Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 23, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

THE NEW HAMPSHIRE RECOUNT....I've been following the New Hampshire recount story with one eye, and Marc Danziger reports today that it's 75% complete. Result: a little less than 1% of the votes have been changed, resulting in a net +25 votes for Hillary Clinton and +10 votes for Barack Obama. There were also several reports shortly after the election suggesting that Hillary did unaccountably better in precincts that used Diebold optical scanners vs. precincts that did hand counting, but so far I haven't seen any evidence that, on average, the optical precincts have turned out to have an error rate any greater than the hand precincts. If that changes, I'll let you know.

Needless to say, none of this would have been a big problem in the first place if states routinely performed spot checks of ballots cast both by machine and by hand. Maybe somebody should ask the leading presidential candidates if they support a federal law to require proper audit trails for all voting machines and independent spot checks after every election. Democracy promotion starts at home, after all.

Kevin Drum 1:23 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (32)

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Regardless of the outcome, I'm just glad that it was done. I hate nagging suspicions...

Posted by: Boorring on January 23, 2008 at 1:24 PM | PERMALINK

All elections should be audited & the political parties should have to cover the costs since it is their show being funded by public resources.

It would be nice if we had some, at least a little, democracy.

"...you cannot save your face and your ass at the same time..." - vachon@shadrach.net

Posted by: daCascadian on January 23, 2008 at 1:34 PM | PERMALINK

I wasn't expecting any change of outcome. I mean, if you buy the conspiracy theory that they rigged the machines in Hillary's favor, then how hard would it be to rig a recount?

Anyway, I think the problem revolves around the lack of transparency in vote counting in the US. Why they don't have video cameras everywhere and don't keep film to disprove irregularities is beyond me. Perhaps this can be Jimmy Carter's mission from now on.

Posted by: Nobcentral on January 23, 2008 at 1:36 PM | PERMALINK


recount has been stopped as the kucinich funds have run out.

Posted by: evermore on January 23, 2008 at 1:37 PM | PERMALINK

If Nobcentral is proposing that my vote be filmed and the film retained by the government, no thanks! We are supposed to have a secret ballot in this country.

Posted by: y81 on January 23, 2008 at 1:39 PM | PERMALINK

I don't understand why everywhere doesn't just use optical "Scantron"-style machines for voting...

I mean, they seem like the perfect solution:
*Easy to cast -- nearly idiot proof, even
*Can be machine tabulated for quick results
*Paper ballot for every voter for by-hand recounts

It seems so reasonable, I must be missing something, right?

Posted by: casual sophist on January 23, 2008 at 1:55 PM | PERMALINK

Casual Sophist,

Although I like scantron-style ballots, the two biggest objections that I'm aware of are:

* no secret ballot for the disabled or elderly
* logistical effort to print & distribute ballots

In my state, there's also some races where ease-of-use could be better electronically. For example, "Use these two boxes to vote a straight party ticket for (a certain range of offices), then skip over the next seven races and start voting for individual candidates, OR skip these two boxes and vote for individual races."

Posted by: Tom H. on January 23, 2008 at 2:07 PM | PERMALINK

casual sophist >"...I must be missing something, right?"

You are assuming that the people running things (TPTB) actually want a fair & honest electoral process.

Get over it.

"Fear not the path of truth for the lack of people walking on it." - Robert F. Kennedy

Posted by: daCascadian on January 23, 2008 at 2:09 PM | PERMALINK

If a computer is programmed by man, the thing is fallible. Period.

Get 'em out of the polling places and out of the voting system. It is too risky, too easily manipulated, too questionable.

Allow us one thing that we can call our own with some trust it can remain exempt from the sticky fingers of greed and power, our vote. The weight of the offices those votes fill demand, at least to me, that protection.

Posted by: Zit on January 23, 2008 at 2:11 PM | PERMALINK

If you want to see the potential downside that can happen when a group of people think they have been screwed by electoral fraud, look no further than Kenya.

Posted by: bigTom on January 23, 2008 at 2:26 PM | PERMALINK

Sorry to be pedantic, but I think you meant the ballots are counted by machine or hand, not cast by machine or hand. Unless we are now allowing toasters to vote, and I'm pretty sure that has not been tried, even in Chicago.

Posted by: Tripp on January 23, 2008 at 2:37 PM | PERMALINK

When you hold an election you need to account for and secure all the used, unused, spoiled, and absentee ballots immediately afterwards from each precinct or polling place. You need to put those ballots in boxes that are securely sealed so that any tampering can be easily deduced. You need to secure the memory cards preferably in or with the same boxes so they can't be tampered with. You need to secure the voter sign in sheets, again so they can't be tampered with.

These secure sealed boxes have to be signed out by both parties with date and time when they leave the polling place to be delivered for a recount or any other purpose.

They should be stored in a real vault with real security until the time comes for a recount or in lieu of one they are destroyed.

When you do a recount you have to compare the voter sign in sheet counts with the memory card counts and the paper ballot counts for each polling place. If the sign in sheets say X number of people came to vote and the machine says Y number voted you have a problem. If all three have different totals then you're really screwed.

To date the SoS as I understand it has refused to let anyone use the sign in sheets for any comparisons and the memory cards in many precincts are nowhere to be found. He refuses to count blank ballots.

The containers used to send ballots back in NH are a motley assortment of the boxes they came in, old moving boxes, and god knows what they found laying around. These things are haphazardly retaped together and a "seal" is slapped on top that is little more than a label. The "seals" have glue akin to a post it note. One van piloted by "Butch and Hoppy" followed by a single state trooper travels around the state picking up these ballot boxes.

The NH primary may or may not have been hacked but what is clear so far is it was run with little thought to ballot integrity. Now the SoS's office seems determined to cover up the incompetence and make the recount a joke. I don't have confidence in sloppy, ass covering officials or anybody who defends them.

Posted by: markg8 on January 23, 2008 at 2:37 PM | PERMALINK


rigged the machines in Hillary's favor, then how hard would it be to rig a recount?

You are speaking out of ignorance. Diebold machines may be rigged by a single knowledgeable person. Rigging a hand recount of state ballots would require a large conspiracy of people.

Posted by: Tripp on January 23, 2008 at 2:40 PM | PERMALINK

Tripp if you don't compare the voter sign in lists from the precincts (which the NH SoS refuse to let anyone do) with the vote totals on both the machines and paper ballots it makes it a lot easier to rig any election.

Posted by: markg8 on January 23, 2008 at 2:53 PM | PERMALINK

Ballots should be paper. Voting should print out a paper ballot. Ballots should be scanned in. The results should be audited using statistical sampling methods to verify the tally or to generate a demanded hand recount.

Posted by: jerry on January 23, 2008 at 3:02 PM | PERMALINK


I agree with you. I want an open honest recount so we can finally confront the 'vote-rigging' allegation head on.

Also what jerry said. We must have a paper trail.

Yes, paper trails can be rigged. They are not perfect, but they are still better than trusting a computer, and I make my living from computers.

Posted by: Tripp on January 23, 2008 at 3:37 PM | PERMALINK

Wasn't suggesting they videotape the votes. Sorry about the lack of clarity.

Was suggesting that they videotape the recount, the chain of custody of ballots, etc.

Re: Tripp

To rig an election, one would need to affect more than just 1 Diebold machine. Otherwise the vote count wouldn't be significant to swing the election either way (and if it was, it would be examined as an abnormality - ex. if a county has 100 registered voters and the Diebold machine says 1000 votes for HRC - that should be a dead give away, right?).

Point is, rigging an election takes more than one person.

Posted by: Nobcentral on January 23, 2008 at 3:38 PM | PERMALINK

I see Obama is now complaining about Nevada
Others who lost in Iowa and moved on. This behavior is becoming a sign of belief in entitlement.

Posted by: Mike on January 23, 2008 at 4:08 PM | PERMALINK

Somebody alert Brad Friedman at the Brad Blog to get off his conspiracy horse.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on January 23, 2008 at 4:24 PM | PERMALINK

Won't every single write in ballot be counted, even in precincts with Diebold machines? Wouldn't using a write in ballot, even for a candidate on the touch screen voting machine, insure that it is counted? Could this be a way to ensure that your vote is counted: using a write-in ballot?

Posted by: slanted tom on January 23, 2008 at 4:32 PM | PERMALINK


All you need is access to the final vote tally - the computer that adds all the results up. You take some votes from column A and move them to column B.

The total number of votes are correct, but the results are not.

If nobody sees the intermittent results you are in. If there is verification at the high level then you hack lower, and must hack maybe more than one computer, but Diebold makes that easy with their 'service' portal. You could almost do it over the internet.

Posted by: Tripp on January 23, 2008 at 4:55 PM | PERMALINK

Tripp >"If nobody sees the intermittent results you are in...."

This appears to be what triggered the Kenya post-election battle. The final tally didn`t seem to be "appropriate". Of course there are probably all sorts of ways that things could have gone "off track" in that election.

Tripp >"...You could almost do it over the internet."

Computer based voting could be made "bullet-proof" but that would require TPTB (at all levels) to desire that. Not likely any time soon.

I`ve worked some in computer security (cryptography) as well as physical security so I recognize the complexities/difficulties.

For now I think the scanner based systems are the best solution since there is a paper trail, the voter can be notified there is an error on their ballot before it is counted and rapid results.

This IS a very important issue indeed. Trust in the system.

"...playin with matches in a pool of gasoline..." - Swamp Mama Johnson

Posted by: daCascadian on January 23, 2008 at 5:48 PM | PERMALINK

This is beyond stupid from the get-go. Not the recount—the ridiculous polling system. It's absurd to be all up in arms about touch-screen machines and the costs of buying them and fixing them and securing the polling places, etc ad infinitum. One state has its shit together in this, and if the other 49 had half a brain between them they'd all do it that way. Oregon has all mail-in voting, and it works like a charm. It increases the turnout, lets people sit around with friends and family and discuss their votes while they're filling out their ballots, is dead easy to keep secure, and can be recounted at will (though I don't think they've ever had occasion to do a recount since they started it). It's also WAY cheaper since you don't need voting machines or even polling places at all. Just a few machines to count the mail-in ballots. Next time you read or hear more moaning and groaning about touch-screen machines, just think about this for a minute. One state has shown the way. Why are the others so stupid?

Posted by: President Lindsay on January 23, 2008 at 7:41 PM | PERMALINK

lets people sit around with friends and family and discuss their votes while they're filling out their ballots,

"Come over to the Bible-Believing Baptist Church after Bible study this Wednesday evening, where Pastor Phil will, with the help of his deacons, assist you in the prayerful completion of your mail-in ballots.

No list will be kept of those who 'forgot to bring them' and 'already filled them out'.

Your choices will of course be secret, and in no way influenced by anyone except the Holy Spirit... and don't forget Ephesians 5:22, ladies."

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on January 23, 2008 at 8:10 PM | PERMALINK

someone accusing brad friedman of being a conspiracy theorist?

did i really read that?

brad, bev harris[blackboxvoting.org] have observed that the way elections and vote tabulations are conducted is held to a lower standard than the way banks record/tabulate millions of checking acct/credit card transactions. WHY IS THAT?

that is what they want to know. want us to recognize.

why should the election process be held to a lower standard than a bank's maintenance of your accounts[which have over the years, many more entries than those recorded during an election event]?

it is my surmise that there has never been an honest vote count in the usa. if my surmise is correct, why are you content with that?

new hampshire is a real specimen of vote tabulation integrity. let us clamor for a forensic dissection of the entirety of the process.

kucinich vacated his efforts[under what bits of pressure,do you think]. could the pressure have come from the dnc, dlc?

i sure think so.

if you read mark crispin miller, bob fitrakis concerning the vote "fraud" in ohio in 2004, and how the demtillians refrained from pursuing that story/crime[how pleased they seemed to be that a presidential election was seized again for george walker bush], i think that you have to consider what i said after 2004 as being the operant demtillian program....the demtillian party wanted no changes in the corrupt process, principally because it planned to utilize the same corrupt process itself into the future.

isn't it time that all we serfs say, ENOUGH!

Posted by: albertchampion on January 23, 2008 at 8:42 PM | PERMALINK

Albert you and your "demtillian" namecalling are counter productive. I'm a Democratic precinct committeeman. You're mocking the very people you're trying to convince.

I'm trying to get rid of the machine counts completely. If I had my way election days would be a paid day off for everyone. Working the elections would be a patriotic duty like jury duty.
Hand counting ballots in every election would be mandatory.

I see no reason to entrust our elections to halfbaked technology developed in bad faith and administered, in what I'll charitably call an inept fashion, by private companies.

The manufacturers of these machines oddly enough have designed undetectable vote fraud enabling junk. Even if they don't have experience designing and building much more secure systems for business and banking, I say it's odd because it's not like that knowledge isn't out there.

If we decide to keep these electronic scanners and touchscreens we'll be paying ever increasing dollars for not just security, but for "special" ink, paper, tech support etc. that only the venders can provide.

Haven't we seen anough of this?

Posted by: markg8 on January 23, 2008 at 9:49 PM | PERMALINK

Telling people everything is alright and our votes are secure is silly.

Go to BradBlog.com to read about NH.

Posted by: MarkH on January 23, 2008 at 10:25 PM | PERMALINK

"Come over to the Bible-Believing Baptist Church after Bible study this Wednesday evening, where Pastor Phil will, with the help of his deacons, assist you in the prayerful completion of your mail-in ballots.

That is hardly an argument against mail-in ballots that would hold water. Anybody who'd fall for something as preposterous as that is already going to vote the way Pastor Phil tells them to. I suppose that voting parties of whatever sort could be organized, on both ends of the spectrum and in between, though my Oregonian brother has never heard of such a thing being done.

Posted by: President Lindsay on January 23, 2008 at 10:29 PM | PERMALINK

All but about three (I think it is) counties in Washington state are mail in. Those last ~three are headed that way w/in the next year or so.

Of course we have had the scan machines for several cycles and they seem to work fine when allowed to.

There are many ways to manipulate elections, only one of which has to do with the ballots.

"...It is in the religion of ignorance that tyranny begins..." - Benjamin Franklin

Posted by: daCascadian on January 24, 2008 at 12:02 AM | PERMALINK

If you want to lend a hand in ensuring that there are no irregularities at polling places, volunteer to work at the polls. If you don't want "the people running things (TPTB)" messing things up - accidentally or on purpose - BECOME the people running things.

Come Feb 5th, I'll be at Power Ford on PCH in Torrance, Cal., making sure things at that polling place are done by the book. Where will you be?

Posted by: Robert Earle on January 24, 2008 at 12:17 AM | PERMALINK

Ballot box.
Ammo box.

In that order.

Posted by: osama_been_forgotten on January 24, 2008 at 1:03 AM | PERMALINK


If I had my way election days would be a paid day off for everyone.

I agree with most of what you said, and thank you for being a precinct Captain.

The problem with the mandatory holiday thing is what happened recently in Kenya. Kibaki ordered a countrywide holiday and Odinga claims that disenfranchised the poor, his supporters.

Public transportation was halted and many people had to either stay home or walk miles to the polls.

Posted by: Tripp on January 24, 2008 at 10:10 AM | PERMALINK



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