Morgan Liddick: If Kyrgyzstan can have a fair election, can’t we? |

Morgan Liddick: If Kyrgyzstan can have a fair election, can’t we?

And On the Right

Two cheers for Mike Coffman. In decertifying most of the electronic voting machines currently in use in Colorado, he did us all an enormous favor.

In the 1980s, I was an election observer, working with both the European Organization for Cooperation and Development and the organization of American States. What I saw before, during and especially after three presidential elections, two parliamentary elections and two runoff primaries reinforced my belief that there are two essential elements for successfully selecting leaders through polling: public participation and public trust that the process is fair. Electronic voting in its present form, and the preferred replacement, address neither.

Let’s begin by admitting that inserting a black box between the voter and his or her choice is, by its very nature, to create doubt. Accounts of machines that are easily tricked, tampered with or reprogrammed are numerous enough to cause voters to look askance at results. The Secretary of State’s confirmation of some of these problems, followed by a finding that most could be addressed with software patches does little to bolster confidence. After all, the patches will be provided by the same organizations that produced the faulty software to begin with.

Add to this the difficulty ” or impossibility ” of maintaining a verifiable written record of votes cast, and there will be serious problems of trust, particularly in close races. All in all, an unenviable situation.

Colorado’s County Clerks, justifiably concerned that their large investments in balloting equipment are in jeopardy and worried about the expense, complications and proximity of the upcoming election, have proposed a solution about as reasonable as taking cyanide for a headache: mail-in ballots. Aficionados of “one man, one vote” can only ask if Colorado’s Postal system is so blessed that no piece of mail ever goes astray or arrives late. Those concerned about ballot secrecy can probably imagine the collective voting which will occur around the dinner table in other cases. And then, there is the problem of confirming that the mail-in vote was actually cast by a registered vote. Talk about issues of trust. …

Secretary of State Coffman has suggested a paper ballot, which has been met with a generalized feeling of dread. We seem to have developed the mistaken idea that voting must be the easiest thing a person can do, with the possible exception of drawing breath. Perhaps you agree. Maybe you are among those convinced that better governance will be provided by voters who think “The Half Hour News Hour” is real news. Or that their civic duty will be discharged by appearing every few years to push some buttons or touch a screen, but would prefer to do so without moving from the couch. I am not persuaded. “Public participation” is not just a cattle call.

When I observed elections in Armenia, I saw voters standing in long lines for hours, in bone-chilling, miserable cold to cast their ballots. Occasionally, the Secret Police would show up for a little chat. In Panama it was stifling, tropical heat, but the wait was the same ” thankfully, without the police. There were no machines, by the way. It was all paper, with ink for the thumb.

After the votes were cast in each country, the process was nowhere near over. When the polls closed, the precinct committees ” a representative from each major party and three or four election officials ” would count, tally and report the votes. If there was a dispute, there was a recount. And maybe, another. In the end, party representatives and election officials either agreed or submitted challenged counts, all of which were forwarded with the actual ballots cast. In the end everyone knew exactly what had happened. There was a record, so when an election was judged either “free and fair,” or otherwise, there was evidence to back the claim up. It was a time-consuming, labor-intensive process, but as I have observed elsewhere, electoral democracy is not a form of government for wimps.

So yes, let’s make a commitment to a paper-ballot poll in Colorado. Let’s forget about the “voting system industry,” which as an industry is naturally concerned foremost with selling its product and only secondarily with the welfare of the consumer ” in this case you, whoever you are. Talk to your local party chairpersons and offer to help. When the time comes ” and it will ” respond to the County Clerk’s requests for volunteers. Turn out your friends. This is something Americans used to do regularly, and it worked.

It’s going to take concerted effort by all of us, but if it can be done in Armenia, and Panama – and Turkey and Mexico and even, yes, even in Kyrgyzstan, then I’d like to think we can handle a paper-ballot election too.

Can’t we?

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