Category Archives: Voting

Mark Fiore’s new cartoon: Election, Inc ‘Let’s Jus…

Mark Fiore’s new cartoon: Election, Inc ‘Let’s Just Trust the Computer’

They’re Not Waiting for the 2nd Administration

This site was among the first, if not the first, to warn that the Bushies and the rest of the cadre of radical conservative Republicans are so anti-democratic that they were capable of–and sounding out ways of–postponing or even canceling elections after Junior’s second term in order to maintain their power. Radcon Pub operatives had raised the possibility of repealing the Constitutional Amendment–passed by Republicans after FDR’s death in order to make sure that no Democrat could ever again dominate the national political scene as he had–in order to accommodate a third Bush run, for example, raising the specter of Bush as our first Perpetual President.

Well, it turns out that as paranoid as that sounded, we underestimated them yet again. We warned, baldly, that if BushCo won this election it might well be the last one any of us saw in our remaining lifetimes and speculated that BushCo would use Diebold’s open political support and the demonstrated corruptibility of its voting machines to steal it. We did not think they would dare to postpone this election. Well, we were wrong. As little credit as we gave them, we gave them too much.

July 19 issue – American counterterrorism officials, citing what they call “alarming” intelligence about a possible Qaeda strike inside the United States this fall, are reviewing a proposal that could allow for the postponement of the November presidential election in the event of such an attack, NEWSWEEK has learned.The prospect that Al Qaeda might seek to disrupt the U.S. election was a major factor behind last week’s terror warning by Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge. Ridge and other counterterrorism officials concede they have no intel about any specific plots. But the success of March’s Madrid railway bombings in influencing the Spanish elections—as well as intercepted “chatter” among Qaeda operatives—has led analysts to conclude “they want to interfere with the elections,” says one official.

As a result, sources tell NEWSWEEK, Ridge’s department last week asked the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel to analyze what legal steps would be needed to permit the postponement of the election were an attack to take place. Justice was specifically asked to review a recent letter to Ridge from DeForest B. Soaries Jr., chairman of the newly created U.S. Election Assistance Commission. Soaries noted that, while a primary election in New York on September 11, 2001, was quickly suspended by that state’s Board of Elections after the attacks that morning, “the federal government has no agency that has the statutory authority to cancel and reschedule a federal election.” Soaries, a Bush appointee who two years ago was an unsuccessful GOP candidate for Congress, wants Ridge to seek emergency legislation from Congress empowering his agency to make such a call. Homeland officials say that as drastic as such proposals sound, they are taking them seriously—along with other possible contingency plans in the event of an election-eve or Election Day attack. “We are reviewing the issue to determine what steps need to be taken to secure the election,” says Brian Roehrkasse, a Homeland spokesman.

In the warped, backwards DoubleSpeak that is the hallmark of this Administration, ‘secure the election’ clearly is a half-phrase, the rest of which is ‘for Bush’. They as much as admit it when they point to the Madrid elections: America is too big and Al Qaeda too small for a physical disruption to affect more than a tiny percentage of voters; what they’re afraid of is a sea-change in American attitudes a la Spain when a terrorist incident coalesces the dissension that is building anyway and focuses it like a laser.

Because the thing I don’t think anybody has made clear enough is that the bombings in Madrid could NEVER have pushed the Spanish people into voting against the govt that backed Bush’s imperialist ambitions. People forget that demonstrations against their govt’s support of Bush before the war were MASSIVE–hundreds of thousands of Spaniards were in the streets chanting anti-war slogans two years before the incident in Madrid. The Spanish population was already leaning–heavily–toward throwing the govt out; polls showed that the govt was in deep trouble in the weeks and months before Madrid, hanging by a fingernail onto an extremely thin lead.

All the bombings in Madrid did was pull the feelings Spanish voters had already expressed questioning their govt’s joining the COW, because THAT’S ALL THEY COULD DO. If the population had been behind the Spanish govt, the bombings would only have pushed them toward even more intervention in the name of ‘security’, just as it has the israelis. BushCo can read polls as well as we can; they know bloody well what happened in Spain and why, and they know that the same momentum that was running against the old Spanish govt is running against them now–we are waking up, we are beginning to see the Second Gulf War for the sham, the blatant power-grab, the oil-centered imperial maneuver that it is, and we’re turning away.

BushCo must stop that AT ANY PRICE. Look, we just had an instance when the Pub leadership delayed a vote almost half an hour beyond its scheduled time until they could strong-arm the result they wanted; this is just more of the same tactic. If they ‘postpone’ the fall election using the excuse that ‘the danger of a terrorist attack is imminent’, then if they decide to allow the election, they will time it after a Bush-Bump in the polls when he has the best chance of winning. The supposed terrorist attack–which may never come–has NOTHING to do with it. This will be–as almost every other Bushian decision has been–a purely partisan political decision based on polls, not anti-terrorist intelligence. If there is a genuine danger of another terrorist attack on US soil timed for the elections, as in Madrid, they will postpone the election if it looks like the public is responding as the Spanish public did; if, instead, it works to Bush’s advantage and increases his support, the election will not be postponed, no matter how great the danger may be.

What we are seeing is the trail balloon: ‘How much can we get away with? How far can we go? How much will the American people swallow?’ If the trial balloon isn’t shot down in no uncertain terms, expect to see small, incremental steps taken in the direction of legitimizing Bush’s retention of power by whatever means necessary. They’ll get us used to the idea that we ‘have no choice’ if we want to be safe; they will pass legislation late on Friday nights (without informing the opposition) that gives Bush or a Bush appointee the power to decide when and if an election can be held, using New York’s decision as the precedent; they will set their puppet Mighty Wurlitzer press machine on the ‘war president’ meme, the ‘You can’t change horses in mid-stream’ meme, and the ‘if you don’t support the president you’re aiding and abetting the terrorists’ meme; and they will use the ‘9/11 changed everything’ mantra to excuse and explain all of it.

If we fall for this bullshit, we pretty much will deserve what we get.

Clean Elections Under Attack

Now there’s a surprise.

Right-wing corporate interests are trying to repeal Clean Elections laws in Arizona. Molly Ivins has the skinny.

AUSTIN, Texas — No sooner do we win a long struggle to clean up politics and restore democracy in this country than we find the whole thing under attack, and we have to go out and re-fight the same battle all over again. Good thing we’re not easily discouraged.This is what’s happening in Arizona, where the successful Clean Elections law is now under attack by the big special interests and national conservatives with ties that run from Tom DeLay (surprise!) to Bush’s fund-raising machine.

Micah Sifry of Public Campaign reports, “They’ve raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to put a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that doesn’t mention anywhere its true intent, to de-fund the Clean Elections system.” This charming endeavor is masquerading under the misnomer “No Taxpayer Money for Politicians,” a misleading moniker right up there with Bush’s “Clear Skies” and “Healthy Forests” initiatives. What a shame they couldn’t figure out a way to call it the Patriot Amendment.

The bad news for the bad guys is that evidence continues to accumulate that Clean Elections work — they are actually reviving democracy. In Arizona and Maine, where Clean Elections have been in effect for a couple of years, more candidates are running and competitiveness has increased. According to a study done by political scientists at the University of Wisconsin in May of this year: “There is no question that public funding programs have increased the pool of candidates willing and able to run for state legislative office. This effect is most pronounced for challengers, who are far more likely than incumbents to accept public funding. In Arizona, the likelihood that an incumbent will have a competitive race more than doubled from 22 percent of all races in 1998 to 45 percent in 2002.”

Of course they work, that’s why the corporatists are so up-in-arms about them–laws like that make politicians and elections harder to buy, impossible in some cases. They can’t let these laws stand because they risk losing control of the govt and therefore of the goodies they make govt give them. So they’re using their usual tactics–lies, evasion, misdirection, and mischaracterization–to try to bring them down.

The question is, ‘Are Arizonans sufficiently stupified by the bullshit to let them get away with it?’ Let’s hope not.

Electronic Voting

A major victory in the electronic voting wars.

What About That Paper-Trail?

Hoo-hah. Remember all that guff from Diebolt and Publican election officials that it was too complicated to provide a paper-trail from EVM’s (electronic voting machines)? That it couldn’t be done? After which they noted that printers could be installed by them for $3000? (When was the last time a basic printer cost that much? 1960?)Well, Black Box Notes has discovered–not that this is a surprise, exactly–that everything they said was–wait for it!–A LIE! That’s right, friends. None of it’s true. Here’s the proof:

AccuPoll designed their DRE voting system from the outset to feature a VVPAT, which allows voters to verify — via an immediately printed receipt — that their vote was accurately recorded at the time it is cast. As a result, AccuPoll’s VVPAT system fully empowers voters to independently ensure that their vote is correct at the time it is cast, allowing for an accurate recount and audit capability should the need arise. (emphasis added)

While I can’t find price info on site (not unusual, I’ve discovered), they claim to be competitive. And the printer’s built right in. Can’t be done, huh? AccuPoll has just met Federal qualification requirements and is open for business.

Take that, Wally!

Electronic Democracy

A report in Mother Jones looks at the pre-election state of electronic voting in the US through the prism of Super Tuesday and sees pretty much what the critics have been telling us we’d see.

Nearly 10 million people are voting via computer this primary season. Most election officials in e-voting states hailed the outcome of Super Tuesday as a success for the largest test of electronic kiosks to date. Still, some of the six million California citizens who tried it found machines that didn’t boot up and coding software that failed to match votes with those who cast them. Some poll workers found that the programs they were called on to administer weren’t the ones they’d been trained for. Encoding problems even omitted propositions from some ballots.

About 10% of the 6M votes cast in CA were subject to these flaws. That means 600,000 voters were, to all intents and purposes, disenfranchised–more than enough to throw an election; it wouldn’t even have to be all that close.

For anybody who has dealt with computers, none of this is much of a surprise. Even absent deliberate attempts to hack or defraud, computers are very touchy instruments with annoying tendencies to develop murderous glitches and unexplained malfunctions. Booting up just this morning, I got three different error messages, two programs didn’t respond when I tried to open them, Real Player opened whenever I hit the shift key, and my browser closed itself twice. Granted, my little 3-yr-old Compaq isn’t exactly state-of-the-art, but everybody I know, even the ones with expensive, top-line equipment, reports similar boo-boos on a more-or-less regular basis. There have always been questions about whether we really wanted to put our elections in the hands of a technology with more than its fair share of gremlins. It was Florida in 2000 that shoved everybody over the edge.

Congress pledged $3.9 billion through the Help America Vote Act in 2002 for states to phase out punch-cards and lever voting booths and make voting easier for the elderly and disabled. States rushed to scrap paper ballots and set up computers for 2004 that would make voting as dummy-proof as withdrawing money from an ATM machine.But it hasn’t quite worked out that way.

The effort to establish e-voting operates according to the same kind of dot-com era blind faith that prophesized paper-free workplaces. Studies show that offices use more paper than they did a decade ago; and electronic voting systems are proving the potential to be just as error-prone — if not more so — than the old way. Some Senate votes were double counted in South Dakota two years ago and in 2000, Florida machines added up a negative 16,000 votes for Gore.

In the whole country, perhaps, there is no more concentrated group of computer-savvy geeks than will be found in Silicon Valley. What do they think of electronic voting?

Nobody seems as worried about this equipment as the technologically savvy voters in California’s Silicon Valley region, one of the thousands of places hurrying to implement the touch screens. Yesterday, a good number of those voters showed up at the Santa Clara County elections office in order to avoid having to vote by computer.”I came out here early because I want to put a real mark on a real piece of paper,” said Kai Frazer, 28, who spends his days developing computer programs for industrial applications. It is precisely because he understands the technology behind the voting machines so well, Mr. Frazer said, that he sought out an advance-voting ballot form, the kind where you put an X on paper.

“I know just how much you could screw with these things if you wanted to cause some mischief,” he said, gesturing at the squat black Sequoia Voting Systems machines, which look like extra-large laptop computers.

The nation-wide demand that voting computers generate a verifiable a paper-trail is growing, and most states are either doing it or have indicated they intend to but even the states with laws requiring paper validation admit they won’t have it before 2006. Can we trust the results from electronic voting machines until then? David Coursey, Executive Editor of the online mag for IT professionals, ZDNet, says No.

Now, I’ll admit that when computerized, even Internet, voting was discussed in the past, I was enamored with the idea. Wouldn’t it help more people vote? Wouldn’t the counts be nearly instantaneous? Wouldn’t greater voter empowerment mean greater real democracy?Not on your life. As a computer professional, I have one word for anyone who’d like to use any sort of electronic balloting system–at least one that can’t be easily audited by hand: Don’t do it. Why? Because computers can never be totally trusted, especially for something as seemingly simple (yet critical) as holding an election.

The Globe and Mail has some specifics:

The machines have already caused problems: In January, touch-screen machines used in a Florida county election failed to register 134 votes in a race won by just 12 ballots. And a number of recent studies have found security flaws that could allow hackers to break into machines and alter voting data undetected. One found that any high-school student with intermediate computer training would be able to use off-the-shelf equipment to forge cards used to initialize the voting machines and identify voters.

The hacking problem worries Coursey, too, but he’s just as concerned about the lack of understanding election officials–who are not professional programmers–display about the systems they have to oversee, and even more so about the demonstrated lack of accountability of the vendors.

[A]ny system that starts with a computer scares me, at least in part because even election officials don’t seem to understand what’s happening with them. What a surprise it was to officials here in California when Diebold, the electronic voting vendor, swapped out the officially sanctioned code on its voting machines and replaced it with non-approved software--without telling anyone. I’m not saying Diebold did so with any ill intent. But the episode proves that election officials can’t really have faith in the technology that they use. Is this really our software? Or is it software that someone’s hacked and we don’t know about it? (emphasis added)

MoJo identifies this kind of secrecy and corporate high-handedness as the real problem. While Republicans have been pooh-poohing the worry voiced over the infamous Diebold memo, MoJo points out that the unbreakable secrecy Diebold demands feeds the supposition that they have something they want to hide besides incompetence.

Diebold’s GOP support is especially key to note because as the corporation is private, so are its records. The equipment, software, and employees tallying votes are not subject to public scrutiny — so any suspicion of a skewed election can neither be proved or disprovedActivists last summer posted online thousands of internal Diebold emails suggesting that the company was hiding glitches in its systems. When Diebold demanded that Internet service providers delete the links, it was accused of stifling free speech. Diebold later backed down. Yet even government lacks the right to peek into this privately owned data to determine, say, the cause of the glitches in the most recent round of primaries.

Even if Diebold and the other manufacturers of voting equipment don’t intend any electronic mischief, how can we trust them when they insist they’re untouchable and then try to hide flaws? How can we trust their security when tests show a relatively uninformed hacker could do major damage without half working at it? The answer, Coursey says, is: We can’t.

Computer fraud, as we know, needs only a single disgruntled person who may be sitting half a world away. I don’t know about you, but the prospect of some kid in the Philippines deciding who the next lieutenant governor of Texas will be scares me more than the idea of the voters in my native state making the choice themselves. Just a tad more, but more nonetheless.Those of us who love freedom and know computers realize the first is too important to allow its fate to rest upon the second. Computer- or (worse) Internet-based voting systems are much more of a threat than most people realize and should not be used until the technology is iron-clad secure–which may be never for something this important. (emphasis added)

What can we do before election day this year to fix the problem? Probably nothing on an institutional level. We are looking at an exploitable hole the size of Montana in our democracy, facing the least responsible, least ethical, most “We don’t care how we win as long as we win” opponent in our history and there appears to be nothing we can do to keep them honest. God help us.

Well, I can only do what I can do. I intend to vote early and demand a paper ballot. I suggest you do likewise. Then cross your fingers. If we get through this election without major fraud being perpetrated on the system (and how would we know?), we will have dodged a bullet aimed straight for our hearts.


by Peter K Harrell

In Yes No ‘Maybe So’ Voting there are a number of criteria that are used to determine the election outcome. In any given election one or more of these criteria may need to be applied in order to determine which candidate if any has won the election.

Other alternative voting techniques such as Instant Runoff Voting also use more than one criterion to determine the outcome of elections. Instant Runoff Voting applies more than one criterion by iteratively eliminating candidates from consideration if no preferential majority has been reached. The reason that voting techniques like Yes No Maybe So Voting and Instant Runoff Voting may require the application of a number of criteria in order to determine an election outcome is because such voting techniques collect and use more information regarding voter opinion than Plurality Voting. The criteria used in determining an election outcome should make sense, the manner of their application should be clear and unequivocal, and they should permit the determination of a reasonable and appropriate outcome given the many possible variations in the expression of voter opinion provided for by a given voting technique.

As has previously been demonstrated Yes No ‘Maybe So’ Voting is the only voting technique that can truly determine the existence of the Consent of the Governed. Consent cannot be determined unless dissent is permitted. Yes No ‘Maybe So’ Voting is the only voting technique that permits voters to express dissent by voting No. Furthermore, only Yes No ‘Maybe So’ Voting allows the broad freedom of expression and political association that enables voters to exercise any significant and meaningful degree of political power. But providing the voter with such freedom of expression and political association presents a challenge when determining the outcome of an election.

After the votes have been cast Yes No ‘Maybe So’ Voting election results are examined to determine whether or not there is a majority winner. Since Yes No ‘Maybe So’ Voting permits each voter to vote Yes or Yes / No about each and every candidate on the ballot, there is a possibility, however improbable this may seem, that more than one candidate will receive majority support from the electorate. Under such circumstances a second criterion is then applied to determine the winner.

If no candidate receives majority support from the electorate, the election results are examined to determine whether or not there is a plurality winner who has received a predetermined minimum level of support from the electorate. This predetermined minimum level of support might be set at 35% just over one third of the voters actually casting a ballot for the office in question.

Again more than one candidate could receive support that exceeds the minimum level for a plurality winner. In that case the same second criterion is applied to determine the plurality winner as would have been applied had more than one candidate satisfied the majority support criterion. However, in the context of plurality support an additional criterion is applied. Any candidate who fails to receive support from a number of voters greater than the number of voters expressing opposition to that candidate is not eligible for consideration as the plurality winner. This last additional criterion is not necessary when considering candidates who satisfy the majority support criterion, since any candidate who satisfies the majority support criterion will also necessarily satisfy this criterion.

Since voters are allowed to express both their consent and dissent freely there is a possibility that no candidate will satisfy the minimum level of support required for a plurality winner, or that any candidate who does satisfy that minimum plurality level will have also failed to attract more supporters than opponents within the electorate. Unlike other voting techniques that do not permit the voter to vote No Yes No ‘Maybe So’ Voting does not coercively restrict and shape voter expression of opinion in an attempt to guarantee a winner despite the true opinions and interests of the electorate. Rather Yes No ‘Maybe So’ Voting requires some minimum standards for election based of such fundamental principles of democracy as the Consent of the Governed. These minimum standards give meaning to voter expression of opinion and make voter exercise of political power compelling.

Other voting techniques, such as Plurality Voting and Instant Runoff Voting, create the appearance of majority support or of consent even if no such majority support or consent exists. Such techniques are in a sense designed to select a candidate for election despite the opinions of the electorate and these techniques will produce a winner unless there is a break down of the system such as occurred in the 2000 Presidential Election.

If voters, who are able to freely express their opinions and vote Yes or Yes / No for any and all candidates without any restrictions, are unwilling or unable as a group of citizens to support even one of the candidates on the ballot, that is an important fact, a fact that may or may not be a problem but that certainly should not be obscured and hidden by a voting technique.

Unlike the Plurality Voting technique which only allows the voter to support one candidate at a time, Yes No ‘Maybe So’ Voting permits every voter to vote Yes or Yes / No about each and every candidate on the ballot. Each of these two vote types constitutes support for a candidate. In the event that no winner is determined and filling the office is considered crucial there are a number of remedies. A new election can be held with additional candidates on the ballot, or the decision regarding who is selected can move to another realm, such as a governor’s office, legislature or judicial court. These sorts of remedies are commonly used throughout the democratic world and are superior to forcing an outcome through the use of voting techniques that severely limit the political power of voters, subtly shape the expression of voter opinion, and ultimately deceive the electorate regarding the true meaning of the election outcome.

Under such circumstances if there is no candidate on the ballot who can convince a significant plurality of voters that he or she merits their support, then other means for determining a winner including the possibility of holding a new election should be used to select a candidate for office if filling the office is considered crucial.

Any voting technique used to elect a single individual to a single administrative or legislative office must permit the voter to express dissent and allow for the possibility that no Consent of the Governed exists in the electorate at a given point in time. Just as with Plurality Voting or any other voting technique provision must be made for the possibility that no candidate will be elected. But in contrast to other voting techniques, such as Plurality Voting and Instant Runoff Voting, Yes No ‘Maybe So’ Voting will not create a false impression of the Consent of the Governed or majority rule by generating bogus election results.

If a new election is to be held there is no particular need to eliminate candidates in the original election from the ballot. Since voters are not prevented from supporting and voting for candidates on the ballot simply because they have voted for some other candidate on the ballot, there is likely to be little gained from eliminating candidates from the ballot and holding a runoff election. Of course voters can voluntarily decide to support candidates in the new election that they did not support in the original election. Including additional candidates on the ballot in any new election would also be strongly recommended. One way additional candidates might qualify for the ballot is through the write-in option on the ballot in the original election.

In determining whether or not a candidate has received majority or plurality support both Yes and Yes/No votes are considered. Any voter who votes Yes or Yes/No about a candidate has supported that candidate for election. In other words both Yes and Yes/No votes count as one voter supporting a candidate for election. The total number of voters supporting a candidate is counted up and then that number is compared to the total number of voters who have cast a ballot for the particular office in question. If the number of voters supporting the candidate exceeds 50% then that candidate has satisfied the majority support criterion. If the number of voters supporting the candidate exceeds a predetermined minimum plurality level of support then that candidate has satisfied the plurality support criterion.

In Yes No ‘Maybe So’ Voting there are at least two criteria for election. When determining the winner election results are examined and the prevalence of support for each candidate is determined. The first criterion for election involves comparing this prevalence of voter support to a standard. If only one candidate satisfies the majority support version of this first criterion, then that candidate is declared the winner. However, if more than one candidate satisfies the majority support version of the first criterion, then a second criterion must be applied. This second criterion aggregates the intensity of support and opposition for each candidate and then compares the candidates who have satisfied the first criterion according to this standard. The candidate with the largest aggregate value of intensity of support is the winner.

For the purposes of this Second Criterion evaluation, which aggregates the intensity of support and opposition for each candidate as represented by each of the four types of Yes No ‘Maybe So’ Votes, each vote type is assigned the following values.

Yes ____________ 2

Yes / No ________ 1

Null Vote _______ 0

No ____________ -2

If Yes No ‘Maybe So’ Voting ballots are stored electronically, sufficient information must be stored to distinguish between the four types of Yes No ‘Maybe So’ Voting vote types as cast for each of the candidates on the ballot.

If no candidate satisfies the Majority Support First Criterion, then the Plurality Support First Criterion is considered. However, here in the context of plurality support an additional auxiliary criterion, the Preponderance of Support Auxiliary Criterion, must be considered. As already described the Preponderance of Support Auxiliary Criterion requires that any candidate eligible for election under the Plurality Support First Criterion must also be supported by a number of voters that exceeds the number of voters who oppose the candidate. In other words a majority of the voters who have expressed a clear opinion by voting Yes, Yes/No or No about the candidate must support the candidate by voting Yes or Yes/No.

If only one candidate satisfies both the Plurality Support First Criterion and the Preponderance of Support Criterion, then that candidate is declared the winner. However, if more than one candidate satisfies these two criteria, then the Aggregate of Support and Opposition Second Criterion is applied to determine if a winner exists.

Unlike either Plurality Voting or Instant Runoff Voting, Yes No ‘Maybe So’ Voting is firmly grounded in two of the most important and fundamental principles of electoral democracy, the Rule of the Majority and the Consent of the Governed. As demonstrated by the Majority Rule Voting Paradox there may be several different types of majorities in any given electorate. The explicit absence of the Consent of the Governed is one such majority.

Determining the winner in Yes No ‘Maybe So’ Voting may seem complex, but this method is really no more complex than the method used in Instant Runoff Voting. What’s more voters do not necessarily need to understand exactly how a candidate is elected in order to effectively use a voting technique.

I doubt that even after the 2000 Presidential Election debacle a majority of regular voters, much less a majority of the American people, precisely understand how the President is actually elected. This would undoubtedly still be true should Yes No ‘Maybe So’ Voting or any other alternative voting technique replace Plurality Voting in Presidential Elections. Educating people how democracy really works will always be important.

However, all a voter needs to know in order to be able to vote successfully using the Yes No ‘Maybe So’ Voting technique is how to cast each of the four types of votes provided for by Yes No ‘Maybe So’ Voting, and what is the relative effect of each type of vote on the prospects of a candidate’s chances for election. That much is very easy to understand.

To simplify this somewhat, we’ll put it this way: a candidate wins if s/he receives a majority of Yes votes. If no one receives a majority of Yes votes, the candidate wins who receives a majority of the combined total of Yes and Maybe So votes. If no one receives a majority of the combined total, the winner is the candidate who received the fewest No votes. See? Simple.

As Peter points out, while the Yes votes would usually be the deciding factor in assigning a winner–as they are now with Plurality Voting–the No vote is a powerful check, eliminating that candidate from consideration. IOW, it’s a dissenting vote, something PV doesn’t allow for. It also determines whether or not a new election is called for, in essence giving voters something they’ve long desired: a way to choose “None of the Above.” So when the two majority parties throw weak candidates nobody really likes at us, there’s a way we can actually say, “Not on your life, jamoke. Send those two weenies back where they came from and give us somebody we’re not ashamed to vote for.”

This is a system I could live with.

An Introduction to YNMS Voting

OK, so you get the paradox of majority rule voting and you’re beginning to understand why many of the problems you see with our political system stem directly from MRV’s weaknesses. YNMS may be a better alternative, but, you ask, just exactly what the hell is it? How does it work?

Good questions. Congratulations, you have graduated to the next level. So, OK, since you asked, here’s


___________(YNMS)_________ _______INTRODUCTION_____

by Peter K Harrell


When Yes No ‘Maybe So’ Voting is the voting technique used in an election, each and every voter can vote in one of four ways about each and every candidate on the ballot. The way in which any given voter votes about any one candidate on the ballot does not limit or effect how that voter can vote about any of the other candidates on the ballot.

Imagine a ballot consisting of three columns: a column listing the candidates, a column for voting Yes, a column for voting No. This is what a Yes No ‘Maybe So’ ballot looks like.

Here is a sample Yes No ‘Maybe So’ Ballot for a single Nader supporter who also supported Gore.

_________2000 Election Sample Ballot________

For a single voter who is a Nader > Gore supporter


Bush___________ Republican ______________X

Gore___________ Democrat _________X______X

Nader _________ Green ____________X

Browne_________ Libertarian _______________X

Buchanan________ Reform _________________X

Hagelin _________ Natural Law

McReynolds______ Socialist

Depending on the mechanism for collecting the votes voters would make a mark, punch a whole, click a check box, or simply touch a spot on a computer screen in either the Yes column, both the Yes and No columns, neither the Yes nor the No column, or just the No column next to a candidate on the ballot. Each voter can vote in this same way about each and every candidate on the ballot.

No matter what pattern of Yes and No column selections are made for candidates on the ballot, the ballot would still be a valid ballot. There is no possible way a voter can turn in an invalid Yes No ‘Maybe So’ ballot due to some sort of “multiple or double punching”. If the ballot is a paper ballot that has to be machine read and the ballot is physically mutilated, then of course that might constitute an invalid ballot.

As mentioned already there are four different types of votes in Yes No ‘Maybe So’ Voting. Here are the four types of votes and their relative effect on the prospects of a candidate’s chances for election.

Four Types of Yes No ‘Maybe So’ Votes

Vote Type______ Yes____ No_____Effect on Candidate

Yes Vote_________ X_____________ Most favorable to candidate

Yes/No Vote______ X______ X_____ Next most favorable to candidate

Null Vote________________________ Next least favorable to candidate

No Vote_________________ X______ Least favorable to candidate

A Null Vote decreases the chances that a candidate will be elected and can effect the outcome of an election.

That really is all a voter needs to know in order to be able to vote successfully using the Yes No ‘Maybe So’ Voting technique. Voters only need to know how to cast each type of vote and what is the relative effect of each type of vote on the prospects of a candidate’s chances for election.

In other posts to this topic I will explain how the outcome of a Yes No ‘Maybe So’ election is determined and some of the advantages of Yes No ‘Maybe So’ Voting.

Since even the submission of a blank ballot with Null Votes cast for all of the candidates can effect the outcome of the election, a true abstention from voting would amount to not submitting a ballot for the particular office in question. Yes No ‘Maybe So’ Voting ballots should clearly indicate how a voter can truly abstain from voting.

Please note that both Yes/No Votes and Null Votes can be considered as ‘Maybe So’ votes. There is no explicit ‘Maybe So’ voting type in the Yes No ‘Maybe So’ Voting technique, hence the single quotes in the name of the technique.

__________2000 Election Sample Ballot__________

For a single voter who is a Bush > Buchanan supporter


Bush___________ Republican ________X

Gore___________ Democrat ________________X

Nader __________ Green ___________________X

Browne________ Libertarian

Buchanan______ Reform _________X______X

Hagelin _________ Natural Law

McReynolds______ Socialist_________________ X

Most of us have been trained in the use of Plurality Voting since grade school. Given the thoroughness of that indoctrination some people may have a little difficulty adjusting to the increased freedom of expression and political power permitted to them by Yes No ‘Maybe So’ Voting, but the basic questions implied by Yes No ‘Maybe So’ Voting are simple.

Do you approve of this candidate? Is this candidate acceptable to you? Or do you disapprove of this candidate? Is this candidate unacceptable to you? Yes or No. Mixed opinions are expressed either by combining Yes and No, or by not expressing any opinion about a candidate at all.

If it seems complicated, it did to me too, at first. But the complexity is in the counting, not the voting, and even the counting isn’t as complicated as it appears at first blush.

Voting is easy: “A Null Vote decreases the chances that a candidate will be elected and can effect the outcome of an election….. That really is all a voter needs to know in order to be able to vote successfully using the Yes No ‘Maybe So’ Voting technique.” Essentially YNMS is a very simple rating system, far more simple than, say, the system that rates movies or the ranking system of Instant Runoff Voting: YES means “I want him/her.” NO means “I don’t want him/her.” MAYBE SO means “I’m not wild about it but I can live with him/her.” That’s all there is to it.

Most people get hung up on the counting. Almost the first thing people say is, “How can you tell who won?”


Commentary on the Majority Rule Voting Paradox

by Peter K Harrell

The “majority rule paradox” is probably not much of a paradox in the real world today. That “lesser of two evils” situation almost certainly describes a large majority of the voters.

The “yes/no/maybe” voting has all sorts of legal problems. Perhaps some parties may adopt it for primaries when there are large numbers of candidates to be thinned down. In elections, though, the presumption of preference voting, the “one man, one vote” rule, and all sorts of other legal issues would probably prevent it from being implemented.


Before I begin I would like to point out that formal analysis indicates that the choice of voting techniques can affect the stability of democratic government. You may be surprised to learn that both Plurality Voting and Instant Runoff Voting will elect extremist candidates when an electorate is sufficiently polarized, but that Yes No ‘Maybe So’ Voting promotes the election of moderate candidates, who are better able to represent all of the voters and less likely to further antagonize opponents. I will be glad to post this analysis if you are interested.

Now regarding the Majority Rule Voting Paradox:

Actually, a probability analysis of the Majority Rule Voting Paradox, which assumes that each of the 6 opinion types used in the analysis is equally likely, indicates that there is over a 10% chance that the Majority Rule Voting Paradox will occur. Considering the large number of elections in most election years, this probability analysis strongly suggests that the Majority Rule Voting Paradox is actually a significant problem in elections today.

The next step of course would be to analyze opinion polls in an effort to identify the existence of actual Majority Rule Voting Paradox situations in the electorate. That would require including appropriate questions in opinion polls to ensure that enough information was collected to enable the analysis to take place.

But the significance of the Majority Rule Voting Paradox extends beyond the actual paradox itself. The Majority Rule Voting Paradox reveals in a concise analysis that Plurality Voting cannot ensure that election outcomes will be consistent with the principle of the Consent of the Governed, which is by the way a fundamental principle of American democracy (see note below). This is true even if we ignore situations where a Majority Rule Voting Paradox actually exists.

In order to see this more clearly we simply need to alter slightly the way opinion is modeled, relax the high standards of the Majority Rule Voting Paradox, and to recall that Yes No ‘Maybe So’ Voting permits the election of a candidate who has received only a plurality of support from the voters.

In the original description of the Majority Rule Voting Paradox we ignored the possibility that people might be indifferent or equivocal in their opinions of the candidates. If we include this possibility we alter the results of our probability analysis, but we also greatly increase the number of combinations of opinions where Plurality Voting would elect Candidate A, even though Candidate A is either disapproved of by a majority of the electorate (which will be our First Case) or is disapproved of by a larger portion of the electorate than approves of Candidate A (which will be our Second Case). In this Second Case we would say that Candidate A is disapproved of by a plurality of the electorate.

An example of the First Case can be constructed if this slight but arbitrary change simply means that we assume that only 40 % of the electorate approves of Candidate B. A Majority Rule Voting Paradox no longer exists under these circumstances, but Plurality Voting would still elect Candidate A, who is still disapproved of by over 50 % (i.e. 66.6…%) of the electorate. In this case we have an explicit lack of consent for Candidate A and what political philosophers would call tacit consent for Candidate B. Once again I would argue that Candidate B (40 % approval) should be elected not Candidate A (33.3…% approval). However, when we make these assumptions the model of our electorate becomes more complex.

Here is a First Case sample electorate:

Group 1A (20%):
Prefers Candidate A to Candidate B. Approves of Candidate A and Approves of Candidate B.

Group 1B (13.3…%):
Prefers Candidate A to Candidate B. Approves of Candidate A and is Indifferent/Equivocal with respect to Candidate B.

Group 2 (33.3…%):
Prefers Candidate A to Candidate B. Disapproves of Candidate A and Disapproves of Candidate B.

Group 3A (20%):
Prefers Candidate B to Candidate A. Disapproves of Candidate A and Approves of Candidate B.

Group 3B (13.3…%):
Prefers Candidate B to Candidate A. Disapproves of Candidate A and is Indifferent/Equivocal with respect to Candidate B.

What’s more we can relax the high standards of the Majority Rule Voting Paradox even further in our effort to reveal the flaws in Plurality Voting.

For our next example illustrating the Second Case mentioned above let us continue with a situation where only 40% of the electorate approves of Candidate B. However, this time let us assume that only 40% of the electorate disapproves of Candidate A. Citizens, who make up the remaining 26.6…% of the electorate, either are indifferent with respect to Candidate A because they have no opinion about Candidate A or are equivocal with respect to Candidate A because they have a conflicting set of opinions about Candidate A. Naturally when we make this new assumption the model of our electorate becomes even more complex.

Here is a Second Case sample electorate:

Group 1A (20%):
Prefers Candidate A to Candidate B. Approves of Candidate A and Approves of Candidate B.

Group 1B (13.3…%):
Prefers Candidate A to Candidate B. Approves of Candidate A and is Indifferent/Equivocal with respect to Candidate B.

Group 2A (6.6…%):
Prefers Candidate A to Candidate B. Disapproves of Candidate A and Disapproves of Candidate B.

Group 2B (26.6…%):
Prefers Candidate A to Candidate B. Is Indifferent/Equivocal with respect to Candidate B and Disapproves of Candidate B.

Group 3A (20%):
Prefers Candidate B to Candidate A. Disapproves of Candidate A and Approves of Candidate B.

Group 3B (13.3…%):
Prefers Candidate B to Candidate A. Disapproves of Candidate A and is Indifferent/Equivocal with respect to Candidate B.

In this example Plurality Voting would elect Candidate A even though there exist more members of the electorate who disapprove of Candidate A (40%) than who approve of Candidate A (33.3…%). In other words a plurality of voters disapprove of Candidate A (40%), while at the same time a plurality of voters approve of Candidate B (also 40%). What is more a larger percentage of the electorate approves of Candidate B (40%) than approves of Candidate A (33.3…%).

In this example there is no explicit lack of consent for Candidate A (only 40% disapproval). Also both Candidate A (60%) and Candidate B (93.3…%) receive tacit consent from the electorate. But Plurality Voting is incapable of making any of these distinctions. I would argue once again that Candidate B clearly should be elected not Candidate A.

What I hope is obvious to you from the preceding discussion is that there are huge numbers of combination of opinions which fall into the First Case, Second Case and Majority Rule Voting Paradox categories, and that the probability the electorate will actually hold a set of opinions that fall into these categories is quite high.

What is more you yourself have expressed the opinion that the lesser of two evils dilemma is a serious problem.

Plurality Voting cannot resolve the lesser of two evils dilemma for precisely the same reason that Plurality Voting cannot properly resolve the Majority Rule Voting Paradox and the other voting problems presented here in our First Case and Second Case scenarios.

The reason is simple. Plurality Voting does not permit enough appropriate information about the opinions of the voters to be collected in order to return a result, which consistently respects the principle of the Consent of the Governed.

The Majority Rule Voting Paradox

Part 2 of 2

What does the Majority Rule Voting Paradox imply about the choice of Voting Techniques?

by Peter K Harrell

As stated [in the earlier] post Plurality Voting is the voting technique used in most elections in the United States. The question then arises which candidate would Plurality Voting elect given the existence of a Majority Rule Voting Paradox within the electorate.

Given the “opportunity” to express themselves using Plurality Voting Person 1 can be expected to vote for Candidate A, Person 2 would most certainly vote for Candidate A, and Person 3 would vote for Candidate B.

Given the existence a Majority Rule Voting Paradox situation Plurality Voting would elect Candidate A, since two out of three voters Person 1 and Person 2 prefer Candidate A to Candidate B. Plurality Voting essentially ignores consent and dissent, since there is no way for the voter to directly express approval or disapproval of any of the candidates on the ballot.

Given the “opportunity” to express themselves using Instant Runoff Voting Person 1 would rank the candidates as follows: Candidate A then Candidate B. Person 2 would rank the candidates: Candidate A then Candidate B. Person 3 would rank the candidates: Candidate B then Candidate A.

Given the existence of a Majority Rule Voting Paradox situation Instant Runoff Voting would also elect Candidate A, since two out of three voters Person 1 and Person 2 have ranked Candidate A first. Like Plurality Voting Instant Runoff Voting also ignores consent and dissent, Instant Runoff Voting provides no way for the voter to directly express approval or disapproval of any of the candidates on the ballot.

I will respectfully submit that Candidate A is not the candidate that should be elected. That is because candidate A is disapproved of by a 2 to 1 majority of the voters consisting of Person 2 and Person 3. To elect Candidate A is to violate the principle of the Consent of the Governed. What is more Candidate B is approved of by a 2 to 1 majority of the voters consisting of Person 1 and Person 3. To elect Candidate B is both consistent with the Consent of the Governed as well as a form of majority rule.

Determining what would happen if voters had the opportunity to express themselves using Yes No ‘Maybe So’ Voting is a bit more complex than for Plurality Voting or Instant Runoff Voting. The greater freedom of expression and political association provided to each voter by the Yes No ‘Maybe So’ Voting technique complicates the analysis. For the purposes of this analysis we will initially assume voting strategies that can be considered essentially sincere.

Person 1 might vote as follows:

Candidate A_____X
Candidate B_____X

or as follows:

Candidate A_____X
Candidate B_____X_____X

For Person A to vote in any other way would be an insincere denial of the fact that Person 1 approves of both Candidate A and Candidate B. While Person 1 could vote differently we have not included that possibility here in our initial assumption. We will look at that possibility later in this analysis. At any rate if there were additional candidates on the ballot, a Candidate C or a Candidate D for instance, whom Person 1 disapproved of as there might well be, then Person 1 would incur greater risk in voting insincerely.

Person 2 might vote as follows:

Candidate A____________X
Candidate B____________X

Since Yes No ‘Maybe So’ Voting does not include the option of distinguishing between two candidates while opposing both, in order to express a preference for Candidate A over Candidate B Person 2 might choose to vote as follows even though this vote lacks explicit disapproval of Candidate A:

Candidate A
Candidate B____________X

Person 3 might vote as follows:

Candidate A____________X
Candidate B_____X

or as follows:

Candidate A____________X
Candidate B_____X_____X

Certainly given the greater freedom of expression provided the voter by Yes No ‘Maybe So’ Voting there are other possible ways that any one of these three people might choose to vote, but each of these voters is highly likely to express themselves as assumed above and all of these ways are consistent with their preferences.

Unless these three voters depart significantly from the voting strategies chosen above Yes No ‘Maybe So’ Voting will result in the election of Candidate B, because Candidate B has received some degree of support (a Yes vote or a Yes/No vote) from two out of the three voters, while Candidate A has not.

However, even if Person 1 decides to vote insincerely ignoring his or her approval of Candidate B , since this is after all a two candidate election, and cast the following vote Candidate B will still win under Yes No ‘Maybe So’ Voting. That is because Yes No ‘Maybe So’ Voting permits a candidate to be elected providing that the candidate satisfies a plurality threshold of support and no other candidates do better.

Person 1 might vote as follows:

Candidate A_____X
Candidate B____________X

There are other departures from sincere voting that could of course result in Candidate A being elected. Many of these departures are inconsistent with any conceivable political interest of these three potential voters and are therefore unlikely.

However, if Person 2 decides to vote insincerely ignoring his or her disapproval of Candidate A, Candidate A could win under Yes No ‘Maybe So’ Voting. This is essentially what happens in both Plurality Voting and Instant Runoff Voting since neither one of those voting techniques permits Person 2 to acknowledge and express both a preference for Candidate A and disapproval of Candidate A.

Person 2 would be more likely to chose this sort of insincere voting strategy as shown below if there are no other candidates on the ballot and/or Candidate B is for some reason much more intensely disapproved of than Candidate A.

Person 2 might vote as follows:

Candidate A_____X_____X
Candidate B____________X

or as follows:
Candidate A_____X
Candidate B____________X

As an example Person 2 would be much more likely to chose this sort of strategy if Candidate B were some sort of anathema candidate, a David Duke or even an Adolph Hitler type. Of course in this latter instance the election of Candidate B would be an undesirable outcome despite the fact that a majority of the electorate disapprove of Candidate A.

Also worth mentioning is that a Majority Rule Voting Paradox relationship between Candidate A and Candidate B would be less likely to exist in the electorate if Candidate B were an anathema candidate. That is because potential voters would be less likely to approve of both Candidate A and Candidate B and hold opinions consistent with Person 1.

Another possibility is that Person 2 will decide not to vote at all since Person 2 disapproves of both Candidate A and Candidate B. The abstention of Person 2 is inconsistent with his or her political interests so long as Person 2 does in fact prefer Candidate A to Candidate B is some significant way. Still given the intense dissatisfaction that Person 2 might well have for both the candidates on the ballot, Person 2 seems reasonably likely to abstain. If Person 2 abstains given the sorts of scenarios already discussed above all three voting techniques would produce a tie or in the case of a larger electorate a very close election.

But both Instant Runoff Voting and Yes No ‘Maybe So Voting allow greater freedom of expression and greater freedom of political association than Plurality Voting. When either one of these two techniques are used, voters with opinions consistent with Person 2 would be less likely to abstain since they would be able to express their opinions about any other candidates that might be on the ballot, while still expressing their preference for Candidate A over Candidate B. Yes No ‘Maybe So’ Voting, of course, also gives the voter the additional satisfaction of directly expressing disapproval of one or both of these two candidates.

Voting is both a means of communicating the opinions of voters to society at large and permitting voters to exercise political power. As a means of communication voting has the potential to reveal the will of the people in all its complexity and to provide a basis for legitimizing democratic government. As a means of exercising political power voting has the potential to provide a countervailing force to the great influence of well connected and well healed political elites, and to ensure that ordinary people have some form of representation in the important decisions made by government.

The act of consent is an act that involves the expression of agreement or of acquiescence. The expression of that consent, which can be either tacit or explicit, arises out of the opinions of each and every voter and takes form according to whatever means for expressing those opinions and exercising political power is available to them.

As the Majority Rule Voting Paradox demonstrates both Plurality Voting and Instant Runoff Voting are unable to determine the Consent of the Government and may frequently in fact result in the election of a candidate who is disapproved of by a majority of the electorate despite the fact that there exists some other candidate on the ballot who is approved of by a majority of that same electorate.

Yes No ‘Maybe So’ Voting can determine the Consent of the Governed should any such consent exist whether that consent is tacit or explicit. Given both a Majority Rule Voting Paradox situation and voters intent on expressing their opinions and effectively exercising political power Yes No ‘Maybe So’ Voting will result in the election of the candidate that best reflects the will of the people.

As we are beginning to understand, neither plurality voting nor instant-runoff voting allow us as voters to express “consent or dissent” directly for any candidate. In a situation where we are forced–as we have been so often lately–into a “lesser of two evils” choice, both assume that our choice is positive (iow, that we are voting for someone) when in fact we may not have been all that thrilled with the candidate we voted for and voted as we did because we were dead set against the opposing candidate. Put in those terms, PV and IR are bot lousy ways to run a democracy.

What Y/N/M voting does is restore the kind of direct, personal consent that allowed democracy to flourish in Greece. Once again we have a voice, once again we are able to consent or dissent to our leaders in clear terms. We’ve taken out the guesswork (“What did the voters mean when they did X?”) and replaced it with solid evidence of what we really wanted to say.

In the phrase “the consent of the governed”, the Framers of the consitution were clearly looking more to the example of Greece than to the Republic of Rome. From the time of Julius Ceasar, Rome was a Republic in name only. The Emperor held Supreme power–and proved it on numerous occasions when the Senate disagreed with him and he ran roughshod over them without a second thought.

In Greece, leaders were chosen in a Public Forum (the origin of the word)–an exercise that we would recognize as a “town meeting”–where every elegible voter had a say. But more importantly, how they expressed themselves mattered. Just like in a town meeting, if a majority of people expressed mild approval of a particular policy but a significant minority expressed very strong disapproval, the majority would probably be swayed by the strength of the minority feeling. As Mr Harrell points out, that sort of clarity of viewpoint simply can’t exist in our present system. The mild approval of the majority would win, leaving a great many people dissatisfied by a weak choice, and the minority would lose, leaving a significant number of people angry and disaffected because their strong feelings had been ignored.

In short, as long as we are stuck with plurality voting or some weak, nearly vapid alternative like instant-runoff voting, we do not have a democracy in any important sense of the word. We don’t even have a democratic republic. We have a plutocracy as in Rome after Julius Ceasar, where the rich bought their seats in the Senate and used them to further their own economic interests at the expense of everyone else’s. (Ring a bell?)

“Voting is both a means of communicating the opinions of voters to society at large and permitting voters to exercise political power,” Mr Harrell correctly says, but it is neither when there is no real mechanism for those shades of meaning and intent to be expressed.

“Yes/No/Maybe So” Voting

Reader Peter K Harrell, writing in Comments on the “A Republican dirty trick” post, makes reference to something called “Yes/No/Maybe so” Voting. Mr Harrell is known to me–at least online–and an expert on Y/N/M. Without his permission–though with a reasonable certainty that he won’t mind–I’m going to be posting, over the next week or so (depending on time) some of his material explaining exactly what Y/N/M voting is and how it works.Why am I doing this? Because the Y/N/M voting system is the only truly democratic voting system I’ve ever seen or heard of for reasons you will read for yourself, and if we survive Junior and the Radcon takeover-attempt it’s going to be bloody important to put into place a system of voting that will prevent any group of ideologues from ever again thinking that our democracy can be hijacked or that America could be a one-party nation if they play enough tricks on us.

But before we get into the system itself, I want to post Mr Harrell’s lucid explanation of the weaknesses of majority rule, what he calls The Majority Rule Voting Paradox.

Part 1 of 2 What is the Majority Rule Voting Paradox?

A Majority Rule Voting Paradox exists whenever there is a candidate on the ballot who is preferred to another candidate by a majority of the electorate despite the fact that this preferred candidate is also simultaneously disapproved of by a majority of that same electorate while the other candidate is approved of by a majority of that same electorate.

This paradox, known as the Majority Rule Voting Paradox, is important because it demonstrates that voting techniques such as Plurality Voting and Instant Runoff Voting that focus solely on preference cannot even determine the Consent of the Governed much less return election results consistent with that consent.

Plurality Voting is the voting technique used most often in elections in the United States. The Consent of the Governed is the basis of a fundamental democratic principle that provides legitimacy to democratic government.

The Majority Rule Voting Paradox can most easily been demonstrated using an electorate that consists of three people, whose opinions can be described as follows.

Person 1:
Prefers Candidate A to Candidate B. Approves of Candidate A and Approves of Candidate B.

Person 2:
Prefers Candidate A to Candidate B. Disapproves of Candidate A and Disapproves of Candidate B.

Person 3:
Prefers Candidate B to Candidate A. Disapproves of Candidate A and Approves of Candidate B.

Please note that the description of the opinion of Person 2 is in fact the description of a voter confronted with the well-known “Lesser of Two Evils” voting dilemma.

A careful examination of this three-person electorate will reveal that Candidate A is preferred to Candidate B by a 2 to 1 majority consisting of Person 1 and Person 2. But Candidate A is also at the same time disapproved of by a 2 to 1 majority of this same electorate consisting of Person 2 and Person 3. Furthermore Candidate B is approved of by a 2 to 1 majority of this same electorate consisting of Person 1 and Person 3.

There are 3 different majorities existing simultaneously within this electorate. Two of these three majorities support the election of Candidate B, while one of these majorities, the preferential majority, supports the election of Candidate A hence the paradox.

Given this approach to modeling the opinions of the electorate there are six different types of voter opinion. There are an additional three more types of voter opinion that are a “mirror image” of those presented here. If all six of these opinion types are assumed to be equally probable, then a Majority Rule Voting Paradox situation should arise over 10% of the time. This is a large percentage for the occurrence of a voting paradox.

The Majority Rule Voting Paradox calls into question the likelihood that voting will result in the election of the candidate that best reflects the will of the people and can provide legitimacy to democratic government according to the principle of the Consent of the Governed.

IOW, folks, no wonder we all feel disenfranchised–the winner-take-all system itself denies our choice and our voice. As long as we are electing leaders on the basis of majority rule, those leaders will not be the ones we wanted but the ones most of us didn’t want but were willing to suffer. When you understand this, you begin to understand what’s really behind the phenomenon of plummeting voter registration: Why bother when your choice is between two people you dislike equally? or like equally? Why bother when the leader you prefer, the leader who is closest to your own positions, isn’t even in the race?

The political fall-out from the voting system we use is so immense that it’s hard to measure, and I’ll be talking about that, too, as we go along. For now, I’ll only comment on the most obvious effect: majority rule pushes both parties into least-common-denominator, dead-center campaigning, virtually assuring that no one will be represented by them. What they do represent is some amorphous, unreal “average citizen”, an unholy concoction of clashing attitudes and irreconcilable beliefs who, if s/he actually existed, would be a schizophrenic, paranoid/delusional basket case.

We MUST have a better, more representational system.

Jeff Alworth at american street has written an interesting post about the political changes in the last three weeks. At the end, he asks an important question. Here’s the last section:

The Vacuum of Opportunity
Joe Trippi recognized a year ago that this election would be about change. He understood that George W. Bush had taken the country in a direction almost no one wanted to go, and that any other direction would be seen as an improvement. As this emerges as the election’s central theme, everyone is focused on November 2. But what about November 3?There are rare moments in history when political change is possible. For change to happen, though, more than timing is necessary. A movement needs an ideological nucleus, it needs a leader willing to champion the cause, and it needs to be informed by and inspiring to a majority of Americans. Whether a viable movment will emerge from this election is debatable. But something will fill the void created by this desire for change. Trippi was correct: any other direction is better than the one we’re on. Things are happening too quickly for folks to consider more than the electability issue. But will liberals be able to seize the moment and build a movement after November 3? Time will tell.

What Jeff is talking about is an all-out effort to counter the right-wing’s success in defining themselves with a plan of our own to do likewise. My response to Jeff is that I agree, and that adopting Y/N/M voting must be a vital part of that plan. We owe it to ourselves, we owe it to democracy to put a voting system in place that allows real people to be represented without the cumbersome difficulties of proportional representation. If we don’t, the rest of our efforts may not count for much.

First, of course, we have to eject Junior Bush and His Ragged Radcon Band before they decide to declare Martial Law and dispense with little annoyances like “elections”.

SERVE Security Hopelessly Flawed

The seemingly ubiquitous Benedict Spinoza (that can’t be a real name) of American Samizdat and Benedict@Large has yet another interesting blog, it seems. This one’s called Black Box Notes, and it’s dedicated to news about the electronic voting system. The latest post links to a report on Wired News that a bevy of experts from Lawrence Livermore Laboratories and Johns Hopkins University (among other places) strongly recommends scrapping the SERVE system that’s supposed to be used to collect overseas votes because its security is so flawed.

Researchers warned last week that an Internet voting system designed for Americans overseas to use in the November presidential election should be scrapped — because Internet insecurities could compromise the election.The government dismissed the researchers’ findings, saying the report offered false conclusions about the security of the Secure Electronic Registration and Voting Experiment, or SERVE, system. The evaluation was written for the Defense Department by four of 10 computer experts assembled by the Federal Voting Assistance Program.

“They didn’t know that we would come up with a conclusion as strongly as we did that they really shouldn’t field this system,” David Jefferson, a computer scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and one of the report authors, said. “But once we decided that the system was sufficiently dangerous, we felt we had to recommend it couldn’t go forward.”

Jefferson expressed concern that the test-run will occur during an important presidential election. “They think the value of the experiment outweighs the risk; we don’t,” he said.

SERVE is the program that will register and count the votes of the absentees, the largest chunk of which would be military, an all-important sector of Bush’s base. After 3 solid years of Republicans cutting veterans’ benefits and making promises they have blithely broken, it would seem that that vote is no longer as automatically Republican as it was last time. I don’t want to sound paranoid but with WH pol-ops outing covert agents and Publican Congressional staffers hacking into Democratic files for more than a year proving that the Pubs don’t have a lot of integrity mixed into their “winning is all that matters” philosophy, the scope for potential vote-theft is massive. There are a number of ways it could be done:

The researchers said an Internet voting system that allows ballots to be cast through personal computers would be vulnerable to viruses and worms, spoofing attacks (in which a hacker could intercept and change votes using a fake site resembling the real voting site) or a DoS attack preventing voters from accessing the real site.

Imagine this not-unimaginable scenario:

Tom DeLay sets up a spoof operated by the same staffers who hacked into the Congressional Democrats’ network and intercepts the estimated 6M votes coming in from overseas, most of them military, before they get to the official server. If they’re Republican votes, he passes them on to the server to be counted; if they’re Democratic, he deletes them or changes them into Republican votes. If done properly, the experts warn, there would be no way to know whether or not the votes had been tampered with.

Too cynical and suspicious? Maybe, but in the last 3 years being cynical and suspicious has been a good way to accurately predict Republican tactics. And with the questions swirling around the oddities in the Georgia voting, for instance, that centered on electronic voting machines spitting out results almost opposite to poll results in the same districts, and with the fact that in almost every single election in which electronic voting results were considered anomalies it was the Republicans who gained from them, a little suspicion may be a necessary defense mechanism.

It’s becoming more obvious every day that we can’t afford a system of voting that doesn’t provide a paper trail for checking electronic results against actual voter intentions. Without a paper trail, the risks of fraud are too great.

Electronic Voting Machines: Unverifiable

Perhaps stung by The Guardian report on the many troubling aspects of electronic voting, from lack of security to the possibility that elections have already been stolen, Newsweek has entered the fray, becoming the first mainstream US publication I know of to take this on. And about time, too. The piece is written by Technology Correspondent Steven Levy, and to his credit, he gets right to the meat:

The machines have “a fatal disadvantage,” says Rep. Rush Holt of New Jersey, who’s sponsoring legislation on the issue. “They’re unverifiable.”

Yup, that would be a “disadvantage”, alright, especially as the Diebold CEO has opined that he and his company are “committed to helping” George Bush get re-elected. Makes you wonder what “helping” might include.

As discussed here last week, Diebold’s program is about as secure as a papier-mache fort, and Levy backs this up:

It gets scarier. The best minds in the computer-security world contend that the voting terminals can’t be trusted. Listen, for example, to Avi Rubin, a computer-security expert and professor at Johns Hopkins University who was slipped a copy of Diebold’s source code earlier this year. After he and his students examined it, he concluded that the protections against fraud and tampering were strictly amateur hour. “Anyone in my basic security classes would have done better,” he says. The cryptography was weak and poorly implemented, and the smart-card system that supposedly increased security actually created new vulnerabilities. Rubin’s paper concluded that the Diebold system was “far below even the most minimal security standards.”

Lots of bad news here, but a little good news as well:

After Rubin’s paper appeared, Maryland officials—who were about to drop $57 million on Diebold devices—commissioned an outside firm to look at the problem. The resulting report confirmed many of Rubin’s findings and found that the machines did not meet the state’s security standards.

So they canceled the contract, right? Well, not exactly:

However, the study also said that in practice some problems were mitigated, and others could be fixed, an attitude Rubin considers overly optimistic. “You’d have to start with a fresh design to make the devices secure,” he says.

Maryland appears to be leaning toward the “It’s Not As Bad As It Looks” school, so the contract is intact–for now (Maryland’s Republican Governor favors it). But Diebold is on the offensive just the same–not correcting its shabby code, no no no. In the true BushCo’s-America SOP, they’re fighting the perception of shabbiness. Once again, from Mark Crispin Miller, who’s been following this:

[B]oth [Black Box Voting] sites have had a string of takedowns for reasons ranging from Diebold cease and desist orders to hacking to bogus spam complaints.

And Diebold’s counter-attack, it seems, may include some govt collusion. Miller quotes an email from a software engineer who criticized Diebold:

[T]wo FBI agents came by my house last week asking for names of radicals and organizations. My email is being monitored. Anyone on this board should assume the same.

Apparently Mr. O’Dell meant what he said.

But back to the good news:

To remedy the problem, technologists and allies are rallying around a scheme called verifiable voting. This supplements electronic voting systems with a print-out that affirms the voter’s choices. The printout goes immediately into a secure lockbox. If there’s a need for a recount, the paper ballots are tallied. It’s not a perfect system, but it could keep the machines honest.

A major consideration in the event of another close election. Let’s hope the states who are moving toward electronic voting machines are listening–and that not too many of them are part of the conspiracy.

UPDATE: Chris Nelson says that GQ also has an article on this in their newest issue (pg 256). It’s a landslide, folks, and the dam is cracking.

Press Pass

This is a good one.

The Associated Press–you know them, they’re the ones who ran that fawning picture last week of Saint George wearing his halo?–in a report on the riots in Azerbaijan after a patently bogus election–

Western observers…cited instances of ballot-box stuffing, falsified vote counts and interference by unauthorized people in the voting and counting process. [What? Is that all?–m]

–in which a son replaced his autocratic-dictator father because Dad (you know him, too–he’s the one who likes to boil his political opponents alive while the family watches?) is in the US dying of terminal bestiality, described it this way:

Observers said the vote was marred by fraud.

“Marred by fraud.” Marred. Isn’t that cute? Not stolen, not ripped from their hands by force, “marred”.

Masters of understatement, those AP guys (for the record, the dispatch was written by Burt Herman).

Incidentally, while Aliev Pere is a despotic butcher whose everyday brutalities would make Saddam Hussein’s worst depredations pale into insignificance (and Aliev Fils isn’t much better), and who has for years been a rock-solid financial supporter of various terror organizations, strangely enough after all Junior’s talk about how such tyrants will never again be allowed to oppress their people, Azerbaijan is not–repeat NOT–on Wolfie’s “Invade” List. They’re not talking about it; they’re not even thinking about it.

Strange, isn’t it? Couldn’t have anything to do with the sweetheart deals Aliev gave American oil companies (like Chevron, Condi Rice’s old outfit) on the Baku fields, could it? After all, you don’t have to invade to control something you already practically own, do you?

Nah, that can’t be it. This is a principled Administration, just ask anybody. I’m sure the news of the destruction of a democratic election will galvanize our stalwart NWB’s to jump into their Ranger suits and ride to the rescue, just like they did in Iraq.


EVoting Machines Fail to Count Democratic Votes

A number of people working on the question of electronic voting are starting to make their research and findings public. So far, it’s not a pretty story–or a reassuring one. According to Mark Crispin Miller, Rebecca Mercuri’s work on the California recall shows that significant numbers of ballots–close to 10%–were uncounted in heavily Democratic LA County, and a statistical analysis showed fairly conclusively that touchscreens were the worst:

The Sequoia Edge touchscreens, currently under litigation in Riverside County, performed slightly worse than the Datavote punchcards. The ES&S iVotronic touchscreens were ranked lowest of the three touchscreen types in the state, and were outperformed by all other systems with the exception of the Sequoia Optech optically scanned systems and the Pollstar and Votomatic punchcards. (emphasis added)

She concludes:

The rush to fully computerized ballot casting is misguided. Although supplemental technologies are needed for disabled voters, there is no clear evidence that touchscreen systems are substantially or consistently better for use by the general population than other voting methods. The fact that the touchscreens in California do not provide any way to perform an independent recount should make them less desirable than the paper-based systems that do have such capabilities. Counties, like San Francisco, that are doing well with optically scanned ballots, and the smaller ones that use punchcards effectively, should feel no pressure to modernize.

This is bad enough news for election officials who have planned changeovers to touchscreens–and thousands have, all over the country–but it gets worse.

An anonymous source Miller identifies only as “My friend in South Carolina” claims to have done what s/he calls a “number crunch” on the CA vote tallies which shows some surprising anomalies:

I ran a number crunch of CA counties that use Diebold machines to cast/count votes and found some weird figures that show a skim of votes from top candidates to people who were unlikely to affect the outcome.

It looks like, as one might expect, at the top of the list as if there is a slight variance from an even state wide distribution. However many ‘lower ticket’ candidates have vote totals that ONLY correlate with the use of Diebold equipment! I have included some names chosen at random from the result list that show that not all lower order candidates were used to receive skimmed votes. Note that Diebold’s counties are spread geographically over the whole of California.

If true, is this a just glitch in the program? Or a deliberate attempt by Diebold–a huge contributor to Republican coffers–to swing the vote?

Before we all get paranoid, I think it’s important to point out that, accurate or not, an anonymous statistical report raises as many questions as it may answer–like, why do it anonymously in the first place? As intriguing as the analysis may be, the fact that the analyst doesn’t wish to be known is somewhat suspicious. Grain o’ salt time.

If that’s all it was, we could probably relax. But it isn’t. An excellent article in The Independent shows the same types of anomalies in tightly contested races in Georgia:

Something very odd happened in the mid-term elections in Georgia last November. On the eve of the vote, opinion polls showed Roy Barnes, the incumbent Democratic governor, leading by between nine and 11 points. In a somewhat closer, keenly watched Senate race, polls indicated that Max Cleland, the popular Democrat up for re-election, was ahead by two to five points against his Republican challenger, Saxby Chambliss.Those figures were more or less what political experts would have expected in state with a long tradition of electing Democrats to statewide office. But then the results came in, and all of Georgia appeared to have been turned upside down. Barnes lost the governorship to the Republican, Sonny Perdue, 46 per cent to 51 per cent, a swing of as much as 16 percentage points from the last opinion polls. Cleland lost to Chambliss 46 per cent to 53, a last-minute swing of 9 to 12 points.

This is much more disturbing. Pollsters have honed their techniques to a fare-thee-well and can boast remarkably accurate election predictions for almost a solid decade. Now electronic voting machines enter the picture and suddenly polling has become wildly inaccurate? And it would seem that the machines are the only variable:

There were also big, puzzling swings in partisan loyalties in different parts of the state. In 58 counties, the vote was broadly in line with the primary election. In 27 counties in Republican-dominated north Georgia, however, Max Cleland unaccountably scored 14 percentage points higher than he had in the primaries. And in 74 counties in the Democrat south, Saxby Chambliss garnered a whopping 22 points more for the Republicans than the party as a whole had won less than three months earlier.Now, weird things like this do occasionally occur in elections, and the figures, on their own, are not proof of anything except statistical anomalies worthy of further study. But in Georgia there was an extra reason to be suspicious. Last November, the state became the first in the country to conduct an election entirely with touchscreen voting machines, after lavishing $54m (?33m) on a new system that promised to deliver the securest, most up-to-date, most voter-friendly election in the history of the republic. The machines, however, turned out to be anything but reliable. With academic studies showing the Georgia touchscreens to be poorly programmed, full of security holes and prone to tampering, and with thousands of similar machines from different companies being introduced at high speed across the country, computer voting may, in fact, be US democracy’s own 21st-century nightmare.

In many Georgia counties last November, the machines froze up, causing long delays as technicians tried to reboot them. In heavily Democratic Fulton County, in downtown Atlanta, 67 memory cards from the voting machines went missing, delaying certification of the results there for 10 days. In neighbouring DeKalb County, 10 memory cards were unaccounted for; they were later recovered from terminals that had supposedly broken down and been taken out of service. (emphasis added)

And the worst part is, the companies control the machines, not the public election officials. The report continues:

It is still unclear exactly how results from these missing cards were tabulated, or if they were counted at all. And we will probably never know, for a highly disturbing reason. The vote count was not conducted by state elections officials, but by the private company that sold Georgia the voting machines in the first place, under a strict trade-secrecy contract that made it not only difficult but actually illegal – on pain of stiff criminal penalties – for the state to touch the equipment or examine the proprietary software to ensure the machines worked properly. (emphasis added)

And Georgia was not alone this past election season:

There were other…[states with big last-minute swings in voting patterns] – in Colorado, Minnesota, Illinois and New Hampshire – all in races that had been flagged as key partisan battlegrounds, and all won by the Republican Party. Again, this was widely attributed to the campaigning efforts of President Bush and the demoralisation of a Democratic Party too timid to speak out against the looming war in Iraq.Strangely, however, the pollsters made no comparable howlers in lower-key races whose outcome was not seriously contested. Another anomaly, perhaps. What, then, is one to make of the fact that the owners of the three major computer voting machines are all prominent Republican Party donors? Or of a recent political fund-raising letter written to Ohio Republicans by Walden O’Dell, Diebold’s chief executive, in which he said he was “committed to helping Ohio to deliver its electoral votes to the president next year” – even as his company was bidding for the contract on the state’s new voting machinery? (emphasis added)

Smelling a rat, some angry Georgian voters decided to investigate and discovered that their machines had never been certified–which was illegal–and had performed so badly (“erratically”, the article says) that Diebold had to write a patch to correct the problem. Instead of sending the patch out by disc, however, Diebold made the patch downloadable over the internet like a game or a screensaver. Anybody could access it. A breach of security so big it’s hard to overestimate. An Atlanta computer expert examined the code:

Roxanne Jekot, a computer programmer with 20 years’ experience, and an occasional teacher at Lanier Technical College northeast of Atlanta, did a line-by-line review and found “enough to stand your hair on end”.”There were security holes all over it,” she says, “from the most basic display of the ballot on the screen all the way through the operating system.” Although the programme was designed to be run on the Windows 2000 NT operating system, which has numerous safeguards to keep out intruders, Ms Jekot found it worked just fine on the much less secure Windows 98; the 2000 NT security features were, as she put it, “nullified”.

Also embedded in the software were the comments of the programmers working on it. One described what he and his colleagues had just done as “a gross hack”. Elsewhere was the remark: “This doesn’t really work.” “Not a confidence builder, would you say?” Ms Jekot says. “They were operating in panic mode, cobbling together something that would work for the moment, knowing that at some point they would have to go back to figure out how to make it work more permanently.” She found some of the code downright suspect – for example, an overtly meaningless instruction to divide the number of write-in votes by 1. “From a logical standpoint there is absolutely no reason to do that,” she says. “It raises an immediate red flag.”

And even this is not the worst news:

Most suspect of all was the governor’s race in Alabama, where the incumbent Democrat, Don Siegelman, was initially declared the winner. Sometime after midnight, when polling station observers and most staff had gone home, the probate judge responsible for elections in rural Baldwin County suddenly “discovered” that Mr Siegelman had been awarded 7,000 votes too many. In a tight election, the change was enough to hand victory to his Republican challenger, Bob Riley. County officials talked vaguely of a computer tabulation error, or a lightning strike messing up the machines, but the real reason was never ascertained because the state’s Republican attorney general refused to authorise a recount or any independent ballot inspection.According to an analysis by James Gundlach, a sociology professor at Auburn University in Alabama, the result in Baldwin County was full of wild deviations from the statistical norms established both by this and preceding elections. And he adds: “There is simply no way that electronic vote counting can produce two sets of results without someone using computer programmes in ways that were not intended. In other words, the fact that two sets of results were reported is sufficient evidence in and of itself that the vote tabulation process was compromised.”

Could this be deliberate vote manipulation? The Independent explains the concern this way:

If much of the worry about vote-tampering is directed at the Republicans, it is largely because the big three touchscreen companies are all big Republican donors, pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into party coffers in the past few years. The ownership issue is, of course, compounded by the lack of transparency. Or, as Dr Mercuri puts it: “If the machines were independently verifiable, who would give a crap who owns them?” As it is, fears that US democracy is being hijacked by corporate interests are being fuelled by links between the big three and broader business interests, as well as extremist organisations. Two of the early backers of American Information Systems, a company later merged into ES&S, are also prominent supporters of the Chalcedon Foundation, an organisation that espouses theocratic governance according to a literal reading of the Bible and advocates capital punishment for blasphemy and homosexuality.The chief executive of American Information Systems in the early Nineties was Chuck Hagel, who went on to run for elective office and became the first Republican in 24 years to be elected to the Senate from Nebraska, cheered on by the Omaha World-Herald newspaper which also happens to be a big investor in ES&S. In yet another clamorous conflict of interest, 80 per cent of Mr Hagel’s winning votes – both in 1996 and again in 2002 – were counted, under the usual terms of confidentiality, by his own company. (emphasis added)

Whether or not fraud was deliberately perpetrated in any of these examples is almost beside the point. What’s important is that the electronic voting system is so insecure it practically issues an open invitation to abuse by anybody with a stake in the outcome and a knowledge of computer code, but most especially by the companies who control them to the exclusion of any public oversight through the use of these so-called “trade secrecy” agreements. Ms Jekot put it this way:

“Corporate America is very close to running this country. The only thing that is stopping them from taking total control are the pesky voters. That’s why there’s such a drive to control the vote. What we’re seeing is the corporatisation of the last shred of democracy.”I feel that unless we stop it here and stop it now,” she says, “my kids won’t grow up to have a right to vote at all.”

She’s wrong about that: they’ll maintain the right, it just may not mean anything if corporations control the outcome–and there is no way to have an independent check of the results.

Go to both sites and read it all for yourself if you value your citizenship and the democracy that gives it to you. Otherwise, there’s a chance you will lose both.