What “Our Democracy” Should Look Like When Voting: Reader Reactions and Updates

By Lambert Strether of Corrente

Readers had many excellent comments and suggestions on this post’s companion piece of two weeks ago on election eve (“What ‘Our Democracy’ Should Look Like When Voting: A Simple Plan“). So I thought I’d revise the “simple plan” to incorporate some reader suggestions, and also explain why I rejected others.

How we vote is becoming an increasingly inflammatory topic, sadly ignited in our day — among Republicans — by The Former Guy’s “Stop the Steal” campaign. (While it would be foolish to deny the election theft in the United States has occurred in living memory, I am not persuaded that election 2020 was stolen, and don’t @ me (and not on RussiaGate, either)). However, it would foolish to deny that our balloting system, regardless of individual cases or desired outcomes, lacks legitimacy (“Why I Am Worried About the Legitimacy of the 2020 Election Balloting Process,” January 2020). Republicans, being Republicans and therefore more serious or at least aggressive about their politics than Democrats, are working hard both to rejigger existing electoral systems to their advantage and to remedy real problems. Into the latter category falls Republican advocacy of paper ballots, the worldwide “gold standard.” I would hate for Democrats to be able to force “hand marked paper ballots, hand counted in public” into the “election denial” frame, and so I’m writing these posts in an attempt to prevent that. I also want to put voting as an act of civic engagement, and not a reflection of partisan fealty or “team spirit.”

I will first present a recap of the postulates, principles, and plan from the earlier post. Then I will present additions, rejections, and some “cutting room floor” material I decided not to add to the plan (but readers may think differently). Readers are, of course, free to make additional suggestions!

Recap: The Simple Plan

From election eve:

Postulates: Of elections and election technology, I postulate:

(I). Digital = hackable;

(II). The financial stakes for any election are enormous;

(III). Phishing, in essence, is the proposition that if fraud can happen, it will already have happened. (Phishing is ubiquitous, especially in a financialized economy. See Shiller and Akerlof on this point.)

Principles:

(A). Every citizen should have an equal chance to vote.

(B). Every voter should have the ability to vote from same fact set.

(C). Every voter’s ballot should be marked and counted using the same process.

Plan:

Item (1) is modified. Other items are added. See below under Additions.

(1). Declare election day (this year, November 8, tomorrow) a national holiday (i.e., paid). No early voting. No drop boxes. Mail-in only for those physically unable to travel to the precinct; nursing homes, the military, overseas voters, etc.

(2). Mandate that the default voting system for all precincts must be hand-marked paper ballots, hand-counted in public (modulo accomodations in point (3) below.

(3). Accomodations (disabilities; language; transport) should be Federally mandated and funded (by principle (D)) at the precinct level.

(4) Election resources should be evenly distributed across precincts, and remediation funded (by principle (D)) if need be.

(5) Counting, and ballot-handing generally, should not be performed by party members[4].

(6) Assistance for voter IDs, where mandated, should be Federally mandated and funded (by principle (D)).

Additions

Three-day weekend. alert reader aj wrote:

Election Day being a holiday wouldn’t mean much for a lot of people, especially if it’s still on a Tuesday. People in the service industry work every day, holidays or not. We work on Thanksgiving and Christmas, what makes you think I wouldn’t have to work on election day. I think a better solution to satisfy both principles A and B would be to have voting over a few days or maybe up to 7, some of which should span the weekend.

After discussion, we converged on a three-day weekend. (In my view, seven days is long enough to concoct a “November Surprise,” gin up a oppo attack or a Twitter dogpile, etc. This would be much harder over a weekend.) Hence:

(1). All voting takes place over the first three-day weekend in November. The Monday is a national holiday (i.e., paid). No early voting. No drop boxes. Mail-in only for those physically unable to travel to the precinct; nursing homes, the military, overseas voters, etc.

None Of The Above. Alert reader C.O. wrote:

I think there should be a formally printed “none of the above” option required on the ballot instead so that each voter can clearly show they have not spoiled their ballot by accident or because they are so uncaring or uninformed they wrote in something stupid. Then a sensible goal would be to strive to do a decent enough job to reduce the number of votes for “none of the above,” and it could then be plausibly argued that something close to no vote being wasted is happening.

An added element to the plan:

(7) Each set of candidate choices on the ballot must enable “None of the Above” (NOTA). NOTA votes shall be tabulated, but shall not affect the outcome.

Airborne infection mitigations. Alert reader Giuseppe wrote:

[Y]ou would require my wife and me to stand in line with strangers who refuse to wear masks in the middle of a triple viral pandemic in order to exercise our right to vote.

An added element to the plan:

(8) Voting precincts shall mitigate against airborne tranmission of disease by minimizing wait times, installing ventilation according to ASHRAE standards, and providing masks.

It might be that, given the givens “going forward” I should add an additional Principle:

(D). No princinct should give rise to superspreading events.

Standard exit polling. Alert reader mrsyk wrote:

I would like to add standardized exit polling as a consideration.

An added element to the plan:

(9). Exit polling shall be conducted according to a plan devised, carried out, and published by the United States Census, within a month of the Monday of election day weekend.

Rejections

Photo IDs. Alert reader KD wrote:

There should definitely be a national photographic ID. Using drivers licenses is crazy, not everyone has a license, not everyone can get a license and not everyone can get a “nondriver ID.” Its not like homeland security doesn’t have your information anyways.

There’s no requirement for this; voter fraud is minimal. In addition, as far as national photographic IDs go, I’m a small-c conservative. I hate RealID, and I shudder to think what the organs of state security will do with it.

Use party members to count the votes. Alert reader Rasmus wrote:

Using party members to count the votes not only solves the practical problem of finding volunteers who care enough about politics to volunteer a day as an official, it also prevents fraud and builds trust in the result. When officials are party members you know their bias and can take it into account, so ballots are always handled bo officials from different parties, thereby making fraud harder as you are always being watched by your opponent. Having the parties themselves take part in the count also helps them trust the results as they had their own people at every polling station who would have told them is something shady was going on. Officials are paid a reasonable remuneration for their trouble and municipal authorities responsible for organising polling stations will make sure they get something nice to eat and drink as well.

See item (4); lack of volunteers is a resource issue, to be remediated by money. This isn’t a hill I want to die on, but I think we want to reduce, not increase, the power of parties in the electoral system.

Bar-coded individual ballots. Alert reader Tom Pfotzer wrote:

I want a way to take my receipt, go to some public facility (office or website), plug in my ballot number, and be able to verify that my votes were counted.

Samuel Connor chimed in:

I think this could work without violating Lambert’s principles. Your paper ballot would have a unique ID (UID) on it and you could keep a record of this UID for the kind of after-the-fact checking that you mention. I think that the hand-counting of the paper ballots could include the creation of a record of all the UIDs of ballots cast for each candidate (this record would have to be digital in order to subsequently be searchable with less than great effort, but provided that the actual vote count was by hand, I don’t think the existence of this digital supplementary data would compromise the count). The total number of UIDs of ballots cast for a candidate would equal the hand count of votes for that candidate.

This would allow voters to after-the-fact verify that their votes were credited to the intended candidates.

It would, however, compromise the anonymity of one’s vote if one’s UID became known to someone else.

Jason added:

That’s the way Singapore’s voting is done. Each ballot has a unique ID number. Ballots are stored for six months before being incinerated in the presence of ruling and opposition party members.

I don’t see a requirement; I think that the checks of a public count are sufficient to make sure that the count is correct (“ambition must be made to counteract ambition”). Let’s not fetishize digital engineering over social engineering. Conor points out that the count could include recording the UID, but that’s either digital or time-consuming. Further, I think the whole notion of “receipts” — introduced by the Ballot Marking Device people, and implying that there is a second authority superior to the ballot — is flawed. The hand-marked ballot is the ballot. In principle, the ballot is secret. If there’s a receipt for the ballot, it’s no longer secret.

Further Topics for Discussion

Mail-in ballots introduce three forms of complexity that should not exist: Ballot curing, mail tracking, and weird validation rituals to inspire public confidence:

Ballot curing. This from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi crossed my Twitter feed:

NPR has an explainer on ballot curing:

During big U.S. elections, hundreds of thousands of mail ballots are typically thrown out and left uncounted. In 2020, for instance, more than 560,000 ballots were rejected (that’s nearly 1% of the total).

Experts say ballot rejections are largely the result of relatively minor voter errors, often associated with security measures that are designed to verify a voter’s identity.

That’s why about half of states have a process in place to help voters fix their mail ballots if they do make a mistake. It’s known as ballot curing.

Because [genuflects] Federalism, ballot curing systems vary in the states that allow it:

States vary widely on what disqualifying issues can and cannot be cured, and local election officials often decide themselves on how to implement curing requirements with minimal state guidance.

In some states, voters can cure ballots that have either a mismatching or missing signature; in others, voters can only fix ballots with a mismatching—but not missing—signature. In select states that require witness signatures on absentee ballots, voters can cure misplaced or missing witness signatures in addition to their own. Additional disqualifying issues that voters can cure in some areas include missing Social Security numbers, unsealed envelopes that meet certain requirements, and problems with ballot statements.

(Here is a list of ballot curing states with their policies.) Needless to say, all this is a gross violation of Principle A. The Council of State Governments concludes:

While ballot curing is an important step in making sure each vote is counted, it does not provide a complete solution to ballot rejection. The lack of standardization and other disqualifying errors cannot be fixed through existing ballot curing procedures. In addition to streamlining and easing the ballot curing process, these issues and others could be further examined to improve the procedures for counting mail-in ballots.

Or, as opposed to further examination, we could solve the problem by eliminating mail-in ballots as far as practicable under rule (1). The most reliable working parts are the ones that aren’t there.

Mail tracking. From Government Executive:

The Vote by Mail Tracking Act (H.R. 1307) would require any ballot sent to voters in a federal election to have a barcode on the envelope that allows the U.S. Postal Service to track each ballot. It would allow USPS to create envelope design standards with which municipal election offices must comply.

In recent elections, USPS has “strongly recommended” that state and local governments use its barcodes and the official election logo on ballots, but there was no requirement to do so. Postal management has ramped up its efforts to coordinate with election offices, establishing teams to focus on election efforts year round and working with local officials to establish relationships and set expectations. The Postal Service’s inspector general has previously recommended the agency create tracking requirements for election mail.

Better ballot tracking would give voters better peace of mind, lawmakers said, as they could determine where in the mail stream their votes were at any moment. It would also ease the process for USPS, which every election cycle implements “extraordinary measures” to ensure every ballot is delivered to election offices by their deadlines. With greater visibility into where ballots are, postal employees would have an easier time identifying pieces of mail to pull out of the normal system to prioritize for delivery.

I agree that there should be better tracking, but there should also be much less tracking to do. (It’s also odd that we can have “envelope design standards,” but not “ballot design standards.” Surely a case of putting the cart before the horse?

Weird rituals. From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

With the roll of 20 colorful dice in the Georgia Capitol, election officials launched an audit of a random sample of ballots Wednesday that will be reviewed by hand across the state this week.

The audit will check whether machine counts of ballots match hand tallies, showing whether the outcome was accurate..

Gabriel Sterling, chief operating officer for the secretary of state’s office, said he hopes the ballot review will prove to voters that they can trust the results of elections.

Why not just do it right to begin with, and hand-count the ballots?

In each case, we see odd epicycle-like functionality added to and already creaky system save the phenomenon of ballot marking devices and early voting. “They add functionality by deleting code” is one definition I’ve seen of a good programmer. Let’s apply it!

Finally, there is the question of complex paper ballots. Alert reader marym wrote:

My ballot this year had 97 line items. I’ve probably said before, I personally lack the imagination to envision a manual process, even if this large number were reduced by splitting voting into a few separate elections. It’s not an argument against trying, I’d just be interested to see some ideas.

And Laura in So Cal wrote:

My ballot contained 48 different races or items

2 Federal races (senate & house)
10 state races
1 local water agency
1 county sheriff
1 city council (multiple votes)
2 school districts
22 judicial offices at various levels
7 state ballot initiatives
2 county ballot measures

The Electoral Knowlege Network has an amazing and exhaustive section on Voting Operations, with sections on Ballot Paper Design, and Printing of Ballots. I looked there so I could get some idea of the scale of this potential problem (because in my experience it doesn’t exist). Nowhere is there any suggestion of design or printing issues involving paper ballots that simply have too many items. And if a ballot can be printed, it can be counted. I’ll certainly keep my eyes open for future evidence, but for now, I don’t see an issue.[1]

Conclusion

There are other topics I might get to at a later date: Banning political polling within a set period before the vote, and banning all forms of political advertising except in print. (This would be an enormous subsidy to local newspapers. I know that.)

I want to leave you with the sense that voting is a civic duty, and should be treated — above all, funded — as such. Thank you, NC readers, for your many excellent suggestions. Also, if there are any lawyers, jailhouse or otherwise, who want to tighten up the wording of the plan, feel free to chime in!

NOTES

[1] If ballots have gotten to the point where they must be printed as booklets, I suggest that the problem is not ballots, but election officials (or possibly legislatures). Schedule another election; we shouldn’t be asking voters to vote on a booklet of choices in any case. I’m all for civic duty, but I’m also not for arbitary burdens.

APPENDIX Sortition

Alternatively, as alert reader Kouros suggests, we could shift to a system of sortition. From the Boston Review, ” to a system of sortition. From the Boston Review, “The Case for Abolishing Elections“:

In a poll conducted in January 2020, 65 percent of respondents said that everyday people selected by lottery—who meet some basic requirements and are willing and able to serve—would perform better or much better compared to elected politicians. In March last year a Pew survey found that a staggering 79 percent believe it’s very or somewhat important for the government to create assemblies where everyday citizens from all walks of life can debate issues and make recommendations about national laws. “My decade of experience serving in the state legislature convinces me that this popular assessment is correct,” Bouricius said.

The idea—technically known as “sortition”—has been spreading. Perhaps its most prominent academic advocate is Yale political theorist Hélène Landemore. Her 2020 book Open Democracy: Reinventing Popular Rule for the Twenty-First Century explores the limitations of both direct democracy and electoral-representative democracy, advocating instead for government by large, randomly selected “mini-publics.” As she put it in conversation with Ezra Klein at the New York Times last year, “I think we are realizing the limits of just being able to choose rulers, as opposed to actually being able to choose outcomes.”

Hmm. Perhaps sortition for some offices?

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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.

30 comments

  1. scraping_by

    My own experience at being an election official wasn’t voluntary. I was called to election duty, the same way and perhaps the same laws as jury duty. I would have been liable for a misdemeanor if I’d skipped or refused. I don’t imagine I would have the sheriff’s deputies at my door, but you never know. So, willing and able to serve can be hedged a bit.

    That proviso said, my own experience was the first Obama election when every Millennial turned out. Constant stream of voters from opening to an hour after closing the doors. Part of the crowd was due to the Republican who wanted to run the registration check slow walking the entire process. We didn’t have any voters leave the line, but our judge talked to the people out of the door.

    I don’t live in a vote-friendly city. Our polling place always has two wards, one that’s got a line all day and one that never has any voters. Literally, none. I’ve never figured out the limits of that ward, but I suspect the people who live there never hear about it.

    Still. Getting called for a civic duty, with or without an explicit threat for draft-dodging, should increase the worker pool past the elderly.

    Reply
  2. John Medcalf

    Thanks for links to Pew Research, Ezra Klein. I’ve followed Helene Landemore for several years. Government should not be in the hands of those greedy for power and the perks government brings to its wielders. Simple as that. Sortition is more valid than what we have. Committees to worry problems and policies could be awesome.
    I’ll add a note re trusting elections. There is no way to prove an election even if the secret ballot were eliminated. In our age of deep fakes, letting a voter check their ballot inclusion just asks for that presentation to be faked. There are methods for really smart people to aggregate ballots and total their results and convince themselves what they’re seeing comes from the ballots. At the same time the methods would a) go over the heads of most people, and b) would be in the hands of really smart people who could manipulate the situation again weakening trust.
    To some extent, the really bright people are shooting themselves and elections in the foot today. Many of them tout using “Risk Limiting Audits” to validate election results. Just say those three words slowly. Whose “Risk” is being limited? Andy why just limited? Why not “Wrong Results Elimination Audits” such as you are proposing (hand counts from the beginning)?
    By introducing witchcraft as far as most voters would perceive it, they are aggravating the appearance that the Steal is underway.
    Microsoft has a project underway to “prove” to a voter that a mail ballot or an internet ballot was cast and counted. The tech involves cryptography as you might expect and just adds to the high priest caste that is supposed to make the unwashed genuflect.
    Lambert – write up your results Pew style or op ed style and demand it get published in the NYT on down. Ask Ezra Klein for help. And certainly send it to Pew.
    The world needs people doing what you’re doing which is bringing lots of wisdom into a small document so hopefully we citizens can focus.

    Reply
  3. Carla

    “(II). The financial stakes for any election are enormous”

    In our current “two-party” system, where both parties are working for basically the same people, none of whom are “us” (uhm, regular Americans) I really question whether this is still true, if it ever was. I mean, whether George Soros or a Koch brother “wins” a given race doesn’t even matter to THEM, in a material sense.

    The consequences of all those fortunes sloshing around, buying every single aspect of the electoral process, are of course enormous, but the stakes are the same no matter which party wins: the people always lose, and the oligarchs and their PMC minions laugh all the way to the bank.

    Would some system of sortition be better? Conceivably.

    Reply
    1. hunkerdown

      Soros and Koch both agree where it counts. A stable capitalist political landscape is worth trillions. It’s important to them, as a class interest, to price others out of the conversation.

      Reply
    2. Lambert Strether Post author

      > I mean, whether George Soros or a Koch brother “wins” a given race doesn’t even matter to THEM, in a material sense.

      At the tippy top of the ruling class, perhaps not. I think one level down, it does (to American gentry, for example, who are subnational by definition). And it matters to factions of the political class and its penumnbra of NGOs, for sure. In local elections, too, which are so often about real estate development.

      Reply
      1. Carla

        Well, sure, but at the local level too, WRT real estate development, whichever poo-bahs “win,” the losers remain poo-bahs to fight another day. The winners and losers toast each other at symphony orchestra fundraisers, secure in the knowledge that they–their class–will always win and the people will always lose.

        Reply
  4. Grebo

    (9). Exit polling shall be conducted according to a plan devised, carried out, and published by the United States Census, within a month of the Monday of election day weekend.

    Exit polls should be published as soon as the polls close. This is not hard to do since they are tallied as they are collected. Their function is to flag up any weird ‘official’ results so a month’s delay is a month too late. If they are known before the official count it disincentivises miscounting and reduces the pressure for the (supposedly) fast counting schemes we dislike.

    A plan is good, and an official repository too. Not sure it is necessary for them to be carried out by a government body. In the UK they are carried out by party members (one from each) on a completely informal basis (so far as I know). Seems to work.

    Reply
    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      > Exit polls should be published as soon as the polls close. This is not hard to do since they are tallied as they are collected. Their function is to flag up any weird ‘official’ results so a month’s delay is a month too late. If they are known before the official count it disincentivises miscounting and reduces the pressure for the (supposedly) fast counting schemes we dislike.

      Maybe there need to be two exit polls; one as an immediate check on the count, and a second to do the demographics so analyzing the results proceeds from a base other than vibes. The demographics are why I thought of the Census. Also I would say it’s a more trusted entity than, say, Edison.

      Reply
    1. Amfortas the hippie

      aye.
      i first ran across such a system of “Randomocracy” in Arthur C Clarke’s “Songs of Distant Earth”, and i’ve remembered that book every time ive voted for more than 30 years.
      in the book, the only disqualifier was if someone actually wanted to rule, which i thought was a neat twist on Cincinnatus.

      out here, we still do the scan tron paper ballots…when the feds implemented the legislation(dont remember the name of the bill) that meant to “update” and “modernise” the election machinery(in both senses of that word), my county declined…so no touch screens, etc.
      the oldsters of both parties do the work…manning the polls and doing the counting…but we’re small enough that anyone can go down to the courthouse that night and watch the “behind the scenes”.(i have always had a quibble that the Green or Libertarian Parties weren’t included in this…let alone anything resembling Socialists,lol…or any other nonaffiliated)
      so out here, the smaller polity certainly has far reaching effects, as far as faith in the process(county pop:4500, or so…everyone literally knows everyone, and …like my proverbial bank pres, the election workers know that their houses would burn if there were any hint of shenanigans…not sure that this could be scaled up without Article the First, and many, many more congress critters)

      adjacent to all this is the 2 party duopoly being in charge of so much…for instance, some of the local elections are decided in the GOP primary…esp sheriff…which inflates the GOP numbers artificially, lowers local participation over all, and thoroughly pisses me off.
      city council/commision offices…including mayor…are “nonpartisan”, at least.(and, since there’s only one “city” in the county, lately, ive been advocating the idea of a sort of city-state reorganisation,which i haven’t worked out in detail yet…since things the city does effects us hill folk, but we dont have a say in anything the city does)

      Reply
  5. Altandmain

    It seems that the US is losing the competence to do even the more basic tasks of democracy.

    Perhaps the biggest barrier of all is that the very wealthy don’t want to implement a system that is truly democratic and where the integrity of the election is assured.

    The other possibility is to look closely at the practices of other nations to see how they can enforce the integrity of the vote. Voting and refenedums are something that is widely done throughout the world.

    Ultimately, there’s a bigger issue. Voters have lost trust in the political process because of regardless of the 2 parties that get in, they both serve the rich. So a big part of the voter change would have to be allowing for third parties, a more transparent primary system that prevents the party from rigging the system to favor corrupt insiders, and a ban on lobbying along with lucrative jobs for politicians that retire.

    That’s only scratching the surface.

    Reply
    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      > the very wealthy don’t want to implement a system that is truly democratic and where the integrity of the election is assured.

      “Chaos is a ladder.” That’s an interesting idea I’ll have to think about. (I think the simple plan is pretty reasonable; readers seem to agree. Hence it’s a very good test of the system, to see if it is capable of fixing the most basic functions.)

      Reply
    2. Polar Socialist

      Perhaps the biggest barrier of all is that the very wealthy don’t want to implement a system that is truly democratic

      If only there was a mechanism to prevent the existence of the very wealthy… like taxes.

      Seriously, very wealthy and democracy are incompatible. We can have only one or the other. Thus very progressive taxation is a fundamental part of any attempt at functional democracy.

      Reply
    3. Kouros

      “”On the morning of May 29, 1787, in the Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia, Edmund Randolph, governor of Virginia, opened the meeting that would become known as the Constitutional Convention by identifying the underlying cause of various problems that the delegates of thirteen states had assembled to solve. “Our chief danger,” Randolph declared, “arises from the democratic parts of our constitutions.” None of the separate states’ constitutions, he said, had established “sufficient checks against the democracy.”

      https://www.laphamsquarterly.org/democracy/our-chief-danger

      Reply
  6. Bazarov

    I’ve been commenting on NC for awhile in favor of sortition.

    The country should be ruled by a National Jury.

    Voting sucks. It makes for oligarchies. Elections mean photogenic and/or charismatic rich (or soon to be rich) people saying the same focus-grouped or social-media cured bullshit to get the prols to vote for them over the other charismatic rich candidate.

    Could random people do much worse than these fools we keep “electing”? I don’t think so. Let’s give them a try.

    Reply
    1. Eureka Springs

      I like the idea of sortition with instruction. Instructions being something along the line of an ongoing democratically established party platform. And a new Constitution. Multiple parties and ranked choice could still be a part of this. Issues, not bribed con men.

      Definitely agree exit polling should be calculated, held and released at the same time (from different people/offices) as actual vote results. Not hours before for presstitutes pre calling, at the same time.

      None of the above or No confidence must be on the ballot and have immediate consequence. If no consequence then why have it on a ballot at all? Just get yourself on of those big foamy fingers and wag it on facebook videos.

      There must be terrific information from documented observations of elections around the world in the Carter library. We should probably ask the Venezuelans how they conduct their elections. I recall Carter speaking highly of his observations there.

      Reply
    2. Lambert Strether Post author

      From the sortition article:

      it’s very or somewhat important for the government to create assemblies where everyday citizens from all walks of life can debate issues and make recommendations about national laws.

      I believe something like this grew out of the debate community; I would have to research it. It’s an attractive idea, though something a little more strong form than “recommendations” might be a good idea.

      Reply
    3. Kouros

      The problem with sortition that I found is how to deal with the bureaucracy and executive power, at any level.

      The issue of ethics is paramount, and also the issue of police and army, their training and control. How easy was for the US to change an inconvenient PM in Pakistan and how hard is to deal with Venezuela, where the army officer corps is not trained by the US…

      Smedley Butler testified about the group of oligarchs that wanted him to use his foreign experience of unseating problematic governments in the US…

      Reply
  7. Tom Pfotzer

    I would gladly accept the sortition option over the auditable-ballot option I advocated for.

    Eureka Springs, above, identified the need for sortition selectees to have some sort of issues orientation prior to being given the reins of power. That’s a real need for some issues; they’re complex. It’s also a problem, because the writer of the “orientation” has a means to extend power across sortition terms.

    How do to get from where we are to some test-runs of the sortition process? Starting very local would seem most-workable, but maybe PK’s suggestion above to consider Issues-based Citizen’s Assemblies is the better route.

    Another question: how do we implement the sortition-selectees (dunno what the right term is, since there’s not an election, there’s a selection) selection process to keep it on the up n up?

    === lastly…Lambert, this may be worth tucking into the back of your mind for future review…

    Paper ballots still have several key human-intervention steps involved in going from the physical ballot to the final aggregation – places where tallies are transmitted and added up, right? How does your paper-based mechanism provide security and accuity?

    And what’s the big deal about “secret ballot”? I (personally) care a whole lot less whether my ballot is secret than I do that it was counted and successfully applied to stack of votes cast for … whatever it was I was voting for. And I want a way to _audit_ that. Our problem is that we citizens can’t prove our vote was counted accurately.

    Audit achieves your “defense principle” of pitting one ambition against another.

    My voting ambition is to effectively cast a vote, and the cheater’s ambition is to defeat my ambition.

    Who has the abiding motivations? Me and the cheater.

    If I can tell my vote got cheated, I have evidence of the cheating, because there’s an audit-trail for every step between me casting my vote and it ending up on the tally of my (voted for) issue.

    Why is it auditable? Because I, Mr. Voter-Dude, can _see_ where the fraud happened. Every aggregation point – precinct, county, state transmission and counting function would have a list of txns (votes, with txn ID and votes-cast) that get tallied. We’re not adding up summaries of votes from smaller jurisdictions; _all_ the txns are counted at every level of aggregation from precinct to nation. Txns are present _at_ every level, and are searchable by txn ID.

    That pits 150 Mill fraud-sniffer-outers .vs. a few thousand cheaters. I like those odds.

    This is great work you’re doing, and any progress is better than none, so I’ll desist with nagging on txn ID.

    Let’s see where this sortition idea goes. Sortition might address the most-serious problem, which is that we currently get to pick from Bip or Bop, and both are boneheads that are anti-my-interests, or they wouldn’t be on the ballot.

    Reply
    1. Kouros

      Who presents the issue and how it is framed?

      Imagine US has sortition and now has to deal with strategic issues and the hegemonic role of the US and the problems are Ukraine and Taiwan…

      Reply
      1. Tom Pfotzer

        Great question.

        I’m thinking we defer jumping over the Empire State Building until we get some experience with the sortition process.

        But the issue you raise is a monster one; the Blob controls public perspective on many issues, not just foreign policy.

        So, maybe one key aspect of the sortition process is to conduct some sort of debate on the issues, that’s slow and thorough enough to cope with the particular issue’s complexity, but that’s a hand-wave response.

        Maybe PK will weigh in on this, since he’s got insight into the Citizen’s Assemblies, and if I’m not mistaken, they took on the abortion issue in Ireland – not quite foreign policy complex, but certainly highly emotionally charged.

        Reply
  8. scott s.

    With respect to your principle A, all citizens have never had “an equal chance to vote”. It has always been the case that the set of electors is a subset of the set of citizens (assumes no non-citizens can be electors). This is further impacted by the supreme court “one man / one vote” principle and the general distribution of elected positions into geographic districts.

    This implies the requirement for a roll or list of eligible electors that is segregated geographically. The maintenance, auditability, and public review of the roll is as important as the mechanics of preparing and distributing ballots, and obtaining and counting votes.

    With respect to conduct of elections, it would be nice if there was a good history available to consider. For most of the 19th century, government was not involved in distributing ballots. Their involvement started in receiving ballots.

    Due to complaints of fraud, federal elections (1848 for president, 1872 for representative) were moved to same-day voting,

    Due to complaints of vote buying, the “Australian ballot” was implemented in the period 1890-1892. Features of this system:
    1. Government prepared all ballots and determined who would be listed on the ballot
    2. Voters would receive ballots at a polling place from the government.
    3. Voters would indicate preference (vote) in secret.

    Reply
  9. Gordon

    I confess that, as a Brit, I am completely baffled by the way the US votes despite several valiant attempts by my American brother-in-law to explain it. There seem to be two big differences between UK and US practice from which nearly everything flows.

    FIRSTLY, we vote for very few positions. The most I remember is three simultaneous ballots; (1) Member of European Parliament (MEP, but no longer after Brexit), (2) Member of UK Parliament (MP), and (3) Local councillors (usually each area – aka ‘ward’ – has three councillors who are elected one a year for three years then an ‘off’ year).

    Most other positions USians vote for e.g., judicial offices, aren’t seen a political (justice is political?). Office holders are appointed and supervised by the relatively small number of elected representatives at the relevant national or local level.

    SECONDLY, elections are conducted entirely by employees of the ‘local authority’ (i.e., civil servants) including maintaining lists of voters (which are public documents), notifying voters of an upcoming election, and counting the votes. The political parties confine themselves to persuading people to vote ahead of election day and then ‘getting out the vote’ on the day since differential voting can make a critical difference.

    This makes the paperwork and counting simple, easily handled by different coloured voting papers going into different sealed boxes and then hand counted at a central location (usually a sports hall or similar) for each local authority. The actual count is done by junior local authority staff or others earning a bit of overtime. All parties get an allocation of tickets for their workers to enter the counting hall but only to observe – strictly no touching. In practice, they mainly talk among themselves.

    Any unclear ballots are pulled out and handed to the Returning Officer who huddles with the Candidates’ Agents of all parties to agree its treatment. Often the conclusion is that the intention was clear (so vote stands) but for a handful (small fraction of 1%) it is deemed ‘spoiled’ and not counted.

    Advantages of this approach include that it’s quick (most results come in in the small hours of the next morning) and that fraudulent counts just don’t happen as it’s all transparent and the counters are too many to bribe. There IS a problem with postal votes, especially in some immigrant communities but to notice would be racist (!) so no-one does.

    Reply
  10. Mark Hessel

    I’ve been voting by mail/ballot box in Oregon for over 20 years. I LOVE it. We all have at least two weeks to
    look at the candidates and measures. The state provides a pamphlet of the candidates and measures
    along with endorsements for candidates and support or not for measures on the ballot.

    Example of Benton County pamphlet.
    https://www.co.benton.or.us/sites/default/files/fileattachments/elections_amp_passports/page/8156/2022-11-08_benton_county_voters_pamphlet.pdf

    I actually enjoy drinking coffee, reading the pamphlet and voting in the comfort of my own home.

    We mark a paper ballot and send it in. We do sign the envelope. I have even been asked to verify
    my signature in the past. My signature has changed over the years – mostly more illegible as time
    has progressed.

    I’m assuming that the ballots are counted on optical readers. I don’t have an issue with this, but
    if they were hand counted I would not have an issue with that.

    I do want to point out that voting by mail has increased the percentage of voter turnout. My understanding
    of studies on voting by mail does not necessarily increase either parties turnout more.

    I really feel that Oregon has done a great job in making voting easy and accessible.

    Reply
  11. lyman alpha blob

    Agree on the mail-in voting – it shouldn’t be allowed other than for your exceptions.

    Many liberals decried Trump’s appointee for Postmaster General, and rightly so. There has been a deliberate attempt in recent years by elected officials from both parties to worsen the service of the Post Office for the benefit of its private competitors and it shows. I’ve seen a lot of mail delayed by weeks or months lately. Yet somehow its the liberals who most trust Trump’s appointee to get their ballots delivered. When their ballot arrives filthy, tattered and torn six months after election day in a plastic bag saying “We care” (current USPS practice for lost and later found mail) they might not be so sanguine about the practice.

    Reply
  12. Jorge

    The most interesting “hack” for voting processes which I have heard: if you let people vote in the districts neighboring their own, as well as their own district, gerrymandering becomes very very difficult.

    Reply

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