Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Editorials: Where I rant to the wall about politics. And sometimes the wall rants back.

Voting should be special, not stupid

Jerry Stratton, September 24, 2015

There is a general rule of thumb in psychology: the easier you make it to do something, the less that something is valued. If you can do it any time, why do it now? If you can do it from anywhere, why do it from here? If there’s nothing special about it, who cares?

The way to fix voting is to make it special again. It should be something worth doing and worth taking seriously.

Expanding voting day to voting week and voting month; widening the voting booth to the voting mailbox; and computerizing the voting ballot so that there is no artifact of voting given away; all makes voting something so stupidly easy that it isn’t surprising few people take it seriously.

Block any and all attempts to safeguard elections from vote fraud, and you’re saying that voting isn’t worth safeguarding.1

Who hasn’t heard supposedly smart people say that voting is a waste of time? That’s because the value of voting is, for them, so low that the time spent doing it, even though it’s easier than ever, exceeds that value.

We are long past the days of poll taxes and armed Democrats keeping blacks away from the voting booth. Voting has become so easy that it’s not valued. The fix is to turn voting into something that must be thought about, and make it a day when it can be celebrated.

Now, obviously, election day should be secured from vote fraud, because when vote fraud is easy, people legitimately believe that their vote doesn’t matter. But it’s also important that voting should be a single day, a day when everyone votes. This turns it back into a celebration, and it also turns it back into something to be planned for, an end date for research.2

Absentee ballots should be limited to those for whom it truly is a physical hardship to get to the voting booth. A refusal to adjust your schedule to come to the voting booth on election day means voting is not your priority. If voting is not a priority for you, you don’t deserve an absentee ballot. Having to go somewhere special to vote helps make voting special.

And, importantly, we should assume that the voter is reasonably intelligent. It’s not surprising that some people think voting is stupid when voting is in fact designed to be stupid. The constant and annoying hand-holding performed by purely computerized voting booths is an insult to the voter’s intelligence. It assumes that the voter is stupid and clumsy. Treat the voter as intelligent, and the voter will act more intelligently.

This doesn’t mean that ballots need to be complex bureaucratic flowcharts. Simple rules that respect our intelligence aren’t difficult. A simple fill-in-the-circle cardboard ballot is just fine. It won’t have any chads that loosen, and yet it will have a physical artifact we hand over that we know holds our votes, rather than keypresses punched into an electronic maw where we never see the votes recorded. Computerized ballot counting is a great idea. But completely ephemeral ballots are a horrible idea.

The rules would be simple: after filling in the ballot, feed it to the scanner. The scanner will record your vote—and could even be programmed to reject a ballot if it can’t read it.

You will know that your vote has been counted. And you will know that your vote will be counted exactly the same in a recount.

Tabulation happens immediately. This gives us all the benefits of electronic voting: immediacy, accuracy—as well as the benefits of paper voting: a real paper trail, a thing that has been created.

Respecting the voter’s intelligence also means keeping recounts to a minimum and performing them under the same rules as election night.

There will be no need for subjective recounts using simple paper ballots as I’ve described. The voter knew their vote was counted or rejected when they handed it in, and they made their choice.

There is also something fraudulent going on when boxes of previously uncounted ballots are found: because under this system there are no previously uncounted ballots. Everyone’s ballot was counted when the voter ran it through the scanner.

The problem with votes being found after a count is that they inherently weaken trust in the system, which of course makes people legitimately believe that their vote doesn’t matter. But found votes are also incompatible with secret votes. There’s no way to know, when you find 200 ballots, if those ballots have been counted already, or if those voters have been counted already on different ballots.

And on the issue of trust, I’d argue that vote tallies shouldn’t be announced until all votes are in from all precincts. Vote totals shouldn’t even be sent until all precincts announce they’ve completed counting. Then they’re sent all at once. A delay in sending the votes after announcing they’ve been counted means an automatic fraud investigation.

I’d also argue that the scanner should record both the votes and a unique ID for each ballot. So that if, during a recount, lots of votes disappear or appear we will know which ones need to be found and we will also have better clues as to who disappeared them.3 That is a fraud issue rather than a celebratory one. However, part of the reason people don’t take voting seriously is that many people don’t think it matters. And they don’t think it matters because they can tell at the voting booth how easy it would be to game the system.

And just as important as respecting the intelligence of the voter is respecting the intelligence of the non-voter. It becomes popular around election time to bemoan the “lack of participation” in the voting process. But in a free country, the right to vote has to include the right not to vote. Free speech doesn’t mean that everyone has to talk all the time; freedom of association includes the freedom to be alone occasionally; the right to bear arms is also the right to abstain from arms. And the right to vote has to be the right to focus your voting on issues which you are concerned with or knowledgeable about.

We need to choose to vote instead of going to the bar after work. We shouldn’t have to convince people to vote: if someone needs convincing, they’re not ready to vote.

Not voting is as much of a responsibility as voting is—and it can be a lot harder to do. There’s a strong temptation to just “make a guess” and put someone down. But voting isn’t a crap shoot—or at least, it isn’t supposed to be. There’s not only nothing wrong with not voting on issues or politicians which you have no knowledge of, not voting in those races is the right and honorable thing to do. Otherwise you might as well just require candidates to have familiar names or be photogenic.

My own opinion is that the reason voting has been dumbed down and turned into a nag over the last several years is that it benefits politicians when people don’t care about their vote. They know what they’re doing. They’re reducing the research that voters do before they vote, making it easier to rely on soundbites. And they’re reducing the actual numbers of voters, making it easier to flood the booth only with their supporters.

In response to You don’t need papers to vote: No, you do not need papers to vote. You just need to walk in and know someone’s name.

  1. Are driver license laws a plot to keep minorities off the roads? Are drinking age id requirements a plot to keep minorities from drinking? Is drinking more important than voting?

  2. It also means cheating needs to be concentrated on that single day, where it can more easily be found.

  3. And the counting machines should have their margin of error published ahead of time, based both on testing and on real-world analysis. If the votes in a recount change by more than the margin of error, a serious investigation into why has to be performed before the election results are certified.

  1. <- Vote fraud detection