue its function as a public good. (That would mean that BMDs only affect 20% of the population, but that’s still has the potential to swing an election.)

Florida: Amazingly, given Florida’s rich tradition, though there are court challenges on felon voting and mail-in ballot rules, Florida’s March primary vote seems to have gone reasonably well.

Michigan: In Michigan’s March primary, long lines: “Tuesday presented the first statewide election in which voters could use same-day registration and no-reason absentee voting, which were secured through a voter-approved initiative in 2018…. The new options have shifted the dynamics of voting in Michigan and led to delays in both processing voters and tallying results.”

North Carolina: North Carolina seems to have gone well (though it’s a misnomer to call the product of a BMD a “paper ballot”; the actual ballot, that which is tabulated, is a barcode that is not human-readable).

Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania remains a problem child: “Philadelphia election officials stopped counting mail ballots Thursday and may not start again for days, warning that the outcomes of a number of races in Tuesday’s primary won’t be known for several weeks and that the city may miss a legal deadline for certifying the results. The delay is due to the large number of mail ballots voters requested in the last week before the deadline, Deputy City Commissioner Nick Custodio said. He said the commissioners, who run Philadelphia elections, stopped counting them so workers can check poll books to ensure nobody voted twice.” And: “[Sara Mullen of the Pennsylvania Civil Liberties Union] said that thousands of voters in York and Allegheny counties did not receive ballots at all despite requesting them weeks in advance, describing Montgomery County’s election administration as a “comedy of errors,” including people getting ballots for the wrong party in the primary, people not receiving ballots at all due to their apartment numbers being cut off on the envelope, and some containing confusing instructions.” And in Pittsburgh: “Polling Places Draw Long Lines, Report Few Problems, Amid Pandemic And Unrest.” Long lines are a problem! They discourage voting!

Wisconsin: In Wisconsin’s April election: “The report highlighted several issues with the postal service including tubs of ballots found in a postal service center after the election, ballots not received by voters and ballots returned to clerks unopened, without explanation. The commission had few answers from the postal service, not even the status of an investigation sought by U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis. and Ron Johnson, R-Wis. concerning ballots mailed to the Oshkosh/Appleton area found in a distribution center after the election. The WEC hopes to integrate intelligent mail barcodes in the absentee voting system so clerks and voters can track their ballots as they move through the postal system[5].”

Naturally, I welcome any field reports from readers! It looks to me that, much like our public health system before the pandemic, we have an extremely decentralized and thinly resourced voting supply chain that’s vulnerable to attack in all sorts of ways, including the collapse of its primary infrastructural elements, the USPS. And if the pandemic, as it has for every other institution it’s infected, heightens neoliberalism’s worst features the most, hold onto your hats.

* * *

Edward Isaac-Dovere summarized the state of play in The Atlantic in late may, “Why Americans Might Not Trust the Election Results,” so I’m not the only one:

Americans are worried about all sorts of things that could affect the outcome in November: that they’ll be risking infection to vote in a pandemic; that their absentee ballots won’t be received; that others will submit fake absentee ballots; that there will be funny business in the counting process. Officials say there will be insufficient resources to pay for the staff and infrastructure needed to secure and tally the ballots.

And that’s just voting by mail. People are also worried that polling places might not be adequately staffed in urban areas; that some voters may have to wait in line for hours, six feet apart, to vote in person; that dirty tricksters could advertise the wrong date for the election or stand, coughing, outside of polling places; that armed protesters will intimidate people trying to vote.

And Americans are right to be worried, Ia Suppose, on election day, a story like the pallets of bricks story goes viral, except this time its the extremely euphonious “pallets of ballots,” which we’ve already seen in Wisconsin (OK, “tubs,” but still). What then?

NOTES

[1] There is also the issue of whether an election can be officially delegitimized on the grounds of “foreign meddling.” Obviously, that raises issues for the Constitutional order.

[2] Indeed, I believe that capability of election theft is the only unique selling proposition BMDs possess.

[3] See, e.g., the 2020 Michigan primary, where long lines disproportionately discouraged Sanders voters.

[4] I’m going to skip over the argument about whether mail-in ballots mean election theft. I know Oregon does well, but the national stakes are enormous, so the incentives are different. The key question for me is whether tabulation, especially central tabulation, can be gamed, say by zip, especially at the state levels, and most especially in swing states. But that’s mere paranoid speculation on my part. I would, however, welcome anything readers have to say about how tabulation works, and any dark arts involved. The literature seems a little thin. Although there are items like this: For example: “The actual scanning of ballots is a rapid-fire process: The county has eight optical scanners capable of processing 300 ballots per minute. The most labor-intensive part of the process is removing ballots from their envelopes and smoothing them so they don’t jam the scanners.” Presumably there are observers from both, or rather all, parties. But still.

[5] Oh. Oh no. There’s that word, “smart.” Don’t do that.

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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.

25 comments

  1. rd

    I vote in upstate NY. I have been very pleased with our hand amrked ballots that are then tabulated in an optical scanner and the paper ballot swalled up into the machine to provide hand countable ballots. It is simple and allows for many people to be marking ballots with the actual scanning process only taking a few seconds. At my polling place (granted, in a suburb) I have never had to wait in a line. Total time in a polling place has typically been 5 minutes or less. There is a steady flow of people in front of me and behind me.

    They started doing early voting in a local election at far fewer polling places. That worked well, with similar no wait at a differnt polling place I have not been at before.

    I am utterly baffled why voting continues to be an issue in this country. NYS (or at least my county) seems to have had this solved for decades.They initially had big mechanical machines that worked well and then replaced them with the optical scanners a decade or so ago. I can only explain the problems elsewhere by assuming they are using healthcare or mobile telephone billing representatives manage the process in many states since those folks’ entire existence is predicated on having inefficient, unexplainable, error-ridden systems.

    BTW – has Broward County, FL found an elections board that is capable of tying their shoelaces yet.

    Reply
    1. Upstater

      Agree with rd. I think the map is not correct. In Onondaga County NY (Syracuse), you hand mark a ballot which is fed into an optical scanner. The paper ballot is retained. There is no interface which a voter used to mark their ballot. Obviously the scanner or the uploading of results could be hacked.

      One problem with hand marked ballots counted in public is that elections in the US can be complicated with concurrent elections for multiple jurisdictions plus ballot initiatives. At my polling place perhaps 5000 people vote from 2 towns and 3 election districts. Each has a different ballot. I have a hard time visualizing hand counting in a timely manner. Canada and the UK differ because there is a single parliamentary candidate to choose and not a dozen or more different offices or initiatives which is typical for my polling place. When I lived in Arizona, ballots were very complicated, but AZ had mail in ballots and early voting 20 years ago.

      I also think staffing would be a big issue. Polling places are open for 15 hours and staffed by volunteers. Counting would add many hours and need more volunteers.

      Reply
      1. Redlife2017

        ” Canada and the UK differ because there is a single parliamentary candidate to choose and not a dozen or more different offices or initiatives which is typical for my polling place”

        Ha ha! Yes, very true. I am one of the few who’ve experienced voting in a presidental election (2000) in Chicago and have been able to vote since 2010 in the UK. It is a mind-blowingly different experience. Chicago – it took 15 minutes to get through the 100+ things I had to vote for. Cook County Water Reclamation district, judges, etc. I’m very serious about these things, so I probably took double the normal time, but good lord. It was nuts. To be fair this was also the time of the hanging chads…

        But here in the UK – they give me a pencil and I mark down for one or worst case two seperate ballots (in December we had a by-election for the local council and also voting for MP). They do the whole “counting in public” stuff, very old school. But it’s not at polling station level. They take everything to a central place in the constituency (big place like a leisure centre – i.e. public gym) and have lots of people there to count. Each party has people walking around making sure stuff seems legit. They can ask for a sample of ballots as well to make sure that what was counted looks legit. But of course you can do that when you have one maybe two things you are voting for.

        So, back to Chicago and the US. Honestly, the hand-counting thing for Chicago would take a month (and then who’d trust the result in Chicago??). Optical scanning with a certain percentage being publically handcounted in a statistically significant way sounds like a good middle ground…

        Reply
      2. divadab

        Not correct for WA either. 100% mail-in ballots, filled in by hand and kept for manual recounts, tabulated by optical scanners. To me this is a model for the future – no dodgy touchscreens, no weird paper printout, since the voter’s original vote on paper is kept for recounts, and no ability to hack. All administered by the County Auditor.

        I just shake my head at the incompetence of the jurisdictions pouring money at crappy untested, hackable electronic systems when the tried and proven technology of optical scan is already in place and working. Even in those jurisdictions since every school has standardized testing that uses optical scan technology. Perhaps like a lot of apparent incompetence there are venal motives actually driving the process – either to make money selling crappy overpriced systems, or creating the ability to cheat without being detected.

        Reply
    2. Pat

      Tell me does the scanner show your scanned ballot choices? Or does it, like mine, just say You Voted?

      If it is the latter, you should not be so pleased and certain that it has read your ballot the way you intended. There is a reason why Lambert includes “hand counted in person” to his voting criteria. The ability to audit is important, but if electronically counted elections are not audited, it is really really tempting and really really easy to NOT count votes accurately. It could be as simple as programming the machines to switch every third vote from the candidate they don’t want to the candidate they do. We need to also make sure nothing electronic is connected to the internet because programming changes can happen right up to the “report”.

      Removing the temptation and making it much more difficult to fix the results should be the desire of everyone. That means paper ballots, hand counted in public. It means ballot box watchers. It means assuming not that the people voting are the bad actors, but those who get to count the votes are. Because frankly most of them are – from the people selling the machines to the politicians who buy them and arrange their use.

      Reply
    1. Conrad

      There’s a lot to like about our electoral system. Reasonably proportional representation, an independent electoral commission drawing the boundaries, short campaigns and of course hand marked paper ballots hand counted in public. We don’t know how lucky we are.

      Reply
  2. Daniel Raphael

    Considering how farcical the Democratic Party’s own transparently “managed” primaries went, there is no reason to expect the forthcoming general election to be better. As I recall, supposedly the Democrats are the ones concerned that the sanctity of the ballot and its accessibility, as distinct from the GOP. If that’s true, this isn’t a matter even of “setting the bar low”–it’s a question of whether there is any bar to fraud at all.

    Reply
  3. edmondo

    Quite frankly, worrying about the “legitimacy” of a Trump vs. Biden election is sort of like worrying what color the dice were on the Titanic’s craps table. I will get a mail-in ballot from our county board of elections, I have no intention of returning it. Why would I?

    Reply
    1. ambrit

      Bragging rights. The next time some Homeland worshiping yahoo accuses you of not being a “real” American, you can proudly say that: “I voted, and it was just as messed with as yours was.”
      Another thing to think of is the percentages of R, D, and I, party votes in the election. A high percentage of I votes shows the PTBs just how bad their messaging is going over. Plus, in most states, a certain percentage of the total vote puts an Independent Party on the ballot the next time. Check out your local rules for write ins. I would love to run for a state level office in 2024 on the Elder (Cthulhu) Party ticket.
      I remember reading that, when reasonably open elections were first done in Russia, there was a “None of the Above” box. I seem to remember that ‘Party’ winning several elections.

      Reply
    2. Big River Bandido

      You could return it spoiled or defaced, or write in ridiculous candidates like Hyacinth Bucket, which is what I did in the 2016 general election for the very same reasons you listed.

      Even an undervoted ballot defaced with insults would say more than simply not returning the ballot.

      Reply
  4. Tom Stone

    I live in CAlifornia and have “No Party Preference”.
    The 2016 Primary was clearly not legitimate and I have my doubts about the 2020 Primary.
    And no, I don’t think the outcome of the 2020 General Election will be considered legitimate by whichever “Side” loses.
    And for good reason.
    Whoever “Wins” in 2020, it certainly won’t be the American people.

    Reply
  5. Steve

    Is each ballot uniquely identified in the counting system or can one copy and / or alter an identifier to then manufacture more ballots?

    How does the number of ballots printed and distributed / mailed out match with what is returned?

    Are unique addressed envelopes and ballots indexed and packaged with return envelopes identified with the unique ballots?

    Who is printing the ballots and what is the security and record of process at the print shop site? How much paper was ordered for the ballot and envelopes printing job and how much was received, shipped and recorded as delivered?

    What teams of people witnessed and documented the file prep, ballot proofing, file data verification and validation indexing, printing, scoring/ perforating / folding /packaging / sealing / shipping and delivery ? How is the process recorded / documented for process verification and validation?

    Counting and reporting results for these secure ballots is another whole series of secure processes.

    Reply
  6. dk

    I know New Mexico is not part of this discussion, but I see that the Verified Voting map has NM marked and lists it under “States Using BMDs Statewide.”

    New Mexico primarily uses hand-marked paper ballots, electronically scanned using optical mark recognition for tabulation. All ballots are human-readable, including those marked with BDMs. The unique ballot document ID and precinct coding are presented as text and as barcodes, otherwise there are no barcodes involved.

    The BMD components are physically attached to the purchased tabulating equipment, but not regularly used. I asked our NM Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse-Oliver about this, her remarks (with her permission):

    Anyone can use them [BMD consoles] but typically the only people who do are those who need assistance in marking the ballot because of an disability or language assistance need. Usually only a handful at most statewide every election.

    In NM, the original human-readable ballots (and any BDM ballots) are retained for a minimum of 5 years for auditing and recounts. *All* elections are audited by taking meaningful samples from collected ballots and statistically comparing their manual tallies to electronic tabulations. Significant deviations are investigated with further sampling, or even complete recounts, before the election results can be certified. I have been involved in this process personally. The complexity of the procedures, documented at each stage, along with the number of people involved, make election fraud very challenging under these circumstances.

    This in no way disputes or alters the concerns or other details discussed in this article. Inexperience, incompetence, poor maintenance, substandard equipment from unscrupulous vendors, and outright bad faith challenge the integrity of our elections well beyond inevitable error (typical normal error rates run 0.05%/year, mostly due to problems in registration records; real-time data is very difficult to maintain with complete accuracy).

    Standards and procedures vary between states, although most follow national guidelines closely:
    https://www.eac.gov/election_management_resources/election_management_guidelines.aspx

    In some states (I know of Arizona, and in the past California), permissive SoS offices allow counties latitude approaching autonomy over balloting and tabulation procedures. The quality of ballot audits and the good faith of election officers is unavoidably variable.

    In some cases poor reporting by uninformed press who may not recognize complex procedures (“They had to audit the election!!!” they’re supposed to in any case), or who are (themselves or their publishers) trying to call elections into doubt. But the increasing reports of breakdowns in election administrations in this century far exceeds these kinds of errors. Poor poll placement, equipment distribution, equipment malfunction (it happens but shouldn’t be common), education and supervision of poll workers, and preparation for contingencies more than justify concern and skepticism in the runup to this important national election.

    Reply
  7. Bugs Bunny

    I often vote by mail in Wisconsin. Usually no problem if I ask for a ballot by email far enough ahead of time and get it back within the window. Once I send though, the process is a black box, so if someone in Wisconsinland knows what happens to a village ballot in a big county, would love to know.

    Strangely enough, it’s relatively harder to absentee vote in France. If you’re not home, you need to sign a paper (procuration) for someone to vote in your place, at your designated polling station. This supposes you have someone willing to go to your precinct and vote in person in your place. Not convenient. That person also needs your ID card or a signed copy to show. I’ve seen it a few times and it takes a minute or two more than usual to vote. It’s usually parents voting for kids away at college.

    Regular voters also need ID and addresses should be up to date unless you’re living in the same general area (my experience). Of course all ballots are put in the little envelope by the voters themselves, put in a big plexiglass box, your name is read out loud and crossed off the list, the box is later unlocked and counted out loud and open to the public. You don’t write anything on a ballot, you just grab a few pre-printed ones on the way in and put the one you want in the little blue envelope while you’re in the voting booth. The rest you toss. I think the French system is much more accurate. We also have much higher participation. Legitimacy has taken a hit when a Le Pen gets into the second round of presidential elections. Twice now.

    If I missed something here, I’m open to correction…

    Reply
    1. Bugs Bunny

      On a lighter note, in Wisconsin we usually fill tubs with ice and cold beer so that’s a strange one there, ain’ it? Perfectly good tub and all.

      Reply
  8. Carla

    Question, Lambert: Does this:

    “In this post, I will focus not on the effects of the pandemic, plus logistical and political issues at the United States Post Office.”

    Actually mean this?

    In this post, I will focus NOW on the effects of the pandemic, plus logistical and political issues at the United States Post Office.

    Or are other words missing/mis-typed and did you mean something else?

    Reply
  9. William Beyer

    I’ve voted in 99.99% of elections in Minnesota for the last 50 years, and have never seen a BMD. It’s possible they are offered for disabled voters, but am not sure. We have hand-marked paper ballots that get scanned. Any software used by the machines is submitted well in advance, tested twice, held in escrow and owned jointly by the state and the voting machine vendor. We have no-excuse absentee voting and are moving toward all mail-in this year. It seems we’ve got it covered.
    Regarding the state of play in Florida, see Bev Harris’ Black Box Voting blog for a 2018 example

    Are You Saying There Was Fraud?

    In the race between incumbent Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Tim Canova, Florida’s law requiring public examination of ballots was ignored until Canova was forced to sue, then the ballots were destroyed before he was allowed to see them. Voting in Florida for the last 50 years reads like a Carl Hiaasen novel, except it isn’t funny.

    Reply
  10. John Medcalf

    Run a $6M company that’s provided election tech for 41 years. Started with punch card central count. Hanging chads weren’t dealt with thoroughly enough but otherwise and whenever winning margin was not fraction of one percent, counting that included randomly selected precincts for hand recount was trustworthy. When we sold the City of Los Angeles we were asked how we could be blocked from rigging the results. My reply was that I did not want to go to jail and hand recounting of some precincts or counting using a different program would show whether my program was counting correctly.
    Lambert, you are 100% correct to lambaste BMDs that count bar coded data rather than OCRing what the voters can read. I’m told Colorado has demanded their new equipment be reprogrammed to do OCR counting. It’s within the competency of all the voting system companies.
    Knowing that no company can be found to allow false counts and survive unless we go full 1984 leaves me feeling that corrupt counting is not a likely problem. I’ve written a white paper for the National Association of Secretaries of State entitled “Trust is Our Most Important Product” in which I call out internet connected voter registration and ballot preparation systems and BMDs that count only the bar codes as weak components of a trusted system.
    Keep questioning.

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  11. Thomas

    I’ve voted absentee in Wisconsin in most elections out of convenience.

    The 2016 general election was the first and only time I did not receive my ballot in time. It arrived the day before election day, thus making impossible the receipt of my filled-out ballot by the county clerk’s office prior to election day. I had made multiple inquiries in the month and half leading to the election, and the county clerk even had mailed replacement ballots. All went undelivered to me in NY. They blamed the unusual patterns on the USPS.

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  12. psmith

    I live in New York State and requested an absentee ballot for the June 23rd primary election several weeks ago, but it has not arrived, and I am beginning to wonder if it ever will. (My sister, who lives in another part of New York, also had the same experience.)

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  13. Cozy Moments

    I am the sister of Psmith who commented above. I live in Dutchess County, NY and this is my first time voting in a primary. (In February I knuckled under and joined the Democrats so I could cast my ballot for Bernie Sanders.) In April I sent in a form for an absentee ballot. It has never arrived, so I called the Dutchess County Board of Elections last week to inquire after my ballot. I spoke with a pleasant person who looked me up, confirmed that I had requested an absentee ballot, and gave me the email address of some sort of high commissioner. I emailed this personage but have heard nothing back. I’m not holding out much hope of receiving a ballot.

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