Sunday, January 17, 2010

Democracy's Gold Standard

Are We There Yet?

Nationwide, statewide and here at home in Schoharie County we've muddled through several years of election integrity advocacy, debate and discussion.

Early on the discussion was framed as what kind of equipment would replace the lever machines. Legislators, election officials and of course, equipment manufacturers, shared a predeliction for machinery. Human factors engineering, systems dynamics, questions such as will people be able to use the machines and can the results be trusted, only entered the debate after citizen activists made their voices heard.

This year the officially sanctioned system, Paper Ballot Optical Scan (PBOS), will be deployed throughout the state. Advocacy groups of all sorts still have criticisms, suggestions, demands and other significant unmet desires.

There are folks threatening litigation to prevent deployment of the scanners. They distrust electronic vote counting and want to keep the lever machines. There are math wizards who claim the present law doesn't do audits right. They claim to have better formulas which would adjust audits to assure discovery of election tampering. The democracy protectors and anticorporatists say we have to keep the big money interests out of our elections.

And there are some of us who advocate for a simple and logical compromise that could satisfy almost everyone. That process is the one which has been described as Democracy's Gold Standard* by several prominent election integrity advocates.

The process; paper ballots, 100% hand-counted, at the polling place immediately following closing of the polls, and the ballot tally posted at the polling place for citizens to compare to official results.

The Peacemakers Voting Integrity Project has been advocating just this process for the past few years**. In as much as the optical scanners have been bought and paid for, and will be fully deployed this year, we are presented with an opportunity to do the Gold Standard one better. Hand count the paper ballots and post the results as suggested. Then use the scanner count as an automatic, contemporaneous electronic audit of the hand count

Some of the NY counties which participated in the PBOS pilot project this past November, including Schoharie County, did just that. Recently, one of our own Election Commissioners acknowledged that hand counting paper ballots in our county's low population election districts would not be difficult.

So it seems we're almost there. Schoharie County could easily implement Democracy's Gold Standard ballot counting process this year and set a new record for transparency, citizen participation and election integrity. Let's do it!