Has any one thought to investigate the voting machines?
Thursday, November 22, 2000
I've been working around and with machinery most of my life, and found the axiom of Isaac Asimov (from "I Robot") to be true: "In the end the machines were doomed to failure, because they were created in man's image". I think some important questions need to be asked about the voting machines in questions related to the voting miscarriage in Florida as well as in other places that use punchcard plus machine balloting procedures:
Was there a quality control check beforehand on the ballot cards to make sure there was no potential for any of the holes to have any defects, even slight, that might possibly cause them to come loose in any respect while going into and out of the machine? What were the cards placed on when the voters punched their ballots? Was there a way to insure that the area underneath the punch hole was kept clean enough, if possible, to insure a clean punch (if not perhaps produce what is now known a "pregnant chad")?
Perhaps more importantly, were the machines used prepared properly and maintained beforehand after at least 2 years of probable non-use? Most of all, were they checked for efficiency during their use?
Examples of probable and potential problems: Haste scenario --- large voter turnout, long lines = "pressure to perform"; someone starts to punch a hole (a loose corner), then realizes just in time and punches the right hole: however, in a hurry to keep the crowd moving along, the ballot is hastily fed into the machine, and the almost mistake turns into what appears as a double vote after the corner catches on either paper residue from other ballots, or the rapidly accumulating formerly "hanging chads" that are now all over inside of the machine blocking properly punched holes. Perhaps even some cards that were not quality control checked beforehand had flaws that allowed loose corners to develop while inside the machine. "Where have all the lost chads gone? Causing problems every one!!"
Too bad there wasn't all that press coverage during the process of the election to monitor the machine's accuracy as there was later to question the intentions of innocent voters that thought their vote would mean something instead of being potentially thrown out, disregarded or ridiculed! No matter the outcome, It should be apparent to any objective observer, that there is no way to guarantee that the voters in the areas of dispute, were adequately represented by their vote. In this writer's opinion, the only way to know for sure is to call for a revote in Florida, using a consistent an reliable system to revote for President and Vice President. Furthermore, I should think the American People should demand it, considering the fact that the outcome in this dispute may affect our Nation as a whole for the next four years. Well... maybe the next three years after the year it will probably take for the courts to settle this "War between Bush and Gore".
How can we not consider a revote, at least in the areas in question, after sending our government agents to other countries to insure a fair vote for the sake of democracy when questionable voting practices were used?
"The Green Papers" responds:
First of all, to respond to the quality control aspect of the problem:
While we do not have precinct-by-precinct quality control information for each polling place, we can say that the rules generally include verifying the registration and signature of each voter, providing the voter with a blank ballot, allowing the voter to vote in private, and collecting the completed ballot. All of these steps (sans the actual marking of the ballot by the voter- by whatever method) are performed in clear public view. Prior to any votes being cast, the voting equipment is tested using procedures specific to each jurisdiction.
While there have been claims of non-blank ballots, partisans within the polling areas, and other minor irregularities in the Florida election, these have been relatively few in number: certainly no more than the "penny-ante" chicanery that generally accompanies American elections, including this one, in other states- some of which we have already heard about (such as the alleged irregularities to the Democrats' benefit being claimed by Republicans in Milwaukee County, Wisconsin- just to take one such example from Election 2000) ; thus, there have- so far, at least- been no significant claims of widespread fraud in Florida.
How accurate was the process in Florida? For a metric, "The Green Papers" Webmaster, Mr. Roza (who is a lot better at analyzing the quality control of machines than Mr. Berg-Andersson would be, we can assure you!) compared Florida data (as posted on CNN) from the first tally to that from the first recount. Mr. Roza looked at 3 counties - Broward, Palm Beach, and Santa Rosa (Santa Rosa, a Republican county, was selected at random) and asked the question: how many votes changed between the two tallies?
The changes could be a result of machine error, misplaced ballots , or other tabulation errors. [Note that there was much publicity given to a manual tabulation error of 500 votes in New Mexico -- a number greater than the difference between the two candidates -- and this problem had nothing at all to do with the equipment.]
Now the problem: The unofficial vote difference between Bush and Gore is something like 0.01597%. Unfortunately, we are using a vote metering process which is accurate to about 0.21% to measure a difference of merely 0.016%!
Mr. Roza looked at some figures I had for the primary season last spring and selected the uncontested Puerto Rico Republican Primary; here is what he found: of the 96,062 ballots, 85 (0.088%) were voided and 3,228 (3.36%) were blank. Put another way, the problem we are seeing is not isolated to Florida.
One significant issue in the recount has been the contested ballots. We have undervoting (not casting a vote for any candidate), overvoting (casting votes for more than one candidate re: the same office), and not following the directions. Paper ballots (designed for hand counting) might have stray marks, mark-sense ballots might be partially marked or marked with the wrong type of pencil, and punch ballots can be partially punched. We have read reports of punch ballots with tape over the holes, punch ballots poked with a pin, and punch ballots with the voter's wishes written on the ballot. While it is probably a wise move to replace the butterfly ballot equipment, that equipment's replacement will not stop voters from playing such "mind games"- whether intentional or not- with any balloting system that humans can come up with.
Florida has somewhat informal standards for judging contested ballots. To make matters worse, what counts as a vote in one county does not count as a vote in another. Furthermore, any attempt to change, clarify, or in anyway modify the standard during the recount process will be viewed as bias by one of the candidates no matter how carefully and sincerely such bias might be avoided. We may simply be faced with what Mr. Berg-Andersson has argued in his Commentaries since the preliminary recount in Florida was temporarily certified this past 9 November: an election that, precisely because of all the problems that have cropped up- the contradiction within election laws as well as mechanical and other tabulation problems- cannot possibly be "fair"!
And there seems to be no real way out of this impasse that will convince partisans of either Mr. Bush or Mr. Gore that the election was fair. Regardless of who is eventually (whenever THAT will be!) declared the formal- and, hence, legal- winner of Florida's 25 Presidential Electors, there will be a large chunk of the national population that will not consider the new President to have been- in any case- fairly elected and this has serious ramifications for the ability of the new President to govern effectively, ramifications that are simply to be exacerbated by a basically split Congress which will be unable- because of the narrowness of Republican control (regardless of the Party of the new President)- to take up the slack.
This brings us to the issue of a potential revote, either in problematic areas (by which we assume you speak of the 3 counties involved in the manual recount debacle- Broward, Dade and Palm Beach) or in the State of Florida as a whole.
You are, obviously, seeing a revote as a "fair" way out of this impasse, but it is not:
Put aside the obvious constitutional and legal obstacles to just such a recount (which have already been addressed in Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Jorge LaBarga's decision early this week denying just such an option), is it really all that "fair"? More importantly, put aside the issue of "fairness": how about that of "legitimacy" which the new President- whoever he is- is going to need given the problems regarding governance outlined in the previous paragraph??
First of all, we already know the outcome of the Presidential Election if there is a revote: Al Gore will win, whether a revote occurs in just the 3 counties in question (since, being largely Democratic counties, this would guarantee a Gore win) or, if Florida as a whole revotes. In either case, we can assume a number of things: if everyone who voted on 7 November revotes (let's assume- if only for sake of the argument- that you restrict the revote to those who showed up to vote on that date: that is, you do not open it up to all eligible voters in Florida- to avoid one can of worms, only to open up a whole other can re: constitutional and legal ramifications), the essential numbers- outside of the problem areas- for Bush and Gore will not likely change much (even if a relative handful of voters play "mind games" by switching their votes between the two): we DO know, however, that Gore will get a much larger vote out of Palm Beach County (presumably Gore voters will be very careful not to vote for Pat Buchanan this time! "Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on ME!") and, in addition, many (though there is no way to know just how many) votes that Ralph Nader got (as Nader voters who say: "Oh, my goodness! Bush might have won the State because I voted for Nader") will, in all likelihood, go to Al Gore (Gore wins Florida under this scenario as well).
OK, let's say- again, if only for the sake of the argument- you're a Bush supporter and there is going to be a revote (and note that we haven't even gotten into the issue of just who would order it if the courts won't; nor have we touched upon your notion that "the American People should demand it" in a situation in which, clearly, most Americans do not vote in Florida and, therefore, have no say in how such a revote should be conducted) in which you can so easily surmise- as we just did in the scenario outlined in the previous paragraph- that Al Gore is going to win; you oppose even the concept of a revote: are you going to participate in the revote or boycott it on principle? (One would have to assume that Gore supporters- on the other hand- would be fairly "chomping at the bit"- ready to revote, considering all that has happened!)
If a healthy minority (or, even worse, a majority- or even supermajority) of Bush supporters boycott the revote, Vice President Gore then wins Florida by a landslide... but how does that make "President-elect" Gore appear more "legitimate" to the Nation in general, let alone Bush supporters (who- after all, like Gore supporters- make up nearly half of the population that gave enough of a damn back on 7 November to actually vote!) in particular? It DOESN'T help Mr. Gore establish legitimacy- even though the ultimate goal of a free election isn't merely to pick public officers fairly, it is also to make sure that those whose choice isn't elected feel, for the most part, as if he or she at least had a fair shake, thus establishing the victor's legitimacy to serve in the office to which he or she has been elected. "We'll get 'em next time" is the watchword of the losers of an election in a Republic based on principles of Democracy; "Let's get 'em NOW!", meanwhile, is simply the street cry of the Revolutionary!!
We could recite many other potential problems inherent in a revote but then this response would become as long and as convoluted as any of Mr. Berg-Andersson's Commentaries very often turn out to be and we wouldn't want that now, would we? The sad fact is that a revote in Florida- in whole or in part- is not any more "fair" than any other possible solution to the electoral impasse in that State (which has, by extension, created an electoral impasse for the Nation as a whole).
In the end, the word "legitimacy" comes from the Latin
legitimatus ("to make lawful", "according to law"). No Party
or its supporters can possibly make the outcome of this election
legitimate; only the courts can "make lawful" the results of this
election, as difficult as that task might be (see Mr. Berg-Andersson's
24 November Commentary "IN DEFENSE OF THE COURTS"). We probably can
never hope to make the new President (whether his name be Bush or Gore)
appear "legitimate"- in the everyday sense of the term- to many- if not
most- of those who supported his opponent; the best we can hope for is
that a formally, legally elected President takes office under at least
the cloak of "legitimacy" in the legal sense. We survived this once
before- in the wake of the disputed election of 1876, which this one is
beginning to rival; our Nation can survive it once again. If we do so,
the losing Party can then truly say- through any residual anger- "We'll
get 'em next time"; if we do so, it will prove the long-term strength
of our Political System rather than any of its inherent weaknesses we
might now note in the short term.