By Nancy Collisson
Ron Dugger has a simple plan — to encourage the use of write-in ballots only.
Dugger has been reporting on the history of elections and the dangers of computerized vote counting since 1987 when he wrote an article about it for the New Yorker.
Dugger’s comments on the dangers of computerized voting have been published in the Los Angeles Times and he hasbeen interviewed on the topic on National Public Radio. He is the author of biographies on Lyndon B. Johnson and Ronald Reagan, the founding editor of the Texas Observer, and founder of the Alliance for Democracy, a national populist organization.
In a conversation I had with Dugger on this topic, he explained that he is concerned that much concern is given unnecessarily to the issue of balloting, since it is a “non-problem.”
“I am fundamentally alarmed that computer programmers can steal whole elections,” Dugger said. “Computers are machines that obey orders that come from the programmers, who are hired by private companies. Some of these machines can count forty to fifty million votes.”
And ‘Yes,” Dugger adds, “You can buy an election, if you can buy a programmer.”
Dugger admires the Canadian model of voting. As he explained, Canadians have 13 million voters, with no precincts larger than 500, 300 average. All votes there are counted within four hours.
“Structurally it’s stupid to turn vote counting over to programming experts, since it’s not really a problem anyway,” he said. “If the media didn’t make it a problem, it wouldn’t be a problem. We’d have an amiable and sociable civic event occuring at the end of the night, where the folks counting ballots got to know one another over coffee and doughnuts. That’s democracy.”
When asked whether the recounts should have continued in Florida, Dugger simply said, “Hell yes!”
“Ask yourself,” he said, “if we shouldn’t know who our president is — in the most powerful country in the world.”
Dugger cited a Newsweek poll that stated that 29 percent of the people in the country do not regard Bush as the legitimate president. “Let’s not kid ourselves that we had a legitimate election — we didn’t,” he says. We might as well deal with that fact in a legitimate way.”
Dealing with the matter of the fairness of elections drives Dugger, and the present mission of the Alliance for Democracy. Although he believes firmly that hand-written ballots are the best way to hold a fair, democratic election, he did describe one method of electronic voting that he might accept.
Again, Dugger maintains that voting precincts should be limited to 500 voters, per the Canadian model. Furthermore, he believes the tallying should be decentralized. While a computer would register “mark sense” votes, a paper inside the machine would receive a mark. The paper would be kept inside the machine and tabulated later, but kept locked inside the machine.
If the paper slip ballots were printed and released — in a form similar to the slip that comes out of an automated teller machine — they could be photocopied, thereby increasing the risk of vote-buying, Dugger says.
The worst-case election scenario, according to Dugger, would be the sole use of electronic voting machines with no ballots. “If we go to all-electronic, with no ballot made by the voter, it’s just a matter of time before we have a dictatorship — and a smart machine programmer can erase all proof that it happened.”
The solution is simple, according to Dugger.
“Look,” he said. “When somebody counts the votes, they look at the ballot. They see the totals, they see what stack it goes into. There’s little concern about subjectivity because, what the hell, you’re watching each other count! It’s the panicky haste of modern life which is undercutting the common sense solution of citizens looking at each other as they count the votes in their own precinct,” he explained.
At the end of the day, neighbors all over America finding out who our president is by counting marks on ballots while enjoying coffee and doughnuts, sounds a lot more democratic to me than their agonizing over dangling, dimpled, or pregnant chads were, or now whether mail manipulation can damage our election results – to the point that we again end up with questions about whether our president is really our president.
*Facing the nightmare of super-delegates who override the people’s vote, reduction of voting locations, the demand for ID cards before voting, and now the nightmare of regulating ‘mail-in ballots,’ makes it clear to me that we need to tear down the present voting ‘system’ and go back to the basic of collecting paper ballots at collection points for clusters of 400 voters – with carbon copies for the voters to retain as evidence of their choices. Simple.