Printer Friendly Page Elections, Polling and Democracy ~ #13

Elections, Polling and Democracy ~ #13

By Alan F. Kay, PhD
2002, (fair use with attribution and copy to authors)
Oct. 29, 2002

Polling has been increasingly successful at predicting election outcomes. When elections too close to call are a problem, they are too close to be predicted by polls. However, polling plays another important role in elections. Political parties, loaded with smart, well-financed people, in their self-interest use poll findings to rapidly provide the public's reaction to news on issues the public cares about, which once was long delayed and scanty. Along with instantaneous IT methodologies, equally accessible to both parties, facing a winner-take-all struggle, each party is enabled to compete and make sure that the public on average perceives it to be no worse than the other party, hopefully better.

These factors work together to drive the political system into close elections. Much better voting procedures and vote counting methods than democracies have generally used are now required. Virtually a dead heat with officially less than 0.01% difference between the presidential contestants, the fiasco of the flawed Florida 2000 election illustrates the problems.

Two ways of fixing U.S. elections have been considered. One is fine: improving existing methods, based on election supervisors in the 3,043 U.S. counties and voting largely on election day in about 100,000 precincts. The other that captures the most attention is the technological fix: the use of the Internet and modern electronic, screen-based computers, sometimes called point-of-sale computers, personal computers (PCs) or simply "voting machines". For PCs, the country turns to technologists. It seems to offer a simple fix. Large financial institutions with hundreds of branches, hundreds of thousands of accounts, and millions of daily transactions can determine the value of each account and the holdings in each branch to the penny overnight.

The Internet would work fine, but the tough problem remains the voting machine. Even when voting machines were mechanical, they choked on un-emptied chad holders; invisibly failed to count some votes; shut out a frustrated voter who wanted to change a mistaken entry; or could be set-up to show zero counts when phony votes were already entered before the polls opened, leading to non-verifiable final counts that poll workers had no choice but to accept.

The problems were exponentially increased based on the fact that about 200,000 voting machines had to be loaded for election day, often with last minute changes in candidate lists at local, county, state and national levels, affecting each machine differently. That means that for each new election many tens of thousands of competent, trustworthy, technicians, employed by private industry had to program and set up the machines in a very short time. The technicians protected their jobs and their employers by making sure that any problems a machine had would not be noticed. Pleading ignorance or protecting proprietary status, they avoided answering any questions on this subject by politicians, reporters, or election officials.

The PC has all of these problems, but bigger and buried at a deeper level. Software packages could be prepared that would tinker with vote counts in sophisticated ways: (a) delete all data shortly after poll closing, (b) increase by 5% the vote ratio of Jones, Republican, to Smith, Democrat, and (c) millions more. Nobody could even guess that such fixes were in the software, let alone who might have the password, whether somebody in the software company, some election worker or supervisor, or some political big shot thousands of miles away.

But politicians love the idea that modern technology will be the fix. They can turn the problems over to favored corporations, and walk away from any responsibility for delays, cost over-runs, or design flaws permitting corruption. The show-stopping problems described here, out of ignorance, confusion, or self-protection will never be mentioned by reporters, technologists or politicians. Clever technologically based ideas are under study already in the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and elsewhere, that cannot deal with these key issues.

Information on the current studies can be found in www.technologyreview.com; www.VoteHere.com; www.Election.com; and in alanfkay.com see #13 National Elections, and  13.1 "A Best Practices System for National Elections

Only the latter study deals with all aspects of the problems at the political level, proposing a method for voters to determine if their votes were counted by (1) receipt of a personal code assignment, printed and picked up by the voter after completing voting at the precinct, and (2) the production and wide availability of a "precinct tally sheet", a matrix of voter codes versus candidate names, referenda, etc. Each spot in the matrix is either blank or 1 (meaning "yes, approved"). The total number of votes for a name is the sum of all "ones" under the name. Any voter can quickly check whether his/her votes counted. Any reporter or candidate can quickly check for any error in any tally sheet. The website explains why the desires, needs, and psychology of voters, reporters, editors, politicians, and officials may all be fulfilled by features and methods described in the site.

Information on the real history of the burial of problems of voting machines is provided in www.votescam.com. For the politics of voting and vote counting, obtain a videotape copy of a revealing Hollywood feature film described in www.unprecedented.org.

Polling and voting have a lot in common. Both play important roles that when honest protect the public's interests and when corrupt signal a dying democracy.



>>> 2.5  The Polling Critic

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