Make Voting Fair and Easy

If this year’s elections have proved anything, it is that our nation’s systems remain antiquated, especially in comparison with other democratic nations. The confused and insufficient number of poll workers, incredibly long lines, and broken scanning machines shocked many voters. These problems were compounded by state budget cuts, which led to further downgrades of already outdated systems and structures, including the elimination of polling locations and the consolidation of others. Voting, an act central to our nation's democracy, should be fair, easy, and seamless—it should not be a burden on our nation’s citizens.

Here at the Open Society Foundations, we have and continue to care deeply about making voting easier and more accessible—and agree with President Obama that we must fix our nation’s systems. A large part of this involves modernizing registration systems and making registration more accessible to low-income populations. Although states maintain computerized voter rolls, citizens fall off the rolls when there are errors, or when they move or change their address. We have supported the modernization of these systems, which for example, means citizens can register or update their registration online or at the polls. So far, at least 21 states have automated their voter registration systems to some extent. Simultaneously, we have supported implementation of the National Voter Registration Act, (commonly known as “the Motor Voter Law”), ensuring that voter registration services are provided at public agencies. In Mississippi for example, the work of grantee partner Demos led to a 2,500 percent increase in the number of voter registrations in the state per month

In addition to continuing work on enhancing our nation’s systems and supporting efforts to protect voters from intimidation and restrictive policies, going into 2013 we will support affirmative reforms to make voting not only easier, but more accessible. Two examples of our planned work include Same Day (or Election Day) Registration and mitigating restrictive voter identification reforms. The first would create a seamless connection between registration and voting, making the process especially easier for first-time voters. The second would reform restrictive photo identification laws so they are more expansive and include different types of identification, giving voters greater flexibility.

Voting is a central tenet of our nation and while we admire those who waited hours in line to fulfill their civic duty, this should and cannot be the norm. We know that making the process of casting a ballot one that is and more accessible will be difficult work but because it is a quintessential part of an open society, we are eager to face the challenges that lay ahead of us.

2 Comments

Speaking up for the Electorate: A Simple, Verifiable and Non-Tamperable Voting System
This election, like every previous one, has been a wakeup call. The problems of this last election are likely to be immediately forgotten as the election season begins almost immediately for the 2014 or 2016 election. The media is enthralled with the contention between the parties and pays little attention to the process we use to elect our representatives. We like to believe the American election system is impeccable.
The voting systems we have are far too antiquated to serve the important role of elections in our democracy. It needs a brave, Federal, State or City Office to demand and champion the development of a 21st Century solution worthy of the Principles of the Constitution. Developing a system takes time, and it is necessary to start soon to be ready for the next time.
Mayor Bloomberg was appalled by his experience with the most modern implementation of electronic voting, calling it cumbersome and antiquated. President George W. Bush was sufficiently confused that he unintentionally cast his vote irretrievably for President Obama. Bush signed the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) into law in 2002 which introduced ‘Electronic Voting” to establish more positively “voter intent.” After his experience he pledged himself to reform.
There are many tasks involved in voting – registering to vote, receiving notice of the election ballot, identifying oneself as an eligible voter, receiving a blank ballot, completing it, and submitting it to be counted. Each of these steps is ideally suited to be done on-line, using an integrated system, and as a self-service operation.
Even more importantly, one should be able to see one’s vote counted correctly. This is, after all, the purpose of Elections: to conduct free, open and verifiable elections. Current systems do not provide proof of one’s vote.
In any other transaction with business or government there is strong encouragement to go to the website and do it oneself In the case of elections, the voter is always the best person to complete the details necessary to vote, or to notify a change of name or address. This would save the State thousands of hours of people-work time and in the 2012 case in Florida on Election Day led to the sudden removal of 180,000 votes The State should be able to engage the voter interactively whenever a voter’s eligibility is in question.
In every aspect of the process the voter and the electorate should share control. This applies to registration, vote recording and most importantly seeing the vote correctly counted.
It is why a “Proof of Vote” System is essential.
Many of the issues in the last election would have been avoided had an on-line alternative been available. Long lines waiting for inadequate numbers of voting machines, power outages, machine failures, notification problems of redirecting voters to emergency polling locations, all disappear if there is a mobile platform alternative available to give access to the process.
Using any one of the multiple types of standard mobile devices, e.g. cell phones or laptops, ensure greater ease of voter access and convenience, and greater availability. These worldwide services enable the Uniformed and Overseas Voter to be included on an equal basis with domestic voters. In 2010 barely two thirds of their votes were successfully returned. Their problems in participating in elections have not been solved. It has been a lasting scandal since President Roosevelt drew attention to their difficulties in 1944. Voting can be available to all -- anywhere, anytime -if neither the vote entry device nor the service provider is location dependent.
A “Proof of Vote” system provides a one-stop means of accomplishing all the steps in the voting process. It provides the crucial additional benefit of showing voters their vote as counted. It provides evidence, which is essential for identifying errors, correcting them and eradicating irregularities, and the substantiation of the results.
Direct Recording Equipment (DREs) and scanner systems were mandated and funded by the HAVA legislation. These are vote capture devices. They provide no evidence to the voter when one votes, and eliminate any means of tracking one’s vote. They are programmable devices so that it is quite impossible to guarantee that the program one is using is identical to the one, which was tested and certified. Programs should continuously prove their correct operation. In a secret ballot or confidential; application the proof has to be given to the user, or voter in this case, because no one else is entitled to know the information or verify its accuracy.
Anyone who used these machines knows they had no evidence to show their vote was recorded correctly or counted correctly. It is a system, which is therefore open to fraud.
Dr Fenton of Princeton University has demonstrated how easy it is to change the system in undetectable ways.
The absence of evidence means it is impossible to prove when DREs are working as intended or when they are not. It is impossible to prove fraud in the absence of evidence, and equally impossible to prove the results they produce.
In the absence of definitive evidence, the 2012 election produced some overwhelming circumstantial evidence of inexplicable results. The initial declaration of the result was based on a mix of systems. Obama had 52-9% of the 131 million recorded votes. There were a further 4.15 million late-recorded votes. Obama won 63.1% of these vote which all came in from non-electronic means. These arrived after there was no longer any incentive to manipulate the evidence. There was a 10% discrepancy between these votes and those, which provided no hard evidence.
This is overwhelming circumstantial evidence of some form of error. The 4.1 million votes is too large a sample to have any significant margin of error. A 10% discrepancy has no feasible explanation.
Rather than belabor what exactly happened in the 2012 election, the inescapable conclusion is that evidence is crucial to understanding what occurs in an election.
Even leaving aside the importance of the having free and fair elections, developing the system will save substantial sums of public money. A mobile app approach can be implemented more swiftly and cost effectively than continuing to maintain and work with existing systems.
Who will commission this effort? The development of a technical solution is the easy part, but it cannot be done in isolation from an Election Board and it should be done at the highest possible level.
The Department of Defense could be the sponsor for a pilot scheme since they are responsible for our armed forces, and this is an ideal subset of the electorate, since they are not adequately served by existing systems, are the most challenging group to serve, and come from every constituency.
However, the absence of evidence in the present system is unacceptable and this deficiency demands a new solution for the whole electorate..
The state of our present American voting system is a national disgrace and requires an immediate initiative at the Federal, and State level. A standard solution is required since we are all equal when we enter the polling booth and our votes should all be measured in the same way.

Thank you for all your hard work to improve standards for voting. I live in Columbia, SC our capital. Our County here, (Richland) was a disgraceful, unconstitutional process. Voting machines were found uncounted in closets, numerous people waited seven hours, while older people could not vote, and despite these issues uncluding our SClaw enforcement seizing machines for a recount, our Chief Justice halted this and oversaw the recounting process- one canidate, (D) Joe McCullough, who was close to (R) Finlay on house seat Dist. 75 conceded his seat even though all ballots were still uncounted days later. To date the official results are still not released until Monday. The system was inappropiate, the election commision director was incompetent, yet is paid a high salary and according to my understanding cannot be fired even though she was clearly incompetent in her planning and administration. It is disgraceful for SC citizens who have a governor who has not properly overseen our Internal Revenue department which is undergoing audit due to our entire state records, being hacked at a department that should have had the strongest security. Now our citizens will pay in taxes millions for state protection for credit montering for all persons and business who filed on line since 1998. Our citizens will pay for the audit process, legal ramifications of unfair, unconstitutional voting and we are a state that consistantly falls near last on education, highest on teen pregnancy, highest on child abuse, and those persons incarcarated who are clearly minorities, lower income, and do not have any system for wrongful conviction representation other that Appalete indigent defense which can take years to be represented. Our state needs help and I am very greatful for your attention response to these matters.
Mary Stewart

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