News from the Votemaster
In an attempt to make it easier for U.S military personnel and overseas civilians to vote, 23 states plus D.C. now allow some form of voting over the Internet. North Carolina, a key swing state, for example, allows oversea voters to send in their ballot by email. Computer security experts, such as David Jefferson, director of the Verified Voting Foundation are completely appalled and call this "the riskiest form of voting ever invented." The foundation is a California-based nonpartisan group whose goal is to insure that elections are honest and the results cannot be tampered with.
The threats from Internet voting are manifold. First, emails containing the ballots come into servers in multiple jurisdictions. These computers could be hacked. Experience shows that even banks, which have large staffs of computer experts, are hacked regularly. Election administrations have almost no computer expertise and their servers could be hacked easily. During a test of the Internet voting system in D.C. in 2010, a professor of computer engineering science and computer engineering at the University of Michigan, J. Alex Halderman, hacked into the system to demonstrate to the election administrators how easy it was.
Second, the software running on these servers could be rigged by an "inside job." It could easily discard votes for one party or even change votes from one party to another.
Third, Internet voting eliminates all voter privacy. In order for the election administrators to tell if an emailed ballot is valid, the voter has to "prove" his or her identity somehow. A typical way is to require the email to contain a pin code sent to the voter along with the ballot. This can be checked against a master list of ballots sent out to make sure it is valid and to ensure that nobody votes twice. Obviously this means the election officials can compile a list of Internet voters and how they voted. There are elaborate methods of hiding voters' identities using advanced cryptographic techniques, but these are far above the pay grades of the election officials and require cryptographic software to be installed correctly on the voters' computers, with all the risks inherent therein. Furthermore, security experts foresee the nightmare scenario of a close election coming down to the correct functioning of complex software that only a handful of experts understand.
There are many other problems as well. The state of the art can be best summarized by a statement from a top cybersecurity official at the Dept. of Homeland Security, Bruce McConnell, who stated: "it's premature to deploy Internet voting in real elections at this time."
While Internet voting is definitely not ready for prime time, what about absentee-ballot voting? It is definitely more secure, but still far from perfect, with a rejection rate of 2%, double the rejection rate of in-person ballots. With absentee voting increasing nationwide--about 20% of all votes are expected to be cast by mail this year--there will be more problems and more ballot challenges.
But ballot rejections, for example, due to a disputed signature on the return envelope, are only part of the problem. In 2008, 35.5 million absentee ballots were requested but only 27.9 absentee ballots were counted. An estimated 3.9 million requested ballots never reached the voter and another 2.9 million ballots that were received and sent back never made it. Another 800,000 made it back but were rejected by election officials as defective.
The 2008 Minnesota Senate race between now-senator Al Franken (D-MN) and then-senator Norm Coleman (R-MN) resulted in long fights over many ballots, with a number of them being introduced as evidence during the resulting trial. Many voters are quite creative. Instead of putting boring little X in the box next to their preferred candidate, some of them underline their choice, draw a line through their nonchoice, or write a kind little note to elections officials giving their opinion on some subject of electoral importance. In states where the law says a ballot is valid if the "intent of the voter" can be determined, these ballots tie officials and the courts in knots. Absentee ballots give voters more time and opportunity to express their creativity, making the problem worse.
Fraud with absentee ballots is much greater than with ballots cast in person yet none of the recent laws aimed at stopping voter fraud address the problem, mostly because Republicans tend to vote by absentee ballot and Democrats tend to vote early and the laws were all passed by Republican-controlled legislatures. In 2008, for example, in Florida, 47% of the absentee ballots were cast by Republicans and 36% were cast by Democrats. Judge Richard Posner of the Seventh Circuit Court once wrote: "Absentee voting is to voting in person as a take-home exam is to a proctored one."
One particularly noxious form of fraud is known as "granny farming." Voters in nursing homes can be easily subjected to pressure and intimidation and their ballots can be easily intercepted both coming and going. Vote selling is also possible, with the going rate in Appalachia being a half-pint of vodka. Who knows what a fifth of Jack Daniels might get you.
After Friday's report that unemployment had dropped to 7.8%, the lowest in 3 years, some right-wing pundits began exclaiming that Obama's lackeys must have made up the numbers to help him. But now two highly respected economists, Mark Zandi of Moody's Analytics and Doug Holtz-Eakin, the former director of the Congressional Budget Office, have examined the data in detail and stated that the numbers are correct.
Technically, former North Dakota Attorney Heidi Heitkamp is running for the open Senate seat left behind by retiring Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND), but people watching her campaign wouldn't know it. She clearly believes in Tip O'Neill's maxim that all politics is local and is campaigning on issues from affordable housing to flood control rather than national issues. In contrast, her opponent, Rep. Rick Berg (R-ND), is campaigning as if his opponent were majority leader Harry Reid rather than Heitkamp. She counters his attempts to nationalize the election by pointing out that people are disgusted with the hyperpartisan attitudes in Congress and Berg is promising uncompromising loyalty to the Republican Party, that is, more of the same. To everyone's surprise, the race appears to be surprisingly close. Only two nonpartisan polls have been published. In the Mason Dixon poll Heitkamp is leading and in the Rasmussen poll, Berg is ahead.
Many Hoosiers were quite unhappy when long-term Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) was defeated in a bitter primary by a fire-breathing tea party candidate, Richard Mourdock. Lugar was greatly respected on both sides of the aisle as a statesman and many of his long-time supporters didn't like him being thrown under the bus by someone who has promised never to compromise with the Democrats on anything. The votes of Lugar's supporters could easily determine whether Mourdock can beat Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-IN), who is going around the state telling people how much he respects Lugar for being willing to working with the Democrats to get things done. Complicating Mourdock's path is the presence on the ballot of a Libertarian Party candidate who might get the votes of Republicans who supported Lugar but can't stomach Mourdock.
In the first debate, moderator Jim Lehrer lost control. The candidates did not stick to the agreed-upon time limits and generally ignored him. His performance was widely panned as even worse than Obama's. The moderator for the vice-presidential debate is Martha Raddatz and the format is highly structured, with nine segments of 10 min each. Many people hope she can control the candidates, but no one is optimistic. One idea for doing this is to have a timer attached to each microphone and when the candidate's time is up, the microphone is automatically turned off. Alternatively, the moderator could turn the mike off, but that is probably the only way to enforce the time limits.
|Virginia||50%||47%||Oct 04||Oct 07||PPP|
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