Friday, July 8, 2011

Why we need hand-counted paper ballots and citizen exit polls in the recall elections

By Grant W. Petty, PHD
and Sheila Parks, Ed.D

Forecasting the outcome of elections weeks in advance is always a risky business, but we nevertheless offer the following confident prediction concerning the outcomes of the nine Senate recall elections currently scheduled in Wisconsin:

In every case, a majority of votes actually cast will be for one of the two candidates. But in at least some cases, the opposite candidate -- perhaps the one you passionately opposed -- will ultimately be declared the official victor.

If it turned out we were right, wouldn’t you be upset? Wouldn’t this outcome (were it known) demolish your confidence in the honesty of our elections and thus, ultimately, in the integrity of our democratic institutions?

Here’s another prediction:

No one -- not the Government Accountability Board, not the media, not any elected official, and most certainly not you – will be able to disprove our first prediction in light of current election procedures and practices.

You might disagree on the likely validity of our first prediction. But the second is absolutely rock solid. Why? Because our appallingly compromised election procedures in this state are simply incapable of detecting or precluding even massive election fraud.

Note by the way, that we are not talking about voter fraud, which was ostensibly the reason behind the recently enacted voter ID law. But the prevalence and practical significance of voter fraud is a discredited myth. If you want your candidate to win an election dishonestly, it is far easier and more effective to rig the counting of the ballots on the electronic voting machines.

We find it interesting and significant that those in the Wisconsin Legislature who rammed through the voter ID law have so little to say about the far greater threat of election fraud. Election fraud is not just a hypothetical concern. In addition to strong circumstantial evidence in countless other cases, instances of clear fraud have been uncovered that led to actual indictments in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, and Clay County, Kentucky.

Experts on election integrity sound two main alarms: (1) it’s far too easy to rig elections in ways that are difficult to detect, and (2) it’s apparently already being done routinely.

Consider this: Approximately 1.48 million votes were cast in the Prosser v. Kloppenburg election. The final published difference between them was a mere 7,004 votes, so flipping only 3,502 of them could have given the election back to Kloppenburg. That’s only a single vote flipped (or, alternatively, two Prosser votes simply discarded) per 422 cast!

Consider also this: Electronic voting machines use proprietary software to tabulate votes. Not even election officials are allowed to view or test the integrity of the software or the memory cards. The counting of votes simply cannot be observed or verified by the voting public or the election officials. It is impossible to know whether it is being done correctly and honestly. We are being told to take it on faith that the voting machine vendors, and those who have access to the machines, are honest. This is not merely risky, it is fundamentally antithetical to democracy.

The Emmy-nominated documentary Hacking Democracy (free viewing online, 81 minutes) presents a shocking demonstration of how easily electronic votes can be hacked, and it also offers troubling evidence that election rigging is actually occurring. Even if you don’t read beyond this point, please view Hacking Democracy and urge family, friends, and acquaintances to watch it as well. You will never view our elections or electronic voting machines the same way again.

We’re accustomed to hearing the phrase “innocent until proven guilty” applied to suspects being tried for crimes, and that’s as it should be. But we in the United States, more so than in many other developed countries, inappropriately apply the same standard of evidence to our elections. Our naive assumption is that unless unambiguous evidence of fraud or gross error is actually uncovered, it most likely didn’t occur. If you can’t see it, it must not exist. This is delusion of the most dangerous kind.

Election fraud, like any crime, requires both motive and opportunity. And ample motive can already be found on either side of the current ideological divide in our country.

Imagine the zealous conservative who sincerely believes that abortion is murder and that liberal politicians are therefore condoning murder on a large scale. Or imagine the zealous liberal who sincerely believes that conservative policies will condemn the earth to perish, and soon, from runaway greenhouse warming. Either of these individuals might be persuaded that it’s morally justified and urgently necessary to commit election fraud in defense of humankind.

Would anyone who cares about honest elections deliberately put either person in charge of actually overseeing and enforcing election procedures? But that’s exactly what we do with our partisan elections for county clerks! As we saw in the last recount, many judgment calls were made as to which ballots would be declared valid and which discarded. And whenever judgment is in play, so is bias. If you are unfortunate enough to live in a county or municipality where your election officials oppose the party or candidate you support, you should be very, very concerned about whether your vote will be fairly counted.

But it doesn’t stop at the county level. Consider further the wealthy industrialist who quite plausibly believes that if a certain pro-regulation candidate for Congress loses, s/he and their allies stand to make millions of dollars more per year. Might s/he not be tempted to invest considerable political and financial capital in getting voting machines adopted that can be easily and undetectably hacked? Would they perhaps even get into the business of building them?

We may never be able to eliminate the motive, but we can, and we must, identify and eliminate the opportunities to undetectably rig our elections. Until we do, we cannot rationally assume that elections are clean and fair. And we therefore cannot rationally trust the official outcomes of elections.

Here are the two major categories of weak links in Wisconsin elections:

* Vote tabulation. Can we be certain votes are being honestly and correctly tabulated by electronic devices? No. Unfortunately, current procedures and the electronic voting machines themselves provide absolutely no way to independently verify the accuracy of electronic vote counts short of a full hand recount of paper ballots. And by Wisconsin law, most of the recount must be done on the same electronic voting machines that could have been hacked in the first place. Be aware that the memory and printouts can be made to differ from the real voter intent and that the pre-election testing is useless for detecting fraudulent programming!

Also, although required by Wisconsin law, touch-screen machines used in some districts were found to provide no paper record and thus no voter-verifiable (or recountable) record of the vote!

* Chain of custody. For the purposes of a recount, are we ensuring that ballots can’t be added or subtracted between the time they are cast by the voter and the time they are recounted? As we clearly saw in the recent Wisconsin Supreme Court recount, the mandated procedures for our elections are not always followed. Citizen observers witnessed a stunning range of abnormalities in the labeling/sealing of ballot bags and even discovered a poll tape dated March 30, days before the election. The poll tape in question, with its time stamp of 1:40 AM, was sworn to as actual votes. This claim was later retracted only when persistently questioned.

Here’s what you can do to help mitigate the above security holes in the imminent recall elections:

1. Wisconsin Citizens for Election Protection are urging hand-counts for the recalls. They have sent letters to all the clerks asking that they hand-count the recalls. You can contact them at Here is their web site.

2. Contact your county and municipal clerks, the election inspectors and the mayor and councilpersons or the town chair and the supervisors. They can authorize the little extra money that it would take to hand-count paper ballots (HCPB) for the recalls in your municipality. Make friends with your clerk. Suggest to the clerks that they get in touch with the municipalities that already hand-count. The clerks are usually friendly with one another, talk and email with one another, and go to the same meetings. Here is a chart that tells you which municipalities in Wisconsin hand-count now.

Talk with the clerks about the many jurisdictions in the USA that already count their ballots by hand. Maine and New Hampshire are good examples. Acton, Maine, in particular, could be a model for the entire country. With seven races and two initiatives, six teams of two people each were able to hand-count, twice, 944 ballots in four hours. The counters came in specifically to count; they had not worked at the polls earlier in the day. Each team consisted of a Republican and a Democrat.

See the warrant article passed by Lyndeborough, NH for an interesting example of what people could do in their own communities to get hand-counted paper ballots.

3. Volunteer to serve in non-partisan citizen exit polls being organized by the Election Defense Alliance to rigorously and independently verify vote tabulations and chain-of-custody of ballots.

One last prediction: Unless the Wisconsin recalls are hand-counted in every race, with secure hand-counted paper ballots (HCPB) elections, we predict they will be rigged. Not all of them, that would be too obvious. But enough so that some of the outcomes may be flipped, with major implications for the balance of power in the Statehouse.

Please do your part to prove all of our predictions wrong. Use social media to spread the alarm and to educate those who naively think that outcome of the recall elections depends solely on getting out the vote, who votes and how they vote.

Protecting election integrity is not ‘left’ or ‘right.’ If any commentator or political leader actively objects to making our elections more secure, please ask yourself what their real stake is in the current deeply flawed system.

The future of democracy in Wisconsin depends on your awareness and engagement.

“I consider it completely unimportant who in the party will vote, or how; but what is extraordinarily important is this — who will count the votes, and how.” - Josef Stalin

Grant W. Petty is a resident of Fitchburg, Wisconsin and is a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Sheila Parks is a long time feminist and peace and justice activist/organizer. She has been involved in voting rights advocacy since the Florida 2000 presidential election. Parks is founder of the Center for Hand-Counted Paper Ballots, (
This article is also available on Google Docs:

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