For as long as I have been of voting age, I often wondered why a person never has to show identification to vote in a United States election. Just a few weeks ago, I took some e-waste to the trash company, and was asked for my ID prior to being allowed to leave my discarded goods.
A week ago, when I was in Laughlin, I had to provide ID to register at the hotel and again when I wanted to pay for a meal in the café. OK, I have heard individuals express the opinion, providing ID disenfranchises some voters, but how can an individual exist today without identification?
Then for the 2000 presidential election, the process appeared even more troublesome when “hanging and dimpled chads” first made the news, and then a Supreme Court ruling was necessary to decide the presidential race. Fast forward to 2020 and not only has the election process not been updated in a way that gives the country confidence in the results, we have come to a place where 70% of Republicans and 30% of Democrats perceive the election system is rigged.
While you may agree or not, when half of the country perceives there is a problem, our leaders better sit up and take notice. Yet rather than discuss the 2020 election, I am going to take you back to 2014 and my unsuccessful run for City Council. At that time, City Council elections were stand-alone and held on off years. Ballots were stored and counted by city staff, with polls reporting “in person” vote counts on election evening. Next would come opening of absentee and provisional ballots. The process was conducted in a way that gave the public a clear view of the proceedings and several citizens watched as the process took place.
Finally, it was time for the count, which was accomplished in the council chambers at a special meeting. City staff hired the services of an individual who provided the card-reading equipment. With everything in place, the ballots were brought in, and the count proceeded with results displayed for all to see. Shortly after beginning, however, the city manager stopped the count and informed the audience, the votes were not being accurately accumulated to the proper candidate and an adjustment had to be made. A correction was accomplished, and the count proceeded. When the counting process was almost complete, a staff member came into the chambers announcing additional ballots had been found and added them to those not yet counted.
Now I want to be clear, I did not accuse city staff of any wrongdoing then, and I am not accusing them of any wrongdoing today. I am simply using what transpired, to illustrate how perceptions of wrongdoing can develop, and we must acknowledge, once an individual’s perception exists, it becomes their reality.
Even today, with City Council election results no longer being provided by city staff, lessons learned from 2014 are still valid. First, it became obvious the software used to manage the “count and display” had not been sufficiently tested prior to use, and finding additional ballots brought forth more basic questions. Why didn’t city staff know how many ballots were in their possession to be counted? Why didn’t city staff announce those ballots were missing right when the count started?
While I had faith in the honesty of city staff, my conclusion became, the most likely place for an election to be fixed, is during the receipt of ballots, the storage of ballots, the transfer of ballots to the count processing area, and the count itself — primarily because ballots become anonymous submittals and the total number of ballots do not appear to become solidified by that time.
Now isn’t that the same general problem, being highlighted by the 2020 presidential election, except currently on a much grander scale? The most important mitigation our government can accomplish is to provide a voting and election process that eliminates any perception of anyone being wronged. All legitimate votes must be counted, and all final tabulations must be accurate.
A few weeks ago, I penned a column where I spoke of using information technology, similar to the banking industry, to make voting user friendly, more honest, and enabling results to be compiled and verified quickly. In that light, suppose when a person registered to vote, it required submittal of information certifying citizenship, and when approved the individual was issued an account/card, like an ATM card. Then the individual could log in and enter their vote, which they could change up until possibly two days before the election. If they elected to vote in person, the polling place would provide a terminal for them to use. The voter could then log in at any time, and verify their vote was still valid and had not been changed.
This probably sounds familiar to anyone using today’s online banking.
To prevent data corruption, information would be duplicated and stored in several locations, along with individual transactions. Count software, design, implementation and tests would be objectively peer reviewed. Software version validation would be accomplished using checksums at all levels. Finally, results would be validated by rebuilding data and recounts from backups, with exception reports made public.
If we want to solve the problem and ensure the democratic functions that drive our republic are conducted in an open and honest way, we need to stop doing what we have always done and expecting a different result.
As a nation we have the technology. Now all we need is the will to make it happen.
Alan Ferdman is a Santa Clarita resident and a member of the Canyon Country Advisory Committee board.