Friday, February 02, 2007

Counting the Vote.

Trust is a vital component of a democracy, in particular for the election system to work. Voters must be able to trust the electoral process and the certainty of the result.

That is why its a good idea for voting machines to produce paper trails, so votes can be recounted manually and repeatedly if necessary. It is, therefore, good news that Florida has announced a shift to a voting system with paper trail. For more this New York Times article.

Yet, somehow I am amazed that US states insist on using voting machines. Manual vote counting is not difficult and inspires more trust. In Denmark, where I as a Civil Servant participated in counting votes, only paper ballots are used and votes are counted at least twice withing 24 hours of the polling stations closing. The first count is usually completed within two hours and the second the following day. If the counts don't not match up, the ballots will be recounted until a certainty of the result is reached. The counting is a public event and monitored by election officials representing all the different political parties standing in the election. Although trust is still important for the system to work, it is created by the transparency and certainty of the count.

In the 2004/2005 'Orange Revolution' in Ukraine, it was actually lack of trust that undermined the initial election results. Although only circumstantial evidence of electoral fraud was proved, the political system gave into the protests because of the perception of fraud and breakdown of trust.

After the 2000 Florida election debacle, trust in the election system in the US seems low. The political response has been an upgrading of voting machines. However, machines do not inspire trust. I can only hope that the political powers in the US will realise this and focus on transparency and paper documentation, rather than technology.


At 02 February, 2007 11:57, Blogger Charles said...


I saw an article similar to the one you were speaking of, and I am in total agreement. Paper ballots are the best way to go. Due to a much larger population though, it is more of a challenge to do manual counting, thus there are counting machines. However, being that the ballot is on paper, it can be recounted, if necessary, by hand. Touch screens that don't produce a paper trail are prone to corruption or at least the accusation of corruption from both sides of the political spectrum.

Now, I can't let the 2000 election debacle go uncommented upon. ;-) I...just...can't. First off, the areas where there were recounts, and recounts of recounts - all of these counties were Democrat counties, with Democrat made and approved ballots. And these same ballots had been used for years - but nobody complained during the Clinton election and reelection - because the result was what they wanted.

To be fair, the 2000 election was a huge debacle. I think the Supreme Court should not have been involved. It was a HUGE violation of the Separation of Powers. The Florida Supreme Court should not have been involved. Again - HUGE violation of Separation of Powers. If we would have followed the rules in the Constitution, the dispute would have gone directly to the congress - specifically the House.

And, my opinion, even though it would have lost the election in 2000, is that we need to get rid of the electoral college. It is ancient and out of date - and not fair, regardless of who wins. We are not living in the 1700-1800's anymore.

The unfortunate result of the 2000 election mess is now every election will see court disputes to resolve close counts, and even counts that go differently than what was polled. And thats not what this country needs.

At 04 February, 2007 03:38, Anonymous Kiersten said...

Ok, I'm feeling very stupid right now, but what was the orange revolution? I probably should have written about this in your Newsweek blog. However it is more of recent occurrence that I realized how little I know about what is happening outside of the U.S.. I watch or listen to news programs at least 4-8 hours a day and yet I'm having to ask what is the Orange Revolution.

My frustration with the 24 hour news channels (yes even Fox news)is that if it doesn't have to do with the U.S., Iraq, or occasionally Afghanistan, then it is barely a blip on the radar screen.

A few weeks ago some American guy trying to sail around the world got caught in a storm, the whole morning all we heard about was his rescue. What could have been covered in 30 sec. or a five minute segment took all morning. Surely there was something else going on in the world that was more important.
I would actually, especially appreciate Fox News' perspective on world events because of their conservative bent. They might cover things in a slightly different way than the other news organizations, giving me a more complete picture of what is going on.

It seems like with 24 hours in a day they could find at least 1 hour to spend on more detailed reports of world news.

At 04 February, 2007 03:50, Anonymous Kiersten said...

To be fair to our news organizations, now that I have looked up the orange revolution, I certainly do remember it. However, I still believe that we could spend more time getting into more detail of world events.

At 04 February, 2007 12:54, Blogger Torsten Pedersen said...

Charles, I agree the Democrats were not necessary right in their reasons for contesting the 2000 election.

What made the whole thing a farce was the inability of the political establishment to recount the votes in process all parties agree upon. Neither parties showed, in my opinion, respect for the democratic process.

When the margin of victory in an election is small, recounting should happen automatically. Also a process for resolving disputes in counting should be in place. Unfortunately, there seems to be no real political will to entrench such a process in the electoral system. Rather States and Counties are investing in machines.

I can only agree with you on the outdatedness of the Electoral College.

Kiersten, Its not just in the US that international news coverage is bad. The isolationist tendency is, however, perhaps stronger in the US, due to its size and importance.


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