pageok
pageok
pageok
You Too Can Reject a Minnesota Senate Ballot:

Why let the Norm Coleman and Al Franken campaigns have all the fun. Thanks to Minnesota Public Radio, you can look at pictures of actual ballots cast in the Minnesota Senate race and vote on whether you think they contain votes that should be counted. In case you think it relevant, here is the Minnesota statute on determining voter intent.

Brad Ford:
While some of the challenges are bogus, the inability of voters to follow simple directions continues to amaze.
11.21.2008 1:56pm
Norman Bates (mail):

While some of the challenges are bogus, the inability of voters to follow simple directions continues to amaze.


My brother (an Obama supporter by the way) characterized the argument behind the 2000 Democrat lawsuit after the Florida presidential election as, "We were too stupid to know how to vote, so we should be allowed to vote twice."
11.21.2008 2:08pm
Frog Leg (mail):
Do the Lizard People have a representative to challenge ballots?
11.21.2008 2:12pm
1Ler:
This is fascinating... it's unbelievable how badly people can mess up a ballot.
11.21.2008 2:23pm
faceword:
That is pretty awesome. Makes you realize that these challenges are not being made out of malice -- reasonable people can differ on what the correct answer is.
11.21.2008 2:27pm
PLR:
Bush was supposedly one of the Lizard People, so I guess that would not be a vote for change.
11.21.2008 2:28pm
ForWhatItsWorth:
The simple fact that they either cannot follow simple instructions or are so lazy that they won't redo a spoiled ballot is telling. Personally, I say throw the challenged ballots out...... period.
11.21.2008 2:33pm
Christopher Phelan (mail):
What's also clear if you go through these is how many of them have no obviously
right answer. The recount brings into the race a much higher rate of subjectivity than I would have guessed.

In my Minnesota precinct, you filled out the ballot and then put it into the electronic counter yourself. I've been told that if the ballot had been filled in incorrectly, it would have been spit back at me. I don't know how that would work if you just screwed up one race.

A better system would be to fill out a ballot like this and then have an interaction with the computer you feed it into, as in,

(computer screen)

President: valid vote
Senator: No vote
U.S. House: Valid vote
Proposition 1: Valid vote
...

Would you like to proceed or have your ballot back for correction? (Yes or No)

Then if Yes. Thank you for voting. (Computer retains ballot).

if No. Ballot rejected. Please go to poll worker with ballot so it can be destroyed and you can get a new one. (Computer spits out ballot with word
"rejected" printed on it. Voter
brings it back to desk to get new ballot and starts over.

But the idea is that you fix your problems with the computer while you are voting or it doesn't get fixed.
11.21.2008 2:36pm
Smokey:
My brother (an Obama supporter by the way) characterized the argument behind the 2000 Democrat lawsuit after the Florida presidential election as, "We were too stupid to know how to vote, so we should be allowed to vote twice."
11.21.2008 2:37pm
Lior:
I think ballots should be counted strictly. In other words, the states should discard malleable concepts like "voter intent" (204C.22 subd. 1) in favour of bright-line rules:

1. A ballot is valid if, and only if, for each race either:

(i) There is a mark inside exactly one of the ovals; or
(ii) Write-in candidates are allowed, the name of a candidate is written, and no other marks are made.

2. There shall be no other marks on the ballot.

3. A voter may receive as many ballots as needed, provided that he does not intend to deplete the stock as the voting place. Only one ballot may be deposited in the ballot box.
11.21.2008 2:44pm
Crust (mail):
Lots of craziness on both sides. But can it really be true that some ballots were "challenged by the Coleman campaign simply because voter voted both for John McCain and Al Franken"?
11.21.2008 2:49pm
Joe Bingham (mail):
Yeah, it's amazing that people this stupid voted. Shouldn't be amazing to me, but it is. Who are these morons?!?
11.21.2008 3:27pm
arbitraryaardvark (mail) (www):
PLR, thanks for that link.
11.21.2008 3:37pm
David Welker (www):
Fascinating. Minnesota Public Radio certainly has put something out there that is quite educational.

I think in most cases, you can discern the intent of the voter. For example, as someone who would have voted for Franken if I lived in Minnesota, in the case where Franken's bubble was barely filled, but then Coleman's bubble was fully filled, you can tell that the person probably started to fill in Franken, realized they were making a mistake, stopped, and then really filled in Coleman.

It doesn't make sense that they would fully fill in Coleman, and then only partially fill in Franken if they intended to vote for Franken. But, the opposite scenario does make sense.

Of course, you cannot know what they intended with 100% probability, but I think that you can say that this was a vote for Coleman with something like over 75% likelihood (to use a subjective probability). I think that is good enough.

I think the most accurate way to count these votes is by adopting an imperfect process that attempts to discern the intent of the voter. As long as you can keep your probability of being right above a certain threshold, you should come out with a more accurate result.

I am not sure what that threshold should be. I think in cases where their are ambiguous marks favoring both of the serious candidates, the threshold should be higher. If you thought, assigning subjective probabilities, that a ballot was 51% likely to be for Coleman and 49% likely to be for Franken, you might want to discard that ballot.

If on the other hand, you thought the probability was something like 51% Coleman, and 49% the Lizard People, you might want to count that vote for Coleman.

The solution where you exclude the ballot whenever it is not perfect is clearly more inaccurate. Especially in cases where the probability that the vote was meant to go one way or another is very high. Sometimes it seems nearly certain that one candidate rather than another was the intended recipient of a vote. To exclude those votes would certainly decrease accuracy, not increase it.

Does anyone else have any thoughts on what sort of algorithm would lead to the most accuracy? I am asking in general, not with respect to the particulars of Minnesota law.
11.21.2008 3:40pm
JamesInSeattle (mail):
Fixing problems at a computer implies that there's a computer involved - bad idea.

In sensible states (I'm in Washington), they mail you a ballot, you fill it out, drop it in the mailbox, and you're done. You're not going to ship computers to everyone, right?
11.21.2008 3:52pm
Christopher Phelan (mail):
James,

Mail in ballots will have the same, or worse, problems in divining intent than the current method.

Communication is many times better in person because of the ability to interact. If you don't understand, you can say "huh? Can you repeat that? I didn't understand you." You can keep the process going until both sides are clear in their understanding of the communication.

The key with voting should be coming up with systems that 1) protect confidentiality, 2) do not involve subjective divining of intent, and 3) are hard to corrupt. The mail in system appears to me to violate all three.
11.21.2008 4:15pm
ForWhatItsWorth:
JIS: "...In sensible states (I'm in Washington), they mail you a ballot, you fill it out, drop it in the mailbox, and you're done. ..."

There is no room for abuse there, right? Requiring a person who is residing in the state to physically present themselves at a polling place to have their id's checked and then use a computer for voting sounds a bit less prone to abuse than a "mail in" ballot. Obviously, absentee ballots are appropriate for those who are not physically present in the state at the time, like military folks for example.

David W: "...Does anyone else have any thoughts on what sort of algorithm would lead to the most accuracy?..."

Why yes, I do. Tear up any ballot the machine cannot read and don't count the votes it may have produced, thus keeping any silly attempt at determining "intent" completely out of the picture. If people are, as I mentioned earlier, too lazy to redo a spoiled ballot, it is time for them to go home without their voice being heard. Determining intent on a ballot is a slippery slope we never should have permitted. That is "my" foolproof algorithm. :)
11.21.2008 4:22pm
Kelly (mail):
Looking at some of those ballots makes me sad that Virginia is phasing out our voting machines. The machines are so much harder to screw up - you touch the name of everyone you want to vote for, the nice computer shows you a summary screen of all your votes and you either push the button to cast your ballot or start over.

But since the voting machines are apparently going to become some sort of evil vote-eating menace any day now, it's back to paper ballots for us.
11.21.2008 4:25pm
Lior:
Kelly: how do you know that the "nice computer" actually counted the votes the way they were presented on the summary screen? How do you audit the "nice computer" after the election, the way Minnesota is auditing its process right now?

The problems with the recount are due to the bad definition of a "valid ballot" and not due to any weakness of paper voting. David Welker's makes this point very well: the current system is based on the auditor divining the voter's intent from whatever marks the voter made.

The solution today is not black-box voting machines, but an objective definition of "proper ballot" and a clear statement that improper ballots are invalid and will not be counted under any circumstances. For the future, I think a solution that will make both Kelly and me happy is computer-generated optical-scan ballots. After the summary screen the "nice computer" will print out the ballot for you, and then forget everything you told it. You can check the printed ballot to make sure the computer did what it was supposed to do; the computer cannot be rigged to steal votes or remember who voted how; and all ballots are valid since they were filled by machine and not by hand.
11.21.2008 4:43pm
Martin000 (mail):
Query: Is there any decent experimental data (e.g., from industrial efficiency experts, military training people, etc.) relevant to the general question of what number of screw ups you would normally expect if you took, say, a million basically competent and diligent people and had them perform a simple task they did not perform routinely?

Similarly, if you took, say a million people on a given say (e.g., election day), how many would experience random cognitively disruptive events such as being kept awake by a crying baby, marriage proposals, automobile near collisions, sudden religious insights, etc.

I have no idea what the answers to these questions are, but, if even rough quantitative information is available, it would be interesting to compare the figures with voting errors.
11.21.2008 4:48pm
JB:
Lior has it. Computer shows you your vote choices, then prints out a ballot that you review and stuff into a box.

This shouldn't be that hard.
11.21.2008 5:06pm
Justin (mail):
The Lizard People ballot is clearly a vote for Franken. On the election above, he wrote in Lizard People AND FILLED IN THE CIRCLE FOR WRITE IN, as you were supposed to do. In the senate race, he added Lizard People, but instead of voting for the write in, voted for Franken. Just an FYI.
11.21.2008 5:43pm
Frog Leg (mail):
Justin, why do you hate the Lizard People?
11.21.2008 5:48pm
ChrisIowa (mail):

Lior has it. Computer shows you your vote choices, then prints out a ballot that you review and stuff into a box.

This shouldn't be that hard.

Works until the power goes out.
Creates lines when the number of machines is inadequate.
Creates lines when some who are not comfortable with technology take forever to deal with it.
11.21.2008 5:53pm
Gabor (mail):
I can't reconcile Lior's views on voter intent. On the one hand, he writes

"the states should discard malleable concepts like 'voter intent'"

but on the other he writes:

"provided that he does not intend to deplete the stock as the voting place."

A goal of determining voter intent is one which makes an appeal to reason, while a blanket dismissal of voters who, perhaps due to physical disability or a honest mistake, create an amibguous ballot as "too stupid to vote" is far from reasonable, unless one really wants to create a more limited franchise for voters, in which case they should be upfront and say with some precision what additional qualifications they would demand of potential voters.
11.21.2008 5:59pm
David Welker (www):

If people are, as I mentioned earlier, too lazy to redo a spoiled ballot, it is time for them to go home without their voice being heard. Determining intent on a ballot is a slippery slope we never should have permitted. That is "my" foolproof algorithm. :)


I disagree with your all too casual suggestions that people should be disenfranchised even when their intent can be discovered with a high probability. I suppose I take the right to vote more seriously than you do.

As for your point about slippery slopes, a type of argument that, by the way, is way overused and usually although not always illegitimate, why isn't the slippery slope disenfranchising people because they are "too lazy"? What's next, an IQ test? Are we going to go back to literacy tests? Maybe we should examine the course of voter's entire lives to ensure they are not too "lazy" to vote.

In any case, you haven't answered my question. You are suggesting that the solution is to disenfranchise people you view as either "too lazy" or "too stupid." But clearly, this would lead to a less accurate result, since not counting a ballot where the intent is relatively clear even though not technically perfect in execution is a choice that decreases rather than increases accuracy.

Given that even "lazy" people are entitled to vote and disenfranchisement is not an option, does anyone have any suggestions concerning the best algorithm for maximizing accuracy? I am not interested in arguments that the standard should be anything other than an honest attempt to determine the intent of the voter. Throwing away votes with no inquiry whatsoever does not count as an honest attempt to determine intent in my book.
11.21.2008 6:12pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
Forget this voter intent crap. A ballot that does not conform to instructions should be void. Do it right and completely right or your vote does not get counted. If you are too stupid to follow instructions, then your vote should not count. If someone is infirm in a way that makes it difficult to produce a competent ballot, then give him help.
11.21.2008 6:15pm
David Welker (www):
A. Zarkov,

Your point does not make sense to me. By definition, a voting is how people express their intent. Your suggestion is not something that changes that fact. Voting will still be about intent. Only, under your proposal, that intent would be less accurately determined.
11.21.2008 6:20pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
"Only, under your proposal, that intent would be less accurately determined."

Under my proposal intent will be more accurately determined because those ambiguous cases are eliminated. If you mean the intent of the electorate as a whole, that's a different matter. But for the individual voter, we should insist he do a proper ballot. I don't see a problem.
11.21.2008 6:30pm
gasman (mail):
If we accept the premise that voters for each party are equally intelligent, literate, and able to follow a very simple written survey (the ballot) then adopting a bright line rule that tosses all remotely equivocal ballots would have no net effect for either party/candidate.
Put this way, it kind of makes it hard for the party that preferentially represents morons to argue that their morons need more protection than the other party's morons.
11.21.2008 6:36pm
geokstr:
Regardless of what might be the best way to do this in the future, anyone want to bet against Franken winning?
11.21.2008 6:42pm
Norman Bates (mail):
gasman wins the thread.
11.21.2008 6:43pm
paul lukasiak (mail):
Under my proposal intent will be more accurately determined because those ambiguous cases are eliminated.

complete nonsense, because under your formulation, voter intent can be quite clear yet you INACCURATELY and deliberately count the ballot as "invalid".

And I hate to break it to you, but "determining voter intent" is what election officials have done for as long as we've used ballots themselves -- long before machines were used to count votes, election officials spent their time looking at each and every ballot, and determining voter intent. The "rules" for determining voter intent that are in use today derive from the dilemmas that arose long before punch cards and optically scanned ballots came into play -- and failure to follow instructions was NEVER a problem in most states as long as intent could be determined.
11.21.2008 6:47pm
whit:
we don't try to divine intent with scantrons. why do we need to inject all this subjectivity with ballots?

it's not frigging rocket science. fill in the bubble for one candidate per race.

period.

otherwise, it gets rejected.

and oh yea... what gasman said.
11.21.2008 7:02pm
whit:
we don't try to divine intent with scantrons. why do we need to inject all this subjectivity with ballots?

it's not frigging rocket science. fill in the bubble for one candidate per race.

period.

otherwise, it gets rejected.

and oh yea... what gasman said.
11.21.2008 7:02pm
Nathan_M (mail):

Under my proposal intent will be more accurately determined because those ambiguous cases are eliminated. If you mean the intent of the electorate as a whole, that's a different matter. But for the individual voter, we should insist he do a proper ballot. I don't see a problem.

When scientists decide whether to accept or reject a hypothesis (such as whether a particular voter intended to vote for Franken or Coleman) they talk about two types of errors they can make. A Type I error is when they accept a false hypothesis, and a Type II error is when they reject a true hypothesis.

Your proposal would almost completely eliminate Type I errors (that is, very few votes would be counted for Coleman or Franken if the voter intended to vote for a different candidate). In that sense it would be more accurate.

But you are overlooking Type II errors. A great many ballots, such as votes 2, 3, 8, and 9 on the NPR site would be rejected even though there is probably only a minimal risk of a Type I error in counting those ballots. I would suggest your proposal would introduce many more Type II errors than it would eliminate Type I errors.

So while you're right that the intent of the voters whose votes are counted would be determined with more accuracy, the accuracy of determining the intent of the voters who cast ballots would fall.
11.21.2008 7:47pm
Oren:

That is pretty awesome. Makes you realize that these challenges are not being made out of malice -- reasonable people can differ on what the correct answer is.

Seconded.

My approach would be go to the counties where these ballots were cast and lock everyone together in an auditorium until the person responsible for the ballot claims it and fills it out properly. Worked for my 1st grade class, don't see why it wouldn't work here.
11.21.2008 8:10pm
David Welker (www):
Nathan_M,

Excellent explanation.
11.21.2008 9:03pm
NickM (mail) (www):
Perhaps the Lizard People voter feels Franken is a member of Homo reptiliensis.

The "no stray marks" standard would be disastrous in practice - MA has a similar standard for initiative petitions, and it has resulted in signature gatherers being forced to use separate petitions for each signer, because a simple dot, nowhere near the signature blocks (as can happen if you drop the pen) will invalidate the entire petition.

Nick
11.21.2008 9:24pm
NickM (mail) (www):
BTW, Justin is absolutely wrong about the Lizard People ballot.

Just FYI.

Nick
11.21.2008 9:37pm
Hoosier:
Day 1 Ballot #4 is rather obvious: The letters next to his name are clearly ND, for Notre Dame; the college that his daughter currently attends. The clear intent of the voter was to "I vote for Norm--GO IRISH!"

If Jim Morrison is still alive, does that mean that he is still the Lizard King?
11.21.2008 9:38pm
Hoosier:
Mick M: Does this rule actually apply if the second name on the ballot is that of "people" who never existed?

Would a ballot marked for both Coleman and David St. Hubbins be counted as a overvote, or as suffragium per dickweed? (To use the legal term.)
11.21.2008 9:42pm
LM (mail):
Hoosier:

Would a ballot marked for both Coleman and David St. Hubbins be counted as a overvote, or as suffragium per dickweed? (To use the legal term.)

Nidor meus manica.
11.22.2008 12:30am
Lior:
Nathan_M: nothing wrong with what you call "type II errors", since they aren't errors of the system. It's the voter that makes the error, and therefore the voter that should be responsible for correcting it.

Gabor: If you can't tell the difference between the subjectivity of divining voter intent from a badly marked ballot, and the subjectivity involved in the poll worker telling the voter in person "no you can't have 100 empty ballots", then we're having a serious problem in communications.

Chrislowa: Machine-printed optical-scan ballots have an obvious backup -- human-filled optical-scan ballots, just like those used in MN today.

Power goes out? Voter uncomfortable with technology? Lines for the machines are too long? Just give the voter the paper form to fill.

It is important that the polling place staff explain to the voters who opt for hand-filled ballots that these must be filled correctly, since both the optical scanners and any manual recount will have little (no) tolerance for incorrectly filled ballots and no "voter intent" fallback. Once this is understood it's up to the each voter to choose whether to fill his ballot by hand or by machine.

Yes, in case of power failure the voters will have no choice -- everyone will have to go manual -- but this is certainly no worse than the current system.
11.22.2008 3:26am
Nigel Tufnel:
What do you mean David St. Hubbins isn't real?
11.22.2008 4:37am
David M. Nieporent (www):
I disagree with your all too casual suggestions that people should be disenfranchised even when their intent can be discovered with a high probability. I suppose I take the right to vote more seriously than you do.
Can you please stop using the word "disenfranchise"? To disenfranchise is to take away someone's right to vote, not to discard a ballot because someone didn't follow the rules.

Said voter was allowed to vote; he just didn't do so correctly.

That's not "disenfranchising," any more than making the election day Tuesday "disenfranchises" people who were so stupid that they showed up on Wednesday.
11.22.2008 9:31am
JoelP:
What's the point of allowing write-ins but not signatures?
Surely anyone who wants to identify their ballot can easily do so via the write-in process (so long as at least one race is seen as "irrelevant).
11.22.2008 10:07am
Brett Bellmore:

Surely anyone who wants to identify their ballot


To keep other people from identifying your ballot.
11.22.2008 11:12am
Oren:
David, if the voter genuinely spoiled his ballot and it was thrown out, then the result is not disenfranchisement.

OTOH, if the voter did something as innocuous as making a single stray mark or imprinting his thumb print in ink and the ballot is thrown out on such trivial grounds, then it is disenfranchisement by asinine application of the rules.
11.22.2008 11:18am
Oren:

Nathan_M: nothing wrong with what you call "type II errors", since they aren't errors of the system. It's the voter that makes the error, and therefore the voter that should be responsible for correcting it.

Again, like I said to Dave, some of the "errors" are such trivialities that I cannot fathom why we would throw out the ballots.
11.22.2008 11:20am
jum1801 (mail):
While the voters' inability to follow directions is certainly suspect, I am more troubled here by the "voting" I've seen on the challenged ballots. Don't they seem a tad Franken-skewed? It's as if for many online voters, the tie goes to Franken...and so does almost everything else.

Which brings up another issue - namely, the apparent loss of our nation's willingness, perhaps even our ability, to forego partisanship even in simple, everyday things. At least three of the challenged ballots which a majority of internet voters believe should go to Franken simply can not be said by a fair-minded person to be Franken votes. I can only conclude that partisanship, even in something as inconsequential as an online vote, is not possible. But that is consistent with the Left's theme of the last 8 years that good Democrats should do everything they can to put their fingers on the electoral scales (so that "justice" might prevail don't you know). Since they're such smart and good people and all.
11.22.2008 12:22pm
DiverDan (mail):
Some of these objections look a lot like the fights that are going on now in Dallas County in a State Senate seat that was decided (in favor of the Republican incumbant) by 35 votes. The Democrats are fighting over the electronic ballots where the voter selected straight ticket Democratic, then voted again for the Democratic candidate in the State Senate race. Problem is, there is a big bold lettered sign in every Voting Booth that WARNS the voter that, with a straight ticket vote, selecting an individual candidate from the same party in any race operates to deselect that candidate, resulting in NO VOTE for that race. Voting Straight Ticket Democratic, then voting for an individual candidate from another party has the effect of deselecting the Democratic candidate in that race and voting for the individual selected. Moreover, before the vote is submitted, the Review Screen comes up and says: "You have deselected the Candidate in the race for State Senate District 105, and you have not voted in that race. Do you want to change that?" A voter who really meant to vote for that candidate has to BOTH ignore the warnings in the Voting Booth AND ignore the chance to correct the mistake given by the computer screen to screw that up. State law says that the effect of that type of vote is No vote in the race where the straight ticket candidate was "deselected." But the Dems insist that "Every Vote must be counted; those Voters who voted straight ticket Democratic, then voted again for the Democratic Candidate for State Senate (or in any other race) simply meant to emphasize their vote. They should all be counted as votes for the Democratic Candidate."

So, should we assume that ALL voters who did this are just too stupid to vote, ignoring BOTH the Warning Sign in the Booth AND the Review Screen on the Computer? Or should we assume that at least SOME Straight Ticket Democratic Voters actually followed the instructions and decided NOT to vote for that particular candidate? In that case, who should be disenfranchised, the complete idiots, or the voters who followed the instructions? If we have to ignore the intent of any voters, I go for disenfranchising the idiots who can't follow instructions -- Does that make me an elitist or racist or any other nasty names the Dems choose to call me?
11.22.2008 1:09pm
Justin (mail):
Both Nick and that blog is wrong. While a failure to mark an oval for write in will not make it an undervote, the voter intent analysis clearly trumps the statutory language cited by the blog. Otherwise, the voter intent rule would be eviscerated, in the case where there is some stray mark on another oval.
11.22.2008 1:15pm
Cornellian (mail):
Forget this voter intent crap. A ballot that does not conform to instructions should be void. Do it right and completely right or your vote does not get counted. If you are too stupid to follow instructions, then your vote should not count.

I regard elections as an attempt to find out who the voters want to elect, not an opportunity to punish voters for their alleged stupidity.
11.22.2008 1:15pm
BGates:
If we accept the premise that voters for each party are equally intelligent, literate, and able to follow a very simple written survey
I think that premise is likely to gain less support than the statement, "The party I support is mostly populated by goodhearted people who are honestly attempting to improve the nation as a whole, while the other party is a mixture of truly evil rich people who want to spread misery for their own benefit, people in power who don't care what happens to the country so long as they keep what they have, and a large group of easily manipulated ignoramuses who live in parts of the country I don't like."
11.22.2008 1:19pm
Justin (mail):
PS - just in case I get "called" on it, the voter intent analysis IS a statutory mandate that takes precedence under MN law, I'm not saying "ignore the law" or anything here.
11.22.2008 1:22pm
David Welker (www):
Mr. Nieporent,

I suppose it is worth discussing the meaning of disenfranchise briefly.

Let us look at the word. To disenfranchise is to deprive someone of the right to vote.

Now, let me see if I understand your view:

Basically, you are saying that it is okay to deprive someone of his vote (not his right to vote in future elections, but instead his vote in this particular election), even when the intent is extremely clear, if he does not follow requirements X, Y, and Z. In this case, even though you have deprived someone of his vote, you have not deprived him of his right to try to vote, because he theoretically could have perhaps met those requirements (if only he had understood them at the time -- it is too late now). In the future, he will be able to try again (if he ever learns that he made a mistake that caused his vote to be discarded). Because the person could have voted this time and can vote in the future if only he satisfies X, Y, and Z, it is your position that he has not been deprived of the right to vote, instead he has only been deprived of a particular vote in a particular election.

Well, I have several problems with this view in this particular context. First, while I certainly agree that there have to be conditions on the act of voting, such as (1) residency (2) minimum age and so on these conditions are fairly fundamental in defining the electorate. People who are not residents or who do not meet minimum age requirements never had the right to vote in the first place. They were not disenfranchised. The act of registration is also necessary to demonstrate and declare and affirm that these fundamental requirements are met.

In contrast, what is being proposed here is that we not count votes where we can, with a high probability and in many cases practical certainty, not count the votes of people who are eligible to vote in every substantive way, who have properly registered, and who have invested time on election day to find their polling places and have their voices heard.

Your proposal is to not count their votes even though it is possible to determine intent, in many cases with near certainty, because of some minor non-substantive technical flaw in their execution of the act of voting. That is disenfranchisement, plain and simple. These people have been permanently deprived of their right to express their views in that particular election. This is a permanent injury. A literacy test functions in much the same manner. The voter is "only" deprived of voting in that one election and can always try the test again in the next election.

Anytime you unnecessarily (if intent is too ambiguous, it is necessary to discard the ballot) deprive someone of her vote when she has met all the substantive requirements of voting (eligibility, registration, showing up to perform the act), you have deprived her of her right to vote. That is, you have disenfranchised her.

So, yes, what you are advocating and what others are advocating is properly called disenfranchisement. And yes, there properly should be a stigma attached to such advocacy. What you are about is not innocent. It is not minor. You want to throw away votes where the intent is clear and all substantive requirements for voting have been met. This is a permanent injury. That people can theoretically still vote in future elections makes this no different than literacy tests.
11.22.2008 2:50pm
David Welker (www):

David, if the voter genuinely spoiled his ballot and it was thrown out, then the result is not disenfranchisement.


I only agree with this if the intent is not clear. If the intent is clear but the vote is nonetheless not counted, that is disenfranchisement.
11.22.2008 2:53pm
David Welker (www):

I regard elections as an attempt to find out who the voters want to elect, not an opportunity to punish voters for their alleged stupidity.


Well said.
11.22.2008 2:58pm
Jake LaRow (mail):
I'd reject them all. Couldn't follow directions so they deserved to be tossed out.
11.22.2008 4:14pm
Kolohe:
"He was underlining Al" - best explanation since "No, that's German for 'The Bart. The'
11.22.2008 4:39pm
NickM (mail) (www):
It is far from "clear" that someone who fills in the oval next to Al Franken and takes the time to also write in Lizard People in the write-in box meant to vote for Franken, just as it is far from "clear" that the voter who filled in the oval next to Norm Coleman and also wrote in Bachmen meant to vote for Coleman.

These are not stray marks. These are conscious decisions by individual voters. In these 2 cases, it looks like decisions to cast protest votes.

Nick
11.22.2008 4:45pm
David Welker (www):

I'd reject them all. Couldn't follow directions so they deserved to be tossed out.


I think this attitude results from you not taking the right to vote seriously enough.
11.22.2008 5:01pm
whit:

I think this attitude results from you not taking the right to vote seriously enough.


rights require responsibilities. if you are too careless to read the friggin' directions and follow them, then tuff.

i realize that's not the law. but to paraphrase... sometimes the law is an ass.

and the best part is it takes the subjectivity out of the equation.
11.22.2008 7:05pm
David Welker (www):

and the best part is it takes the subjectivity out of the equation.


So, as someone who works in law enforcement, should we take subjectivity out of your job and turn you into a little robot who cannot exercise common sense or professional judgment?

I disagree with the larger philosophical premise of your point and, if you think about it, I think you do to. You exercise subjectivity (also known as "common sense" and "professional judgment") just about everyday in your job.

And you are right. Your point is not the law, and nor should it be. We should not make laws that casually deprive people of fundamental rights. We should exercise common sense in a way that enables fundamental rights to be exercised in light of the fact that people (including those who give the directions!) are imperfect.

I am sure that you see people make mistakes all the time, yet you exercise subjectivity. If you are doing your job correctly, you are not a robot.

In fact, I bet at some point during the course of your employment as a police officer, you have accidentally engaged in some traffic infraction. Did you write yourself up? Why should you exercise such discretion in your own favor when, objectively speaking, you were in violation of the law you are charged with enforcing?

Have you ever decided not to arrest someone when you were legally authorized to do so? Or declined to give them a ticket? Hopefully, you exercised your subjectivity wisely (according to the dictates of common sense and/or your professional training). Would the law be less of an "ass" if you entirely lacked such discretion??

In fact, giving such discretion to police officers does make law worse in some instances. Because sometimes this discretion is misused or abused for the officer's own benefit, either psychologically (not giving a ticket to an attractive person you are flirting with) or otherwise. But, on the whole, we entrust police officers with this discretion in the hopes that they will exercise "common sense" and "professional judgment" that makes the enforcement of law more sensible and more just. Is that a mistake?

Finally, you have a sort of callous attitude when it comes to fundamental rights that is very unappealing (you lose your rights for not following directions, that is "tuff.") I do not think it adds to your persuasiveness to adopt such a tone. The persona you adopt when having a discussion is up to you, so take this last point with a grain of salt. However, this, in my eyes, does lower my perception of your thoughtfulness and credibility, although I am an audience of one. I am sure there are those out there who finds this gritty man-on-the-street, gut instinctual and unsophisticated reaction appealing.
11.22.2008 7:39pm
whit:
all your whinging aside, law enforcement is not voting. to state that it's a false analogy is an understatement.

if you believe that all subjectivity that can be taken out of law enforcement (there will always be subjectivity. Probable cause for instance cannot be viewed at that simplistically) should be taken out, then make that point

seriously. there are arguments to be made for same but they have exactly ZERO to do with voting and subjectivity.

the analogy is absurd.

all yer cop bigotry aside, that's not what this is about. it's about voting and following the rules.

i would rather have an objective test for votes vs. a bunch of overlords trying to divine intent.

it is not that friggin' difficult for a person to fill in one oval or write in one name.

if they choose not to exercise enough care to do so, i am not going to lose any sleep over their "disenfranchisement"

because the agent of their disenfranchisement was themself.

i am VERY concerned about people disenfranchising other people. but if people are going to be their own worst enemy, that's their own damn fault.
11.22.2008 9:03pm
David Welker (www):
I am sorry you choose to respond to my argument by labeling "whinging." I think this is another example of both poor spelling and poor argument on your part.

First of all, all analogies are literally false. Right. If two things were exactly the same, we wouldn't be making an analogy at all.

My point, which you haven't addressed, is that better outcomes often result when some subjectivity (also known as "common sense" and "professional judgment") is brought into the equation.

You have leveled an accusation of "cop bigotry" against me. Yet, you have given no reasons for this. I think that is just plain rude. But it is not surprising given the level of thoughtfulness (very little) that has come from you thus far. Suggesting that some police officers sometimes use their discretion in a way that it was not meant to be used is both true and a valid concern. But, on the whole, I nonetheless support giving discretion to police officers (within limits, of course) because I believe abuses of discretion are not the norm and granting some discretion to these individuals most of whom are true professionals greatly improve the administration of justice.

Now, if your concern is about "overlords" improperly exercising their discretion, then I hope you can empathize with those who have concerns about how some police officers improperly exercise their discretion. It is appropriate in both case to ensure a system of checks and balances on those exercises of discretion. So, for example, we might try to put in place procedures to minimize abuses of discretion by the "overlords" who have the oh so glorious job of honestly trying to discern the intent of voters.

The point is, of course, that whenever you have a system that involves discretion (subjectivity) there are certainly some risks of bias and improper motive entering into the equation on the margin. That does not mean that the benefits of allowing some discretion are not outweighed by the costs.

Now, you make a point that I agree with. It is not very difficult for a person to fill in an oval (or if it is, they should get appropriate assistance). If they understand that is what they are supposed to do. Clearly, for whatever reason, some people do not understand what is required to make the vote as easy to count as possible. Perhaps they are not following directions, or perhaps the directions were delivered to them poorly.

Voting is a fundamental right. People should not lose that right lightly. You seem to think they should lose that right for making what are, in the scheme of things, very minor mistakes. I do not doubt that you are very concerned about people having the right to vote, but it is somewhat hard to square this with your casual attitude toward depriving people of their vote (i.e."tuff") and your policy position that people should not have their vote count for minor mistakes even when their intent is clear. People should not be deprived of that right when they met all the substantive requirements for voting, have properly registered, and have showed up at the polling place and tried to cast their vote if there is any alternative. If the ballot is truly too ambiguous to count even after a human (or group of humans) rather than a computer has examined it, then there is no alternative. But the default should not be to discard the ballot because of a smudge, stray mark, or where the voter has indicated his intent in a way where it can be discerned with a high enough probability.

Finally, I do not know if something about the tone of my previous post offended you. If so, feel free to address it. No offense was intended. I will say that you saying I am guilty of "cop bigotry" is not only not true, but offensive. Especially since you have no reason to believe that based on anything I have said. Overall, I think that if you are offended by someone, it is generally best to try to address that (without assuming that the offense is intended) rather than resorting to claims that have no support whatsoever.
11.22.2008 9:39pm
David Welker (www):
Preview is my friend. I know this, but still deploy it too little. I wrote:

That does not mean that the benefits of allowing some discretion are not outweighed by the costs.

This should be:

That does not mean that the benefits of allowing some discretion are not outweighed by the costs.
11.22.2008 9:42pm
Jake LaRow (mail):
David Walker

The reason I say that is precisely BECAUSE I take voting so seriously. The idea that we can have a law or a set of rules to determine intent is laughable. One would assume this being a law blog among other things that "intent" does not lead to clarity on issues (read: founding fathers), but rather serves to expand debate on what said law means.

How can it be any simpler to fill in an oval? Or in my state of Wisconsin to complete an arrow?
11.22.2008 10:59pm
Jake LaRow (mail):
*Welker

PIMF, my apologies
11.22.2008 11:00pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Now, let me see if I understand your view:

Basically, you are saying that it is okay to deprive someone of his vote (not his right to vote in future elections, but instead his vote in this particular election), even when the intent is extremely clear, if he does not follow requirements X, Y, and Z. In this case, even though you have deprived someone of his vote, you have not deprived him of his right to try to vote, because he theoretically could have perhaps met those requirements (if only he had understood them at the time -- it is too late now). In the future, he will be able to try again (if he ever learns that he made a mistake that caused his vote to be discarded). Because the person could have voted this time and can vote in the future if only he satisfies X, Y, and Z, it is your position that he has not been deprived of the right to vote, instead he has only been deprived of a particular vote in a particular election.

No, you don't understand my view.

"Basically," I'm saying that it isn't "depriving someone of his vote" to create rules in advance of an election to determine how a vote may be cast, and then apply those rules.
11.23.2008 12:25am
LM (mail):

I'd reject them all. Couldn't follow directions so they deserved to be tossed out.

This from people who try to tell liberals that we're the elitists.
11.23.2008 8:32am
Oren:


"Basically," I'm saying that it isn't "depriving someone of his vote" to create rules in advance of an election to determine how a vote may be cast, and then apply those rules.


That depends on the level of detail that one uses. If a voter fills out an entire ballot with one stray pen mark far away from the ovals, he could very reasonably conclude that his ballot is not spoiled.
11.23.2008 11:08am
David Welker (www):

"Basically," I'm saying that it isn't "depriving someone of his vote" to create rules in advance of an election to determine how a vote may be cast, and then apply those rules.


The point of establishing a mechanism by which votes may be cast is to discern the intent of eligible voters. It seems that you would put the particulars of this mechanism above the purpose that mechanism is created to serve. The end result is that eligible voters who properly register and go to the polling place on election day and attempt to vote do not have their votes counted even when their intent can be determined. That is disenfranchisement, plain and simple.
11.23.2008 4:33pm
Jake LaRow (mail):
LM-


<blockquote>This from people who try to tell liberals that we're the elitists.

</blockquote>


What precisely is the point of that comment? Are you saying that I am elitist? If so, when did the idea of following rules and guidelines become elitist? I thought it was the other way around. I thought it was elitism, in this case, that assumes to know what this voter wanted to say more than the voter himself. Is it not the idea that someone knows what is better for you than you do the premise behind elitism?
11.23.2008 7:59pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
The point of establishing a mechanism by which votes may be cast is to discern the intent of eligible voters. It seems that you would put the particulars of this mechanism above the purpose that mechanism is created to serve.
Indeed. Otherwise, why bother to have rules at all? Why not just let people submit whatever they want -- hell, a name scribbled in crayon on a napkin -- and make the only rule, "If we can guess what you're thinking, then it's okay"?
The end result is that eligible voters who properly register and go to the polling place on election day and attempt to vote do not have their votes counted even when their intent can be determined. That is disenfranchisement, plain and simple.
It is not. Disenfranchising someone is taking away their opportunity to vote. Holding them to the rules is not. They had the opportunity; they just squandered it.

Imagine someone -- registered, eligible, etc. -- who walked into his polling place and announced in a loud voice, "I vote for Barack Obama." Is that person's intent clear? Yes. Absolutely. No doubt about what that person wanted. The most partisan Republican on the planet would agree that this person intended to vote for Obama. Would we count that person's vote? No. Has that person been "disenfranchised"? No.


There are many rules "eligible" voters must follow in order to have their votes counted. They must register. On time. They must show up at their designated polling place. On election day. Before the polls close. Upholding these rules does not constitute "disenfranchisement." And neither does upholding the rule requiring one to mark one's ballot correctly.
11.23.2008 8:10pm
David Welker (www):

Imagine someone -- registered, eligible, etc. -- who walked into his polling place and announced in a loud voice, "I vote for Barack Obama." Is that person's intent clear? Yes. Absolutely. No doubt about what that person wanted. The most partisan Republican on the planet would agree that this person intended to vote for Obama. Would we count that person's vote? No. Has that person been "disenfranchised"? No.


Your example is silly. First, your hypothetical voter clearly did not even make the slightest attempt to vote according to established procedures. In contrast, to the real life voters we are discussing who did make such an attempt. Second, because even if we wanted to count his vote, it would not be possible to do so, because, in our society at least, there would be no mechanism to ensure that "shouters" do not vote twice or that they are properly registered for that matter. (I do not think it is disenfranchisement to discard a vote where it is too ambiguous on the grounds of impossibility.) Third, your hypothetical voter is attempting to vote in a way that violates the law. If people could shout out their votes, then their votes could be bought. Also, this sounds like campaigning within 100 feet of a polling place to me.

What you are advocating is quite a bit different from this hypothetical. You are advocating disenfranchising a voter who (1) did in fact attempt to vote according to the rules, but for whatever reason did not completely understand what was required (2) where it is administratively possible to count that vote and (3) where no law was broken in attempting to make that vote.

As for your napkin example, if someone tries to turn in their vote on a napkin, the solution is to politely direct them to the correct mechanism to vote. Only if they engage in outright defiance of the established procedures, would you not try to count their vote if you could.

The bottom-line is that you would like to prevent people's voice from being heard even if (1) they are eligible to vote (2) are properly registered (3) show up to vote and attempt to follow proper procedures. Because they made an innocent mistake. That is disenfranchisement.
11.23.2008 8:57pm
David Welker (www):

What precisely is the point of that comment? Are you saying that I am elitist? If so, when did the idea of following rules and guidelines become elitist?


It is very difficult to interpret tone on the internet. But, when I read the phrase:


I'd reject them all. Couldn't follow directions so they deserved to be tossed out.


This sounds quite dismissive. Note the word "deserved." So and so "deserved" whatever they got, because they are idiots ("couldn't follow directions" oh, and we know there is nothing wrong with the person giving the directions, it must be the voter who couldn't follow directions).

Overall, I interpret the tone as being flippant. As though you are taking a very casual attitude to throwing out a vote. As if it doesn't matter and they deserve it anyway.

It sounds elitist.

On the other hand, actually interpreting tone can be very difficult when it comes to either emails or internet comments. People often do not take the time to convey the tone they intend, so misinterpretation is quite common.
11.23.2008 9:12pm
LM (mail):
Jake LaRow:

What precisely is the point of that comment?

What David Welker said (though he said it better than I would have).
11.23.2008 11:50pm
Jake LaRow (mail):
LM &David-

I believe that those voters who could not fill out their ballot correctly are the ones being flippant. What more important act is there for a citizen of the US other than voting; that these voters could not take the time to read and follow directions?

If in fact that we are lead to believe that some people intended to vote for a certain candidate, but yet managed to botch the ballot, why did they not follow up to make sure that their vote would be counted? For example, requesting a new ballot if they somehow filled in the wrong oval, etc.

How do we know for sure that with all those X's or arrows that that person decided not to vote for anyone? Is that being considered I wonder or if those counting the ballots assume each ballot must be assigned to one candidate.

To me it is much simpler to just follow the rules and disqualify those ballots that are improperly marked.
11.24.2008 3:23am
David Welker (www):

I believe that those voters who could not fill out their ballot correctly are the ones being flippant.


Wow. You are certainly making a huge totally unsupported generalization about a lot of different situations and people.

Yeah, I would say that is an elitist attitude. You think you can pin down everyone who makes a mistake and label them in a derogatory manner.

Look at the challenged ballots again. And let me know which voters are "flippant" and tell me how you come to that conclusion based on their ballot. I would really be interested in this skill of yours to read minds.


How do we know for sure that with all those X's or arrows that that person decided not to vote for anyone? Is that being considered I wonder or if those counting the ballots assume each ballot must be assigned to one candidate.


This is an excellent and I think much more interesting question. At some point, if a ballot is too ambiguous, we should discard it. But not all of these challenged ballots are too ambiguous to count.

I think the question of how we should establish procedures to maximize accuracy is an interesting one. (And throwing away votes does not maximize accuracy.)
11.24.2008 12:03pm
plutosdad (mail):
Kelly: how do you know that the "nice computer" actually counted the votes the way they were presented on the summary screen?

The same way I know the machine I slid my ballot into counted my vote correctly. The same way I know the election offical counted my vote correctly. The same way I know the district counted my vote along with everyone else correctly. e.g. it's faith no matter how it's done.
11.24.2008 3:10pm
plutosdad (mail):
I think this attitude results from you not taking the right to vote seriously enough.

No need to repeat the ad hominems of a few back at them.

For all we know people think all those votes should be thrown out precisely BECAUSE they take the vote seriously. Certainly quite a few I thought I could tell were for both Franken and Coleman, but some I thought were maybe 60-70% probability. Even for the candidate I support, that's not a comfortable margin of error at all. And quite frankly it scares me that this is how our votes are counted.

Secondly, it's not me, someone who doesn't live in the state doing the analysis, (though I hope one of them wins and not the other, so I'm not entirely disinterested), it's people with a vested interest in the outcome who are counting these votes. This is simply inviting corruption. And that is the biggest reason to throw out all votes that are slightly off - because it's not about trying to be more accurate, it's about gaming the system to throw out your oponent's votes and change some to your own.

I never supported electronic voting so much before. Though I've worked in IT all my life and know firsthand how humans and paper screw everything up. Those photos are proof we need to end paper balloting. Immediate feedback for the person so they can make sure it is correct before submitting is far superior to this method. (assuming it's in their language, is clear and easy to read, etc, which of course is another ball of wax, but it's hard to argue with a confirmation screen at the end.)
11.24.2008 3:23pm
Lior:
plutosdad:
[I know black-box computers count votes correctly] the same way I know the machine I slid my ballot into counted my vote correctly. The same way I know the election offical counted my vote correctly. The same way I know the district counted my vote along with everyone else correctly. e.g. it's faith no matter how it's done.


I don't think you've thought much before posting the reply. Of course you can't tell if the machine you slid the ballot into counted it correctly, or if the election officials reported false answers etc. However, with physical paper ballots, once the election ends the ballots remain. It is thus possible for anyone to organize a recount and check by hand whether the machines worked, whether the officials worked and so on. You personally may not check, but if there is any suspicion that something went wrong, then the New York Times might check (like the did their own recount in Florida in 2000). To the extent that you are taking anything on faith, the people who might cheat are knowingly taking the risk that evidence of their cheating will remain forever available.

With direct-recording computer voting, this is not the case. Let's consider the case of a computer that says it recorded a vote for candidate A but in fact recorded a vote for candidate B. How will you check this after the election? The only record that exists (if at all) are the computer memory cards. But these contain the vote for candidate B and no record of what the voter saw. The memory card is not like a ballot box -- it does not contain ballots as filled by the voters but rather ballots as decided on by the computer, without voter verification.

With the black-box voting machine, you have two "ballots": what the computer displayed on the screen, and what it wrote on the card. There is no way to verify the two correspond, even in aggregate.

With the scanner, the paper ballot you fed to the scanner is exactly the same ballot you put in the ballot box. If the total number of votes for candidate A reported by the scanner is different than the number of ballots marked "A" in the box, then you know something is wrong with the scanner.

For this reason, your level of trust in the scanner can be quite low; there is an independent method to verify its correctness. In fact, selecting a random section of polling places for hand recounts no matter what happens is already enough to essentially ensure that the system works.

As you correctly point out, your level of trust in a black-box computer system must be 100% since you will have no way to later verify that it functioned correctly.
11.24.2008 4:10pm
FWB (mail):
I think a televised duel between Coleman and Franken would settle the question once and for all.

Dominus providebit
11.24.2008 5:46pm
Jake LaRow (mail):
David Welker-

So you now think that me calling those voters flippant now qualifies as being "derogatory"? Apparently you accusing me of precisely that does not qualify as derogatory?

Let's be consistent at least! I don't recall attacking their character, though it is easy to fall into that.

However, it is that attitude where you calling me flippant is ok, but me calling them flippant is somehow "derogatory" is why I fear the idea of establishing intent on ambiguous ballots.

If by some chance down the road some rules were established prior to such disputes could discern votes (i.e., ovals with more ink qualify vote for that candidate, etc.) along with someway a panel could examine ballots with out names alongside the markers to attempt to take the bias that naturally comes into deciding which votes to count or throw out.

Until then, I repeat, those that cannot fill out ballots properly with clear and concise directions with so much at stake should not be counted. Plain and simple.
11.24.2008 8:50pm
David Welker (www):
So, you don't think that the suggestion the the voters are flippant is derogatory? I do. But, I digress.

Your suggestion that more detailed rules should be established for counting votes is a reasonable one. That was what I was getting at with the question about how things could be done more accurately.

On the other hand, it is probably difficult to make a comprehensive set of rules that covers all situations, so I do not imagine we will ever get to a system where some common sense and judgment is not called for in some cases.

In the meantime, since throwing out the votes is not the standard, but discerning the intent of the voter is, it seems that in the absence of rules vote counters are going to have more discretion than under your proposal.
11.24.2008 9:13pm
darrenm:

It seems that you would put the particulars of this mechanism above the purpose that mechanism is created to serve.



The ends do not justify the means, whether those ends are desirable or not. An objective process, agreed on in advance, is necessary to avoid any possible or perceived manipulation of the outcome. Subjectivity should be removed entirely if at all possible. If a few people are 'disenfranchised' due to their own mistakes, so be it. We all make mistakes and pay the consequences of those mistakes. A mistake casting a vote is not so sacrosanct that it must be excluded.
11.24.2008 10:02pm
Jake LaRow (mail):
DW-

Ok, last thing. So if you consider the use of flippant derogatory then do you admit that using that term to describe me is derogatory as well or no? You forgot to address that when I asked it in my last post.
11.24.2008 11:00pm
David Welker (www):
Jake LaRow,

If you recall, I said that you sounded flippant. I did not say that you were in fact flippant.

Only you know what your intent was. If you were being flippant, that is your bad. Whether you were in fact being flippant or not, that is how you sounded to me. So, if communicating a flippant attitude was not your intent, I suggest working on adding context to your comments to better communicate the tone you wish to convey.
11.24.2008 11:55pm
David Welker (www):
darrenm,

First, I agree with you that objectivity is a desirable attribute in the context of vote counting.

Subjectivity certainly does have certain costs. The question in my mind is this. Does subjectivity increase accuracy or decrease it? I believe, if proper procedures are put into place to minimize the role of partisanship in the final decision, subjectivity increases accuracy.

Also, while I think that allowing subjectivity has some costs, I think the costs of disenfranchising voters who make unintentional mistakes is higher. You in contrast, seem to think it is no big deal. That is where we differ.
11.25.2008 12:00am