I’m proud to be an Am-er-i-can (and a Brit-ish sub-ject…)

This is The Monday Line
by Denis G. Campbell

‘Old-fashioned’ British election resoundingly answers the ‘paper’ or ‘voting machine’ question

Yes, Lee Greenwood’s song has a better cadence. And as a dual national living in the UK for a dozen years, the second line of MY song would be different. Instead of: ‘where at least I know I’m free,” the UK line would be: “where at least my ball-ot is coun-ted.” So I’ll keep the day job since I pose zero threat to Sir Tim Rice as a lyricist, but my point is: in voting… people and paper rule machines. In the USA, the machine is always unquestionably presumed to be infallible and 100% correct.

As the US election of 2016 ramps up, I am slack-jawed at one thought: the roughly 70 million people who will cast a ballot in November of 2016, have no guarantee their vote will be counted or tabulated correctly. There is only one way to be sure your vote is counted. Marking paper ballots which are then counted by armies of volunteers and county poll workers.

As you pull the lever in a booth, touch a screen or insert your ballot into a scanner, let this thought run through your mind, “it is not the people who cast the votes, rather those who count the votes that matter most.” Now while that quote is often falsely attributed to the Russian dictator Stalin, it does make a point. If someone wanted to steal an election in certain parts of the USA, the means of software manipulation are at two key points, the individual machine’s software and the central tabulating computer. As the Hursti Hack video below shows, the machine level hack is relatively simple but requires tampering with EVERY machine. The simpler way is via the central computer.

Non-existent voter fraud

While not as revolutionary a RW fight as that against fluoride or a return to the gold standard, the right are heavily invested in voter ID to prevent non-existent VOTER fraud, voter disenfranchisement-setting the bar far too high in Jim Crow style requirements and reducing turnout in the African American and Hispanic communities by having far fewer machines in heavily urban areas creating long lines and discouraging inner city voters who often wait up to 8 hours in the queue to cast their ballot.

Having covered the truly specious and despicable voting authorities in Pima and Maricopa Counties, Arizona since 2006, they and nearly the entire GOP/Republican/Tea Party establishment would rather fight against vote transparency in the courts, than actually see your vote count.

A warrior on that battlefield sent an e-mail asking: since UK opinion polls were so wrong, could the Tories have stolen the election?’ Having watched and been in counting facilities (they are completely open and transparent), if rigged, it would be incredibly difficult.

Transparent UK Voting and Counting

To vote, one places an X on a piece of paper. At the polling place the ballots are placed by the voter into giant boxes. They are sealed at the polls at 10 pm with an accurate count in an envelope on top and whisked to the Vale of Glamorgan’s official vote count, a Barry sporthall.

As I wrote for The Huffington Post in 2010:

“Members of the press were confined to the balcony overlooking the floor, however, we did have special dispensation from 9:40 until polls closed at 10:00 pm to visit with counters, supervisors and learn about this untrusting, rigid and 100% manual process.

As explained by one of the vote supervisors, “the 82 physical ballot boxes arrived from polling stations stretching 20 miles or so across the Vale. They arrived in the outer chamber where each one is logged in. Each box has zip tie seals and is accompanied by paperwork stating the start and end number of the ballots used and therefore the number inside each box.”

Seated in an elaborate U-then-L-shaped series of tables were 10 teams of between 6 and 7 “counters.” These folks had a simple initial task, unfold and count the number of ballots from each box received and place them into stacks of 50 with a rubber band around them.

There was assembly line-like efficiency to the process. A box would be opened, party witnesses would sit across staring at the counting team making notes and stacks of ballots would be distributed to each member of the team to quickly stack into piles of 50 with rubber bands surrounding. When finished the stacks were placed in an In-Box like tray. The supervisor compared their counted number of ballots to the official poll figures, holler out, “the count is good” or… “the count is wrong.” Then the team would go back into each stack to find the missing or extra ballot(s).

Once rectified, all ballots are placed by the supervisor into the Mixing Bins. These were 2 giant wheelie rubbish bins and awaited the appointed time for actual sorting and counting.

This was only the first step. 82 boxes containing 48,000+ ballots and they started sorting all postal ballots at 10:20 (absentee ballots are actually counted!) and by midnight they began the real counting process at two of the tables.

Counting started with stacks from the wheelie bins being placed by supervisors in front of teams of two. They would together count, sort and stack piles of ballots by their marked vote. In the process they created new stacks of 50 by candidate (where possible). The stacks were then carried by the supervisors and given to another team of people in the vote tally area. They would review to make sure each stack was 50 Labour, Conservative, etc. votes and place them into crate like boxes, with each crate holding several thousand ballots. You could observe the number of filled boxes lining the back wall under each party’s nameplate. By 1:30 am those stacks showed Alun clearly and decisively in the lead. Individual counters finished before 2:00 am and the supervisors completed last minute verifications.

At 2:23 am the county manager announced the result. Just like that, five hours of counting ended, congratulatory speeches were made, cameras were shut off and folks, bleary-eyed headed for home. If this system is rigged, it involves dozens, then thousands of people. I would not say impossible but we are under no illusion of an 11 pm media news deadline ruling our counting. It takes as long as it takes.”

My constituency needed 3 more hours until 5:30 to declare a winner this year. If close, the room is secured and guarded and the recount is done after exhausted counters get 4-5 hours of sleep. The last district reported in at 4 pm the next day after two recounts. The busiest reporting hours are from 2 am until 5 am when the vast majority of election results are announced.

So while it does take until breakfast the next morning, I would rather know the count is complete and accurate than have these good people race to a media created finish line.

That is why I am proud to cast and then know my vote is well and truly counted. Don’t you deserve the same?

Denis G Campbell View more

Denis G Campbell
Denis G. Campbell is founder and editor of UK Progressive magazine and co-host of The Three Muckrakers podcast. He is the author of 7 books and provides Americas, EU and Middle Eastern commentary to the BBC, itv, Al Jazeera English, CNN, CRI, MSNBC and others. He is CEO of Monknash Media and a principal with B2E Consulting in London. You can follow him on Twitter @UKProgressive and on Facebook.

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