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January 6, 2005
Bostonian Proposes New Voting Process

Pennywit draws my attention to a comment on an earlier CQ post by Bostonian, which suggests a new way to vote with safeguards built in for each voter to ensure their vote was counted.

In addition to making sure that every ballot is legal (for which many proposals have been floated), we need two things:

1) Independent verificiation of the totals
2) Certainty that every vote was counted

For 1, when a voter submits his ballot, he provides one copy to a Republican and one copy to a Democrat. There's a unique ballot number on the ballot, which can be used to verify that the identical ballot was included in both totals.

Both parties tally up the votes separately, compare the results, and if the error is too large, nail down every last discrepancy.

For 2), the voter takes home a paper stub with the same ballot number, and he can look online to see if that ballot number was counted *and* he can see how his ballot was interpreted.

This process would solve a number of problems. First, it would require that a voter show evidence that his vote was counted improperly (or not counted at all) before filing a challenge. That alone would probably put a halt to post-election shenanigans. It would greatly simplify the validation of vote counts, a problem that has mushroomed into a complete debacle in Washington's gubernatorial election. Recounts would not have to rely on outsiders trying to divine voter intent, along with the ubuquitous photos of ballots held high in the air by squinting precinct workers.

This system has its drawbacks as well. I think that having the political parties doing separate counts may not work out well, especially in areas where Greens or Libertarians have more than just a token presence. Besides, the political parties have no statutory role in a general election, although in a closed primary that may be less of a problem. People may object to the on-line verification of the ballot, as lower-income voters have less access to the Internet and therefore arguably would be disadvantaged for checking that their votes were counted properly. The counties would have to supply access to voters regardless of area for that purpose to ensure that all voters were treated fairly. Also, what happens if a voter says that their ballot wasn't counted properly? Would they be allowed a revote, with a new count? It seems that provision could be exploited for some mischief.

Lastly, and most critically, numbered ballots are going to be a tough sell. Having sequentially-numbered ballots associated with identification of the voter may generate a lot of opposition among the tinfoil-hat crowd, who are unlikely to give up anonymous balloting. (Remember the objections when a similar proposal was aired for overseas military personnel?)

If that latter objection could be overcome, having the state do the initial count subject to strict recounts with voter challenges allowed for a short period of time, this system could work well. What are your thoughts?

UPDATE: I should retract the tinfoil-hat comment; anonymous balloting has proven very useful, and that's a bit too dismissive of a legitimate concern. My apologies.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 6, 2005 12:58 PM

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