• 07/23/2024

    How to Restore Confidence in Elections

    July 11, 2023

    As a result of writing the Report on US Voting Systems, I was called to testify at the Legislative Audit Committee in Denver. Since that time, I have been asked to review statistics and logs from various elections. After years of research, I am focused on the root cause of our election turmoil. As with all problems in a democratic system, we are our own worst enemies.

    The main conclusion from my initial analysis was that our electronic voting systems were incredibly vulnerable. Part of the problem was bad engineering and support by the vendors. Another problem was the lack of technical expertise by state election officials charged with managing these systems. One of the biggest holes in the security chain is acceptance and installation of the “trusted build.”[1] There are many more. As a lead computer engineer, I used to tell my engineers, “to err is human; to really make a mess of things takes a computer.” There can be little doubt that every election in history (and prehistory) has suffered some degree of fraud. People cheat, but the existence of computers enables them to cheat silently and with greater speed and volume. That alone is motivation to rethink what we’re doing with our election systems.

    Nothing has been done to correct the exposed weaknesses. Election officials are in a state of denial, fabricating the “gold standard” myth that is rampant among office holders and mocked by grassroots activists. Since incumbents retained control, the vulnerabilities have been given no serious consideration, and they have been successful in painting the activists as lunatics. There is no sign of this stalemate being resolved in favor of a more reliable voting system.

    In truth, the arguments put forward by activists are like questioning officiating in a sporting event after the game is over. My position has always been that we do not need to find election fraud in past elections to fix a system that we can clearly see, by inspection, is broken. We are (or used to be) a rational people who can solve obvious problems. We need to be proactive, not reactive.

    The Root Cause

    One recommendation I made in my initial report was to call a committee of states, similar to the Colorado River Compact, to fix the requirements problems in the Volunteer Voting System Guidelines (VVSG.) I no longer believe this is the correct answer. Whereas such a committee could be formed, the entire thrust of the “Help America Vote Act” (HAVA) was flawed at birth. It is the root cause of the bulk of our election troubles.

    HAVA exists because of the 2000 election. The hanging chads in Florida caused a strident outcry.[2] After the results were determined, Congress wrongly passed legislation. The Constitution gives control of voting to the states, not the national government.[3] This is as it should be – because the states are closer to the people, and the people must be in control of their own elections. HAVA was an end-run on the Constitution. If there was ever any doubt that the United States was designed by geniuses but run by idiots, HAVA proves the assertion. The name itself demonstrates the problem.

    The goal should have been to improve accuracy, reliability, and security of elections. Congress chose to focus on making elections easier. How does making it easier to vote make for a better, more accurate voting system? These are diametrically opposed goals. By fabricating the wrong goal, Congress has conditioned the public with a destructive “HAVA mindset” where voting is effortless—like putting a bet on black at a Las Vegas roulette wheel.  When voting is effortless, little energy will be put into knowing what’s really at stake.

    Do we really want voting to be trivialized?

    That mindset creates a huge obstacle to valid election systems. Ease of voting invites more irresponsible and uninformed votes. You can hear the “voter suppression” meme being screamed by the media at 120 decibels,[4] but that is total garbage. The voting process is one that is self-regulating. Look at the Iraqis who in 2005 literally risked their lives waiting in line to get a purple thumb.[5] No one in the US ever comes close to those kinds of obstacles. Citizens used to travel for days just to cast their votes—which is why election day is on Tuesday.[6] Current transportation makes voting easier than ever. In most states, employers have been legally required to give employees time off to vote. There is room for improvement, but it is a state level issue, not a national issue. Likewise, accommodation for special needs could always be improved, but these are not universal problems.

    But it’s not only voters who buy into the HAVA mindset. Election officials focus on making their jobs easier, instead of respecting their constituents desire for elections that reflect their will.

    The Danger of Mail-in Ballots

    Mail-in ballots are obviously more convenient than in-person voting. They also reduce the county clerks’ need to find polling stations and staff them. Ballots at a polling station can be closely monitored, but those mailed to uncontrolled addresses can wind up in anyone’s hands. This is a tremendous source of potential fraudulent votes. Counterfeit ballots are another issue. Ballots should be guarded against counterfeiting at least as thoroughly as currency creation, but they are not. It isn’t even close, and extra printed ballots mysteriously wind up in unsecured places.

    The Biggest Threat for Election Fraud

    Perhaps the biggest potential for outright fraud is an election that lasts for more than a day. Allowing votes to be counted after results have been posted just lets a cheater know how much cheating is required to change an outcome. It’s child’s play. Related to this problem is the current scheme of voter rolls. Persistent voter rolls are expedient because a voter need only register once in a lifetime. Voters must be actively purged from the roll if they move, die, commit a felony, etc. Consistent with the sloppiness of the HAVA mindset, tracking of any of this is loose at best and more frequently, non-existent. Starting with empty voter rolls each election cycle is obviously less convenient for both voters and officials, but it’s not like crawling a mile on broken glass. A fresh voter roll is guaranteed to be much more accurate than one that has been poorly maintained over decades. The accuracy of the voter roll protects every legitimate vote from being canceled by an illegitimate one.

    Prior to HAVA, the ground game to get out the vote was not the contest that it is today. It has elevated party loyalty above constituent representation because the party gets people elected, not the constituents.

    The Right to Vote is not a Convenience

    Catering to convenience with multi-day elections, persistent voter rolls, and mail-in ballots only removes natural filters that encourage a better reflection of the peoples’ will. When voters must sacrifice a bit to vote, they are more committed to making their vote match their intentions. In addition to inviting fraud, ease of voting invites uninformed votes to dominate an election—and that is exactly what is happening. The less informed voters are, the more likely they will only consider name recognition. This means that HAVA has given incumbents an even larger edge than they had before. All the grass roots endeavors to get rid of corrupt office holders are more futile than ever.

    The Right is predicated upon Responsibility

    Voting is not an inalienable right. It is a civic right given to every citizen by the nation (that is, the other citizens.) Unlike inalienable rights, civic rights have strings and responsibilities attached, like knowing exactly what we are voting for. The only thing making voting easier accomplishes is to hand the keys of the kingdom to the uninformed (even irresponsible). This is not a slam on them as human beings. The country was designed for people to mostly go about their business without worrying about the government. There was trust that those who did vote would be responsible.

    Every citizen should be taught that a frivolous vote can have dire consequences. A ballot is not a multiple-choice test, and nothing positive comes from guessing. It is better to abstain than make a bad choice. Every eligible voter can be informed, but it takes research. Researching judges is very time consuming, but crucial. Often the trickiest are issues that involve money; be especially wary of those that begin with “without raising taxes.” Also, don’t forget that single-party domination leads to totalitarianism.

    The next time you see an individual that prompts you to think “that person’s vote counts as much as mine,” realize that HAVA ensures that that person (and more) will cancel your vote. So, how valuable is your vote to you?

    Article by Dennis Haugh, Colorado Free Press Contributor

    [1] As the name implies, these are software builds that are trusted. The flaw is that the standard does not call for adequate validation and verification of update builds. Each update should be rigorously verified. They are not.

    [2] Bote, Joshua. “Remember Florida’s ‘Hanging Chads’ in 2000? Here’s a Look Back at America’s Contested Elections.” USA Today. Gannett Satellite Information Network, November 4, 2020. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/elections/2020/11/04/election-2020-hanging-chads-reconstruction-and-contested-elections/6161664002/.

    [3] Article I, Section 4: The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Place of Chusing Senators.

    That is, Congress may only alter the times and manner of electing national representatives and senators – and the place of election for national representatives. Congress cannot touch either presidential or internal state election processes at all.

    [4] Normal speech is about 70db. 120db it the volume of airplane taking off. Anything above that causes damage.

    [5] Chronicle, Copyright 2005 Houston. “Purple Fingers: Iraqi Ink-Stained Fingers Great Freedom Symbol.” Chron. Houston Chronicle, July 21, 2011. https://www.chron.com/opinion/editorials/article/Purple-fingers-Iraqi-ink-stained-fingers-great-1509308.php.

    [6] Andrews, Evan. “Why Is Election Day a Tuesday in November?” History.com. A&E Television Networks, October 30, 2013. https://www.history.com/news/why-is-election-day-a-tuesday-in-november.

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    Bill Scott

    Outstanding commentary, Dennis! Many thanks for the terrific insights.

    Discouraging message, but exposure and knowledge of facts are essential to minimizing election fraud.

    Dennis Haugh

    thanks, Bill,
    i view this article as a potential turning point, not a downer. erasing what i call "the HAVA mindset" won't happen overnight, but unless we recognize it for what it is, we will continue to election chaos.

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