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February 12, 2008

Successful tactics from around the globe inspire adoption into the hand-count elections movement. Rejection of hopeless “realism” – that politicians aren’t considering our demand for hand counts – is but a part of the overall strategy. If citizens expect accurate election results, they must run parallel polls, observe, investigate and video the vote. Power is never given; it must be asserted.  

 “The right of voting for representatives is the primary right by which all other rights are protected.”

So said Tom Paine at the height of the Enlightenment. A century later, New York case law reveals judicial comprehension that:

“Statutory regulations are enacted to secure freedom of choice and to prevent fraud, and not by technical obstructions to make the right of voting insecure and difficult.” PEOPLE v. WOOD (NY Court of Appeals 1895) 148 N.Y. 142, 42 N.E. 536

Former UN Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick explains that:

 “Democratic elections are not merely symbolic….They are competitive, periodic, inclusive, (and) definitive …”

It’s probably safe to say that all election integrity advocates agree with these premises. Where we differ is in how to achieve our mutual goals. 


Some would have us adopt the “reality” that the machines are here to stay, so let’s work within the system.  “Realists” would have us discussing audits, as if that ever overturned election results.  We know that courts have election officials’ backs, as numerous recent cases reveal (Florida 13, San Diego 50, and that squirrelly Squire case in Franklin County, Ohio, to name a few). 

Let’s talk about audits of scientifically-condemned computerized election systems for a moment.  My lay-person’s read of the literature evokes this analogy:   

The security firm, let’s call it Black Wellwater, advises you to remove the back wall to your house, and replace it with screening.  After you return from vacation, the firm advises you can only inventory 10% of your goods to see if anything was stolen.  Not only that, but you can’t even choose to inventory those suspect items – things you just know a thief would go for. 

Yet this is what election officials want us to accept.  Random audits should be a part of any audit system; and targeted audits must also be permitted so that precincts with questionable results – something parallel polling may reveal – can also be scrutinized.  Some jurisdictions seek to legally forbid targeted audits.

Even worse, some states only audit 1% of the results.  In fact, San Diego County sued its Secretary of State, whining that anything more was too cumbersome for her staff. Registrar of Voters, Deborah Seiler, used to sell Diebold election systems.  On her staff is disgraced Cuyahoga County election official, Michael Vu, who oversaw the theft or loss of thousands of dollars in memory cards and voting machines in the May 2006 election. Yeah, I bet they don’t want a stringent audit. 

The beauty of hand-counts is that a self-auditing procedure is built into the count process.  Oh sure, anyone is welcome to recount – but any recount worth its effort will use the same self-auditing techniques during the process.  

We will never have a basis for confidence in reported results when the votes are counted in secret.  All machines do this – all machines must go. 

Votes counted in secret are a hallmark of tyranny, if Robert Heinlein is correct that “secrecy is the keystone of all tyranny.” Votes counted on easily hacked software-driven systems do not provide us with “definitive” outcomes, as Jeane Kirkpatrick explains.  Instead, machines are “technical obstructions to make the right of voting insecure,” violating NY case law.  Secret vote counting provides us with no basis for confidence in reported results. 

Machine fans, or defeated hand-count fans, argue that we must be “politically realistic” in our quest for election integrity. The argument goes that politicians aren’t considering hand-counted paper ballots, so to succeed in our agreed goal of honest elections, we have to accept machines. 

What they call political “reality” is merely fatal compromise.

To believe that what politicians want is the only course open to us is to deny the vast power of the will of the people. A 2006 Zogby poll determined that 92% want transparent elections. A February 2008 poll found that 78% disapproves of Congress. Clearly, corporate-sponsored Congress has no intention of doing the bidding of We the People, so whatever options Pols put on the table are necessarily suspect. 


Other election integrity activists ignore the entire issue of how our votes are counted, as they work to confront other, less immediately-serious failures in U.S. elections.  It’s like fiddling while Rome is burning, because music soothes people.   No doubt: 

  • That fictitious entities known as “corporations” are legally permitted to contribute to campaigns turns elections into one dollar-one vote. Because I have fewer dollars than most Americans, my vote is worth less.  This is not democracy, but plutocracy;
  • That privatized, monopolized mass media deliberately deceives the public, so we have a woefully misinformed electorate who, when they do vote, vote against their own best interests; 
  • That candidates are selected in behind-the-scenes machinations and are funded by the same special interest groups provides Americans no real choice in most races;
  • Computerized, centralized voter registration databases needlessly expose Americans to identity theft, as well as provide election officials and party operatives with a means to target their disenfranchisement efforts;
  • Redistricting and voter ID laws allow for targeted disenfranchisement by election officials and party operatives; and
  • U.S. electoral management bodies have a long and brutal history of election fraud extending back at least as far as 1742. 

 Each of these factors alone defeats democracy, and reduces U.S. elections to carnival shows that give politicians the appearance of legitimacy.  

I have no argument with remaking the entire U.S. election system.  But if the vote counts aren’t authentic, no other change will make any meaningful difference.  If we can at least get accurate, transparent vote counts, as voters intended and as democracy demands, then we have a fair shot of working out these other, more complicated, features that encompass best electoral management practices.

“Negotiating with your hands” 

Still others (myself included) would demand transparent vote counts, now, as the primary and crucial first step toward integrity.  If politicians won’t give us what we demand – transparency – then we create it ourselves.

The election integrity movement is not the only social justice movement plagued by “political realists” who would compromise our position into meaningless reform such as low-percentage audits. In Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein contrasts two separate disasters that culminated in very different outcomes based on which reality was accepted, and thus, which strategy was pursued. 

In the 2005 Katrina disaster in New Orleans, power holders successfully kept poor residents from returning to their apartments. As recently as two months ago, citizens were tasered and jailed for resisting the destruction of affordable housing. Land developers now stand to make substantial fortunes from the land grab. (Here we see Derrick Jensen’s 2nd, 4th and 5th Premises holding true.) 

In the 2004 Asian tsunami, a different scenario played out. Klein writes:

“Dozens of coastal villages were flattened by the wave, but unlike in Sri Lanka, many Thai settlements were successfully rebuilt within months. The difference did not come from the government. Thailand’s politicians were just as eager as those elsewhere to use the storm as an excuse to evict fishing people and hand over land tenure to large resorts. 

“Yet what set Thailand apart was that villagers approached all government promises with intense skepticism and refused to wait patiently in camps for an official reconstruction plan. Instead, within weeks, hundreds of villagers engaged in what they called land ‘reinvasions.’ 

“They marched past the armed guards on the payroll of developers, tools in hand, and began marking off the sites where their old houses had been. In some cases, reconstruction began immediately… 

“The most daring reinvasions were performed by Thailand’s indigenous fishing peoples called the Moken… After centuries of disenfranchisement, the Moken had no illusions that a benevolent state would give them a decent piece of land in exchange for the coastal properties that had been seized.

“So, in one dramatic case, the residents … ‘gathered themselves together and marched right back home, where they encircled their wrecked village with rope, in a symbolic gesture to mark their land ownership,’ explained a report by a Thai NGO… 

“All along the Thai coast where the tsunami hit, this kind of direct-action reconstruction is the norm. The key to their success is that ‘people negotiate for their land rights from a position of being in occupation;’ some have dubbed the practice ‘negotiating with your hands.’

Shock Doctrine, pp. 463-464. Also see http://www.achr.net/

Election activists “negotiate with their hands” by polling voters outside an official polling site. Citizen-run exit polling, or parallel elections, is a concept that proves hand-counts are on the table. Political realists (deliberately?) ignore the potential energy of this grassroots movement.

Count the Damn Ballots

Starting in 2005, parallel polling has now been run in the U.S. by the grassroots of both major parties, as well as Greens and Independents. This idea generated from US think tanks, where they were deployed as early as 1986 to check election results in other nations.

Today, they’re called citizen run exit polls, but the same structure exists: citizens ask voters to complete a parallel ballot (variably called an affidavit, a sworn statement, or a poll sheet) after they have finished voting in the official election. These parallel “ballots” are then transported and counted (presumably) under secure protocols, using nonpartisans or people from varied political parties.

Although I’ve been involved in parallel polling since 2005, including Florida’s in 2008, I have yet to see one (including the one I ran in 06) that achieves ballot security – something we expect of our official electoral management bodies.

Surely, we require a basis for confidence in reported results from whomever counts the vote. I expect chain of custody will be preserved with better training, and as more people grasp the significance of parallel polling.  We citizens must demonstrate secure protocols in our parallel projects, because trust has no place in elections.  Meanwhile, I wholly support the spread of this action, coupled with better training. 

My buddy, Troy Seman, calls parallel elections “the antidote to fraudulent elections.” Because we run these parallel polls, we know hand-counted elections are on the table. Politicians, of course, ignore the significance of parallel polling, while corporate media discounts discrepancies between pollsters and election results. This, despite that parallel polling is used to verify elections around the globe. 

As this movement grows – and there is no doubt it will, given the unrelenting glitches, double bubblesinvisible ink, and wtfever, reported after every single election – and as more voters experience self-empowerment from citizen-run elections, there will come a point when even politicians will admit that hand-counting is “on the table” simply because we citizens put it there. We’re not waiting for politicians – we’re running free and fair elections ourselves.

Several other methods of “negotiating with our hands” are recommended: Be an official domestic observer, video the vote, run a parallel poll, count the signatures in polling books and compare them to official results for in-person voters, follow the voting machines on Election Day, and blog, blog, blog about all of it. Much of what you’ll discover is that the records are unauditable and chain of custody is wholly lacking, but even that is important to convey.

Overall, a citizen’s job is to study how elections are run, as if you are the boss, because you are.  Civic engagement is democracy in practice.

Other actions include filing suit, on a variety of different premises. One campaign in the works now demands a voting machine recall.  Citizens in LA are demanding that the “double bubble” ballots be counted as the voter intended – despite the overused election official trick of poorly designed ballots, which in this instance, disenfranchised 95,000 voters.  Voter intent is what matters – not some arbitrary design or rule or law.

Incrementalism As a Strategy in New York 

Refusing to compromise the demand for hand-counted elections does not mean that an incremental approach is off the table. Attorney Andi Novick is leading the hand-count movement in New York (where machine fans far outnumber those who comprehend the utter failure and completely inappropriate use of software-driven systems in democratic elections). Her strategy is to move New Yorkers toward a full hand count of all elections by starting with hand counting just the two federal races this November (thus allowing New York to be HAVA-compliant). 

She sent some research provided by a local activist who raised Avi Rubin’s article,Secretary Bowen’s Clever Insight, where he said, in part:


“Bowen’s comment about software not being suitable for the way election equipment is certified is right on the mark.

“The current certification process may have been appropriate when a 900 lb lever voting machine was deployed. The machine could be tested every which way, and if it met the criteria, it could be certified because it was not likely to change. 

“But software is different. The software lifecycle is dynamic…  You cannot certify an electronic voting machine the way you certify a lever machine.”


Understand that “electronic voting machine” includes optical scan machines as well as touch screen systems. Our Orwellian culture will try to confuse the public into believing that “electronic voting” somehow only applies to touch screens. All software driven devices are inappropriate for use in recording or counting our votes, or in replicating our signatures, or in centralizing registration on a statewide basis.

The Help America Vote Act of 2002 has done the opposite.  Let’s not forget that everything the Nazis did was legal, by their own laws.  What the federal government has done – bureaucratically and legislatively – since the 2000 coup d’état should shock the conscience of every decent American.  It does, I know – I see it across the political spectrum.  

Incrementalism As a Strategy in the Democracy Movement 

Several writers address incrementalism as a strategy. This is not to be confused with self-defeating “realism” that Paulo Freire and George Monbiot hold in disdain.  Arthur MacEwan’s Neoliberalism or Democracy discusses the idea of incrementalism and reform, in slightly different terms, but making the same general point.

“When I advocate ‘democracy’ as the basis for an economic development strategy, I mean political democracy as it is usually understood: elections, civil liberties and the right to organize. But beyond these essential forms of democracy, I mean something more substantive. A democratic economic development strategy is one that puts people in a position to participate in decisions about and effectively exercise political power over their economic lives. It puts people in a position where their lives are not dominated by either the market or the state.”

Or by privatized elections where votes are counted in secret by corporations. With that as the premise (which totally captures my attention and makes my heart flutter with hope), I can apply his thinking to hand-counted elections:

“If the goal is to alter the nature of the system and make a real difference in people’s lives, then we need to formulate and implement practical programs that both improve economic conditions and challenge the structure of social-political power.”

Hand-counted elections certainly challenge the current power structure, and being far less expensive than computers also affect local economies with the millions to tens of millions spent on computerized voting systems in counties. Sally Castleman writes

“DREs and Optical Scanner equipment are more costly than any hand count system. Not only is the initial cost substantial, but other costs include ongoing testing and certification, secure storage, temperature controlled environments, maintenance, reprogramming, service, batteries, upgrading to newer models to keep up with specification requirements,” and salaries for specialized technical experts.

Back to MacEwan:

 “Practical programs advance toward a radical transformation of society.”

Hand-count fans don’t want to reform a broken system; instead, we assert radical change by demanding election night counts in full public view, with the results posted at the precinct.

“A reformist reform is one which subordinates its objective to the criteria of rationality and practicability of a given system and policy.”

(a.k.a. ‘political realism’)

“Reformism rejects those objectives and demands – however deep the need for them – which are incompatible with the preservation of the system.”  

Hand-counts remove corporations and experts-only from counting or verifying vote totals – a government-run expert system with a vested interest in the outcome that may conflict with the public will.  Indeed, given the 4/5 disapproval rating, public will directly conflicts with the will of government.  Do they deserve to be trusted to count our vote?

“(A non-reformist) reform is one which is conceived not in terms of what is possible within the framework of a given system and administration, but in view of what should be made possible in terms of human needs and demands.”

Hand-counts meet the transparent vote counting criterion of democratic elections, something all advocates of free and fair elections demand. 

MacEwan suggests that this latter reform is possible without the chaos of revolutionary upheaval, given certain criteria are met. It is here where we get to incrementalism. He argues that incrementalism can be used to advance our agenda without compromising our position.

“Democratic initiatives must:  

1. Make a positive difference in people’s lives. They should not demand that a sacrifice be made in the name of some greater good; they must bring something good in themselves. Their goals are defined by what should be;”

Auditing an election system which is vulnerable to undiscoverable tampering is no safeguard. We do not sacrifice election integrity on the grounds that politicians have taken hand-counts off the table.  Who really cares what politicians want, anyway? They work for us

“2. Challenge the existing relations of power and authority and in some way move society towards a more democratic structure. They need not overturn or destroy the existing social structures. Yet in some manner they must pose a threat to the existing social and economic structures. The essence of this threat is that these initiatives expand the realm of democracy and enhance democratic authority;”

Clearly, citizen-run elections do this; as well as citizen-oversight of the count on election night.

“3. Be possible in the sense that their implementation does not require a prior revolutionary, structural reorganization of society. They may set in motion a process of change that pushes society in the direction of dramatic structural reorganization – that is precisely their point. Yet, because they are particular and partial and therefore are not themselves dependent on that reorganization, they are possible.”

Hand-count initiatives set in motion a process of systemic change that will push “society in the direction of dramatic structural reorganization” allowing for the many other needed changes alluded to on page 1:

  • Clean money laws;
  • An end to redistricting by adopting proportional representation;
  • Universal, permanent suffrage upon reaching the age of majority;
  • Election Day Holiday;
  • An end to “convenience voting” of vote-by-mail and extended voting periods that subvert chain of custody, welcome vote-buying and obfuscate the vote count;
  • Instant runoff voting, or ranked voting, so that winning candidates are selected by the majority;
  • Abolish the Electoral College; etc.

This list truly goes on, the more I read about best practices.

Political Realism – A Policy of Failure 

Incrementally implementing hand-counted elections (first the federal races, then the local ones, for example) is wholly different from believing that hand-counts aren’t possible in the U.S. My hope is that election activists move away from this position of defeat, and insist on transparent vote counts, now, as are done the world over in emerging and in stable democracies. 

Just because the last two presidential elections were stolen is no reason to accept that 2008 will be stolen. All it takes is motivating the masses into Election Day action. Given that grassroot Republicans are now on board with parallel polling, our movement for transparent elections has a real chance of success. We implement hand-counted elections by doing it ourselves – not by waiting for politicians to do it for us. 

This bears repeating: civic engagement is democracy in practice, or as Abbey Hoffman put it, “Democracy is something you do.”

In Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire reveals how political realism defeats democratic reform:

“In a situation of manipulation, the Left is almost always tempted by a quick return to power, forgets the necessity of joining with the oppressed to forge an organization, and strays into impossible ‘dialogue’ with the dominant elites. It ends up being manipulated by these elites, and not infrequently itself falls into an elitist game, which it calls realism’”

In Age of Consent, George Monbiot recognizes self-defeating realism:  

“Had those people who campaigned for national democratization in the 19th century in Europe approached their task with the same hopeless realism as the reformists campaigning for global democratization today, they would have argued that, as the authorities were not ready to consider granting the universal franchise, they should settle for a ‘realistic’ option instead; and their descendents today might have been left with a situation in which all those earning, say, $50,000 a year or possessing 20 acres of land were permitted to vote, but those with less remained disenfranchised. 

“Every revolution could have been – indeed most certainly was – described as ‘unrealistic’ just a few years before it happened. The American Revolution, the French Revolution, female enfranchisement, the rise of communism, the fall of communism, the aspirations of decolonization movements all over the world were mocked by those reformists who believed the best we could hope for was to tinker with existing institutions and beg some small remission from dominant powers. 

“Had you announced in 1985 that within five years men and women with sledgehammers would be knocking down the Berlin Wall, the world would have laughed in your face. All of these movements, like our global democratic revolution, depended for their success on mass mobilization and political will. Without these components, they were impossible. With them, they were unstoppable.”

Age of Consent, pp 65-66

To imagine 10-12 voters per neighborhood counting the ballots on election night is easy. It takes 20 minutes to train people in hand counts… and just think how things might change if reported election results were authentic. I imagine Congress would be freaking out that 4/5 of the nation disapproves of it. They’d worry about their jobs and change their behavior right quick, if elections were honest. 

There is no honorable justification to continue using these machines. They must go, and they must go now. 

We reject the defeatist notion that hand-counted elections are off the table for 2008. The grassroots already have the political will for fundamental change; our self-appointed leaders simply need to articulate nationally what we’ve been doing locally for the past three years.

No compromise with political realists is necessary; negotiating with our hands – counting, observing, investigating and videoing the vote ourselves – will bring us an accurate vote count.  Power is never given; it is asserted.  If I can borrow a phrase from the film, The Kingdom: 

“How do you wanna go out?  On your feet or on your knees?” 

Andi Novick contributed research to this article. 


Rady Ananda, Annotated Bibliography of Expert Reports on Voting Systems, Dec. 11, 2007 at WheresThePaper.org.  

Asian Coalition for Housing Rights www.achr.net; and see Tom Kerr’s New Orleans Visit Asian Tsunami Areas, September 9-17, 2006, p. 11 for the wonderful “negotiate with their hands” quote. 

Dave Berman, Voter Confidence Resolution, 2005 at GuvWurld.org. 

Tracy Campbell, Deliver the Vote: A history of election fraud, an American political tradition – 1742-2004. Carroll & Graf, 2005.

Sally Castleman, Summary: Estimating hours and costs for hand counters, New York, December 2007, at GuvWurld.org 

Nick Davies, How the Spooks Took over the News, February 11, 2008 

Alan Fram, Bush, Congress Hit New Low in AP Poll, February 8, 2008 at Boston Globe. 

Derrick Jensen, Endgame (Volumes I and II). Seven Stories Press, 2006.

David Kidwell and Jason Grotto, Chicago polls go well — despite punches, broken machines, wrong ballots and ‘invisible ink’, February 6, 2008 at Chicago Tribune.

Jeane Kirkpatrick, Legitimacy and Force (Vol. I: Political and Moral Dimensions).Transaction Publishers, 1988. 

Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The rise of disaster capitalism. Metropolitan Books, 2007. 

Arthur MacEwan, Neoliberalism or Democracy? Economic Strategy, Markets and Alternatives for the 21st Century. St. Martin’s Press, 1999.

George Monbiot, The Age of Consent: Manifesto for a new world order, new ed. Harper Perennial, 2004. 

Andi Novick, Alarms Should Go Off Whenever the Discrepancies between “Official” Results and the Polls Can’t Be Explained, January 10, 2008 at OpEdNews.com. 

Sheila Parks, On-Site Observations of the Hand-Counting of Paper Ballots and Recommendations for the General Election of 2008, July 18, 2007 at OpEdNews.com.  

Julia Rosen, Latest on the Los Angeles Double Bubble Trouble, February 6, 2008 at calitics.com.  Also see the CourageCampaign.org website for a picture of poor ballot design leading to the (deliberate?) disenfranchisement of 95,000 voters.  

Brian Rothenberg, Shadows on High: Election Machine Drama, All Dam-ed Up and Nowhere to Go, February 9, 2008. Regarding “political reality” see the first and second comments posted beneath this article. 

Avi Rubin, Secretary Bowen’s Clever Insight, August 7, 2007 at avi-rubin.blogspot.com. 

Paddy Shaffer, OEJC Calls for Ohio Voting Systems, Machine Recall, Return and Refund, November, 2007 at electionDefenseAlliance.org 

Velvet Revolution, Election Strike Force: What You Can Do Now (2006)