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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Ross Rambles: Trusting the technocrats

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Some years back, I had an argument with my friend, Perry Noid, about the possibility for dishonest elections.

Perry was even more distrustful than I am toward government, which is the reason he now lives in the mountains of Idaho, in a cabin filled with automatic weapons and freeze-dried beef tongue.

He claimed that there is no way the average citizen can know who actually wins an election.

I argued that there are numerous safeguards built into the system. There have been isolated cases in the past of systematic voter fraud, most notably in recent decades (now not so recent) being the 1960 presidential vote total in Chicago, where Mayor Richard Daley got out the Democratic vote for Kennedy from cemetery addresses.

But such situations are rare and increasingly difficult, I argued. The safeguards are primarily in place at the voting precinct level where an effort is made to distribute poll worker positions between Republicans and Democrats.

If one party is shortchanged, there will be a mighty howl from the cheated party. Rest assured that if the precinct totals don't add up to the county total and the county totals don't add up to the state total, somebody will hear about it.

The ultimate tool for checking against voter fraud is the ability to demand a recount of county results.

If some candidate for office distrusts the results, a physical count of the ballots at the county level can be requested.

Often this will change the count, but usually no more than a few votes in a county. A count change is usually the result of mismarked or damaged ballots, not an intentional miscount.

Even though the recount rarely changes a result, the ability to recount is a reassuring element of the democratic process.

With the advent of touch screen voting, there is a recommendation that a hard copy record of each vote be kept but this is only a recommendation and economic factors will likely eliminate that election frill.

A recount will then become a simple thing to do. "You want a recount? Let me look at my computer screen again. Yes, the result is still the same."

Determining voter fraud would require a technical expertise that few people have and access even fewer people have to examine equipment.

Those in power and the technicians in their pay would tell us whether an election was fair.

Does anybody know where I can get freeze-dried beef tongue?