Author Archives: thadhall

Some Lessons from Iowa

Several people have written recently about the Iowa caucus results, including our good friend Doug Chapin.  I am going to pile on here but make a couple of broader points.

First, the Iowa results and the subsequent recertification of the results make a point that Lonna Atkeson, Mike Alvarez, and I make in our upcoming book on election audits:  election results are only meaningful if there is a chain of custody for the ballots.  You can audit, recount, and certify ballots after an election, but unless you can prove with a chain of custody that the ballots are not tampered with and are the same ballots that were cast on election day, any counting is rather pointless.  Elections are an end to end process, not a “count at the end of the night” process.  If people are not following procedures for handling ballots and there is not documentation of how ballots were handled — with signatures on forms documenting the hand off of ballots from location to location, for example, — then it is not possible to know what is being counted, let alone if the ballots are counted correctly.

Second, the process in Iowa also illustrates the problems associated with pure paper-based voting.  With either DRE electronic voting or voting with paper ballots that are scanned, there is a second, computer-based set of tabulated results.   If one set of results is lost, there is a backup.

Why I Love Cuyahoga County

In 2006, we did some work in Cuyahoga County for their primary election and, in reading through the polling place incident reports, we came across a claim of a poll worker arrested for being high on crack.

Now, we get the poll worker biting the nose of a voter.

Voting on iPads

There was a NY Times story yesterday on how Oregon is considering using iPads to facilitate voting by individuals with disabilities.   The idea is that the voter votes on the iPad — the tablet is typically taken to the voter with disabilities at their home, nursing home, etc. by election workers — and the ballot is then printed on a portable printer.  The ballot can then be mailed in or is dropped off at the election office.  The program allows voters with various disabilities — blindness, low motor skills, language barriers, and the like — to vote.  It also overcomes the transportation barriers that many voters with disabilities face in casting ballots.

Voting on Your Phone?

When I saw the story “The Voting Booth in Your Pocket” (hat tip to Chapin for seeing it first) my first thought was that Mike and I wrote in our book Electronic Elections about a young woman in Los Angeles who discussed her frustration that she could bank online and do a dozen other things on her phone so why couldn’t she vote on her phone.  The second thought I had was that all of the critics of internet voting probably had their heads explode when they saw this story.

I want to take the critics side here for a second, but do so in order to make a larger critique about American technology.  One of the biggest barriers to Internet voting — and for very secure internet transactions generally in the United States — is that we do not have digital identity.  In Estonia, where they do have i-voting, they also have digital identities; when you get your government ID card (a government ID for everything, including driving that also allows for travel within the EU zone) it contains a digital identity card that you can use in combination with a password to authenticate yourself to websites.  In the US, we have no equivalent; your Facebook login is now becoming a common way to authenticate yourself to public websites (not the most secure thing around!) A secure digital login would go a long way toward making internet voting a possibility.  In the military, where people have such identities, internet voting is much more of a possibility.

It is frustrating that America, a supposed technology leader, does not have such digital identification.  States across the US are adopting voter identification laws for in person voting but there are no efforts being made to give people any type of digital identity that would facilitate electronic voting and other transactions.  In 2000, the US adopted a law that allows for digital signatures as legal signatures but there has been little or no effort to make this a reality.  Given the supposed concerns about authentication in voting, having secure digital identity would be helpful, with internet voter registration and internet voting.

EAC on Emergency Preparedness

My former colleague — in another job life when we both lived in Georgia — Jeannie Layson from the EAC reminded me (via Doug Chapin) that the EAC blog as contingency planning information.

Earthquakes and Elections

Natural disasters always bring up my desire to point out that, had today been an election day, it is not clear that the places affected by today’s earthquake would have had a disaster plan for what to do with their election. Moreover, as a country, we have no recourse if, on the first Tuesday after the first Monday, a large scale disaster occurred and we needed to postpone the election for a day to recover from it.

A Legislator Who Gets Primary Elections

Today, in the Salt Lake Tribune there is a story that contains what one might consider a mild political gaffe, in the sense that a gaffe is when a politician tells the truth about something that normally politicians don’t talk about.

Representative John Dougall said that the political parties should pony up and pay for primary elections because these elections are private elections to select representatives in the general election.  Specifically,

he wants to see the Republican and Democratic parties keep their independence when it comes to nominating candidates. But to do that, he says, they may have to give up $3 million in taxpayer financing for their primaries.

“I think the parties should be private, and that means you foot your own bill,” he said.

To give some background here, Utah has a system where candidates for office are selected in party caucuses at the local and state levels.  These caucuses are contentious on both sides because it is the activist wing of both parties that attend, swamping the more moderate wings of the parties.  For example, in 2010, then Senator Bennett had high support among Republican voters in the state but he was defeated badly in the caucus and was off the ballot.

Recently, at the Republican state convention,  conservatives elected their own candidates for several high-ranking party positions, defeating candidates endorsed by the party leadership.  There have also been suggestions that the state move to a primary election system, where candidates would file and run in contested primary elections with a run-off, as is done commonly across the US.

In studying election administration for the past decade, the issue of primary elections is often contentious because — in states with closed primary elections — independent voters and voters who are decline to state voters do not understand why they cannot vote in the primary election of their choosing.   After all, the state is ponying up the tax dollars to pay for the election and the election is being certified by government employees and run by quasi-government employees (the poll workers who will also work the general election).

Representative Dougall makes a very good case for why states with closed primaries should not pay for the elections.  If the party — a private organization — wants to hold an election, let them pay for it.