Misplaced election reform priorities

These things don’t happen in a vacuum, and so it is not surprising to see Gov. Chris Gregoire joining the chorus of establishment voices demanding that the ballot deadline be changed from postmarked on election day to received by election day.

Earlier in the day, Gregoire said that the days, and potentially weeks, of not knowing the outcome of an election is hard not only on the candidates, but on the people who voted for them.

“Those candidates deserve to know. The people deserve to know,” Gregoire said about the counting process.

But as admirable as her empathy for her fellow politicians might be, the governor has yet to say a word about the real scandal in last Tuesday’s election: the forty-some thousand King County voters who were disenfranchised due to our state’s wholly inadequate ballot design and review procedures.

With the bulk of the ballots counted, my earlier analysis holds up. More than 9 percent of King County ballots fail to record a vote on Initiative 1033, compared to only 3 percent in the rest of the state. Meanwhile, the equally high profile Referendum 71, featured at the top of the ballot (as opposed to hidden underneath the instructions), enjoys a remarkably low 1.6 percent residual vote rate in King County, right in line with voters throughout the rest of the state.

And this otherwise inexplicable falloff in voting on I-1033 occurred despite the fact that the No campaign spent millions of dollars on TV ads that explicitly instructed voters on where to find the question on the King County ballot.

Gov. Gregoire and Secretary of State Sam Reed may not have noticed the scandal, but the Voting Technology Project at the Brennan Center for Justice has, citing the I-1033 vote as “more evidence, if any was needed, of the potential disenfranchising effects of poor design.”

But the Brennan Center goes further, actually recommending a very simple, reasonable and inexpensive reform:

What probably would have alerted officials to this problem ahead of time, and at little or no cost, would have been a simple usability test: observing ten or fifteen King County citizens as they “voted” on the ballot before the design was finalized. This solution is simple, easy and cheap. The Usability Professionals Association has a great explanation of how it’s done.

If county officials watched a dozen people fill out the ballot, at least a couple might have accidentally skipped the ballot initiative. And, with that, officials would have been alerted to the fact that their ballot contained a serious flaw.

The ballot eventually got it’s usability test, of course…but on Election Day. And approximately 40,000 voters showed — a little too late — that this particular ballot design failed.

Secretary of State Sam Reed has been pushing the ballot deadline issue hard behind the scenes, attempting to capitalize on what has been wrongly portrayed as a slow, long slog to determine the winner in the Seattle mayoral race. But while both he and Gov. Gregoire argue to fix a problem that is not a problem, with a solution that will not speed up election night reporting at all, they both ignore an obvious flaw in our elections system, that just disenfranchised tens of thousands of voters, and that can be easily fixed via a small, inexpensive procedural reform.

I don’t expect the Governor or the Secretary of State to agree with me on every issue. But I do expect them to have their priorities in order when it comes to something as basic to democracy as the integrity of our electoral process.

Comments

  1. 1

    Blue John spews:

    Chris Gregoire joining the chorus of establishment voices demanding that the ballot deadline be changed from postmarked on election day to received by election day.

    What is wrong with these people? I want a fair and accurate vote, not one that is fast but disenfranchises voters so it can be talked about on the 11 pm news.

  2. 2

    The Duke spews:

    Someone please tell me why we have not gone to web-based voting. I do my banking via the web, why not vote? It’s fast, it’s accurate and it’s traceable.

  3. 5

    That's what she said... spews:

    We desperately need election reform that requires that all ballots be in in time to be not just postmarked but counted and have the actual final number released at 5 p.m. on election day. The voters of this state have been disenfranchised for too long by this grossly unfair process. They voted, they deserve to know who won in a prompt manner. People will stop voting if that have to wait days to find out if the person they voted for won or not, and that’s just unacceptable in a democracy.

  4. 6

    don spews:

    have the actual final number released at 5 p.m.

    Yea, let’s have those final numbers released BEFORE the polls close at 8 pm.

  5. 7

    spews:

    That’s what @ 5

    How’d your system work? A rough sketch would do nicely.

    The voters of this state have been disenfranchised for too long by this grossly unfair process.

    I’m pretty sure that word doesn’t mean what you think it means.

  6. 8

    X'ad spews:

    hey voted, they deserve to know who won in a prompt manner. People will stop voting if that have to wait days to find out if the person they voted for won or not, and that’s just unacceptable in a democracy.

    I vote to put a candidate in office, not for the thrill of gambling on a given night. He will or will not be elected regardless of my observation of the results.

    You evidently have different goals.

  7. 10

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @5 How much additional taxes are you willing to pay for hiring the extra help needed to count the ballots faster?

    I thought so.

  8. 11

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    Republicans aren’t happy unless it’s nigh-impossible for working-class Americans to vote in their own country.

  9. 12

    The Duke spews:

    Osgood @ 4, are you really that Stupid? That is a 5 (almost 6) year old report, based on old technology. Even if that was current, how can I be wrong on all counts? The only point they made was that it could be comprimised (it wasn’t) and that votes could be bought (jeez that doesn’t happen today). When you come back from buffalo hunting, pull your head out of your ass and realize that computers are here to stay. If I trust my money to the internet I sure as hell trust my vote. Give me something written in the past year that discredits internet voting and then we can talk.

    I want the most people voting, and internet voting will give more people the franchise.

  10. 13

    klatu spews:

    Thanks Goldy for continuing to report on this – this is a much bigger issue than having to sit around for a couple of days to make sure everyone’s vote is counted (as if it actually mattered that we had to wait a couple extra days to find out that McGinn won).

    I’m absolutely disgusted at Sherrill Huff for approving this ballot, then not saying a damn thing about it after the election revealed widespread disenfranchisement. This is inexcusable. THere is no way she deserves re-election.

  11. 14

    spews:

    The Duke @ 12

    are you really that Stupid

    I’m guessing you didn’t vote for me.

    That is a 5 (almost 6) year old report, based on old technology.

    Show me the studies, reports, existing product, expert, anything, that supports anything you’ve said.

    I do this computer thing for a living. I’m pretty good at it. Take your best shot.

  12. 15

    The Duke spews:

    Jason, check the voting results. You lost. You don’t do this for a living.

    You are the one who pulled a very old report out as “proof” that internet voting will not work. I don’t have proof, only my belief that internet voting can be made to operate safely. Just as internet banking is today.

    I don’t think you are as good as you think you are, or you would find a way to make it work. Rather then rail against modern technology.

  13. 16

    prefer transparent verfiable elections spews:

    @15

    Last year when Republican Sam Reed was trying once again to bring us Internet voting, I contacted one of the computer security experts that authored that “old report.” He stated nothing has changed. He confirmed that the security and privacy risks associated with Internet voting are based on the basic architectural (design) of the Internet. Unless the basic architecture of the Internet is changed, which can’t happen – would have to start from scratch – no front-end solution can eliminate the privacy and security risks.

    Why don’t you contact those authors? You can find them on the Internet. Then you wouldn’t be talking out your ass.

  14. 17

    ian spews:

    Before dems get on this bandwagon, there is really only one thing to look at, which is what this would do to turnout. My guess? The republican areas of the state will be better at getting their ballot in on time while libs like seattle will not. Why would we sacrifice a point or two just so we know the result a little sooner?

  15. 18

    spews:

    So, if the postmark on the ballot is Monday, but the post office does not deliver it until Wednesday, then the Governor says my vote does not count.

    Few things make me angry, this is one of them.

    Why is the postmark good enough for the IRS but not for local media?

    If she pushes this you can go ahead and call me Tim Eymann Jr. Changing voting access on such a massive scale should be voted on, and count every legally postmarked ballet to show the outcome.

    I got an idea, how about we tax local media for the cost of postage?
    How about we don’t start counting untill all ballots are in?
    How about we do not release vote totals until all the votes are counted?
    That would be three actual improvements to the “problem”.

  16. 19

    spews:

    Bravo for usability testing! That’s a great first step.

    Shortening the deadline would discourage overseas serving military from voting. Why does the Duke hate the USA?

    Croak!

  17. 20

    Wells spews:

    Oh good grief. One more thing to go wrong in huffily never wrong snootville. Yes, I’ve looked down my nose at you too. Don’t bother me, I’m well off. At least, Seattle has a mayor now with some experience in sidewalks, parks, LRT rather than FREEWAY, and expresses soul. Greg’s support for the 4-lane Cut/cover in O7 was right-frickin-on. Deep-bore does not stabilize waterfront soils near as well and thru-corridor between Elliott and Deep-bore portal ala Mercer Messier was unbe-freakin-leavable, as Peggy Hill would say. Let the McGinn era begin, I’m serious…

  18. 21

    spews:

    “But I do expect them to have their priorities in order when it comes to something as basic to democracy as the integrity of our electoral process.”

    Goldy, wow. I don’t think our politicians “have their priorities in order” on the electoral process, or at least their priorities are different than ours. Wouldn’t the process be much different if its integrity was a high priority to our politicians?

  19. 22

    spews:

    Duke @ 15

    I don’t have proof, only my belief that internet voting can be made to operate safely. Just as internet banking is today.

    You’re making the Tinkerbell argument: clap loud enough and Tinkerbell can fly. Oddly, the same persuasive argument Sam Reed made to the legislature last year.

    Why do you believe that internet banking is “safe”? Sure, I do it. But I know the odds are my accounts will eventually get hacked. Which is why I have separate accounts for various purposes. I do have some recourse when that happens. Though the burden of proof is on me.

    I don’t think you are as good as you think you are, or you would find a way to make it work. Rather then rail against modern technology.

    So it’s my fault you don’t have a winged unicorn?

    You don’t think people have tried? Internet voting is a Holy Grail for geeks like me. It’s not possible. Not today. Not tomorrow. Never.

    The SERVE report spells it all out. I’ll humor you and explain one issue.

    You’ve heard the expression “on the internet, no one knows you’re a dog”. Makes sense, right?

    You’re The Duke, whoever that is. I’m “Jason Osgood”, but you really can’t prove that it’s me making these postings. Even if I’m using a password, of any kind, there’s no way to prove it’s me. Just like The Duke could be anyone.

    And that’s the problem. Elections administrators have no way to prove that the person voting is who they say they are. Banks, on the other hand, don’t care. If their asses are covered, they’re happy. As for the inevitable fraud, it’s just overhead, a part of doing business.

  20. 24

    That's what she said... spews:

    @6,7,8,10 Holy shit guys, I was being sarcastic. I guess it’s an indictment of the amount of nutjobs out there blogging away that you would find it plausible for someone to be seriously proposing that, and so adamantly. Just trying to support Goldy. Next time I attempt a reductio ad absurdum on here I’ll really take it out there. Although I guess that wouldn’t help. Ok, maybe a little winky smiley face then. ;-)

  21. 25

    spews:

    The internet is a subset of the world wide web. Debating the security features of a subset, and its built-in limitations can only take you so far.

    Are you logging onto the internet when you use a cash machine?
    A dozen years ago I used to connect to the SPLibrary via FTP connection.
    Going to the library today I use a form of browser and self-checkout items, and somehow the records are kept pretty well.

    Btw, somebody “hacked” into a collection box full of paper, offering the chance to get names, addresses and signatures. So, that system leaves something to be desired, as well.

  22. 28

    czechsaaz spews:

    At the risk of sounding like a Luddite (look it up Cyn…) when did we get to the point that we have to know a few hours after the polls close?

  23. 29

    That's what she said... spews:

    They are destroying the whole aesthetic experience of election day and night. I miss the school auditorium and the PTA bake sale. I miss the infamous punch cards that made you really feel like you were voting. And of course the little old ladies at the polling stations, and the whole sense of civic participation associated with election day.

    But now they’ve also ruined election night. The whole fun of it used to be watching the results trickle in. Crowding around some wonk with a laptop and discussing the ramifications of the different percentages and where the early returns were coming from and which precincts still hadn’t reported yet. Waiting for the next round of ballots. Waiting for the next round of beer. Mike Lowry always had good parties ’cause there was always lots and lots of cheap beer. And there was time to run all over town, hitting 4 or 5 parties. Now you stand around for an hour, the results come in at 8:15, you cheer for a minute and go home deeply unsatisfied. I’m sure there’s a premature ejaculation analogy to be drawn. It’s as if the fun-haters that were going after the bars and strip clubs turned their attention to election night. (I’m not being sarcastic on this one, btw.)

  24. 30

    Michael spews:

    Mail in ballots post marked on the day of the election work just fine. If it ‘aint broke, don’t fix it.

  25. 31

    Blue John spews:

    I work with computers, databases and networks. It’s still too easy to hack or break computers and networks for me to advocate vote by internet.
    I want paper ballots, tangible proof of how we voted, not ephemeral bits that can be adjusted in a millisecond.

    You all are complaining vote counting taking too long. What if there is a network outage or Denial of Service attack on election day and only a small fraction of the votes are registered by the end of the time period?