Ars Technica’s Jon Stokes on why it’s important to recount New Hampshire’s votes, even if you don’t think the Clinton or McCain campaigns finagled the results:
It is a huge mistake to assume (like this DKos poster) that the optical scan machines used in NH are somehow more secure than the much-maligned touchscreen machines, which didn’t seem to be that widely used in the primary. Optical scanners can actually be less secure than touchscreens, because they’re just as easy to tamper with (sometimes more so) as the touchscreens, but there’s typically only one per precinct—an attacker therefore has a single point of failure to manipulate. The fact that optical scanners leave a paper record is totally irrelevant if a random audit of the results is not mandatory by law after every election. And in New Hampshire, there are no mandatory audits. As I’ve said before, mandating a paper trail without also requiring post-election audits is like buying a security system for your house and then not turning it on.Stokes goes on to point out that, if anything, Clinton and her supporters ought to be getting out in front on these issues, since it’s entirely easy to imagine a situation where Clinton wins the Democratic nomination and then wins the general election by a hair. Under such circumstances, do you think the modern right wing is going to miss any opportunity whatsoever to call the election results in question? As Stokes says, we could wind up with a standoff that makes us look back with nostalgia on 2000.
Ron Paul and his supporters may be a bit loopy, but they are 100 percent correct in insisting on some type of audit of the NH results—not because Hillary hacked the vote (I currently think there are better explanations for the results than vote hacking), but because such audits should always occur as a matter of course. Again, when you use an electronic voting system, you must audit the results if you want to have confidence in them.
Second, I want to congratulate lefty blog stalwart Josh Marshall on his apparent clairvoyance. Clearly, he has access to information about the integrity of the NH elections that has been denied to the public. In a post entitled “Enough,” Marshall decried “the notion that public opinion surveys and even exit poll data is so reliable that any substantial discrepancy between those numbers and the official result is prima facie evidence of tampering. That is simply absurd.”
He went on insist that “the possibility or danger of tampering is not a license to assume it or imagine it—in the absence of any evidence—any time the vote doesn’t go how we’d like.”
I single Marshall out not just because I’m a daily reader of his blog, but because the attitude exemplified in this post is typical of well-intentioned journalists who don’t really grasp what’s at stake in the e-voting debate. So let me clarify, for the benefit of Marshall and the others:
In a truly democratic election, the burden of proof is on the state to provide evidence of the election’s integrity. This sentiment is behind the idea that ballots should be counted under the watchful eyes of the public’s representatives. So elections are held to a much different standard than criminal proceedings, where the burden of proof is on the one who brings a charge of wrongdoing.
Right now, in the absence of an audit of the New Hampshire results, the state has not met the requirement that it prove to the public that the election was fair. This is what the fuss is about. New Hampshire does not have the manual audit requirement that is necessary to prove that an election was fair, so that state’s ballots were effectively counted in secret by closed-source machine code. When ballots are counted in secret and it’s up to the voters to prove that the election was rigged when they’re surprised by the results, that’s not the kind of democracy that the Founders had in mind for us.
“New Hampshire does not have the manual audit requirement that is necessary to prove that an election was fair, so that state’s ballots were effectively counted in secret by closed-source machine code.” Please, political bloggers, get this point straight. The central problem isn’t touchscreens or Diebold, and moreover it doesn’t matter if the machine-counts generate paper printouts if we don’t know what’s going on inside the machines when they “count”. The central problem is closed-source, secret, unaccountable code—machine procedures that can’t be audited by independent outsiders. Voting-machine merchants typically defend the closed-source code inside their devices on patent and competetive grounds. We shouldn’t give a dime for this argument. We need our elections to be fair and to be perceived as fair far more than we need a voting-machine industry.