Uncounted – The New Math of American Elections (h/t Best Free Documentaries) is a documentary that explores the various problems in U.S. elections. (As always with this type of content, it has questionable legality and might be taken down at any time). While I believe the documentary has some flaws, the discrepancy between exit polling and the election results are alarming. It is so far outside what we would reasonably expect, and it deserves investigation. The consistent bias is troubling and the fact that current electronic voting machines leave no auditable paper trail is simply unacceptable. Any machine is subject to failures or problems, it is just poor engineering not to have a backup in the case of failure. An ATM has the ability to print a receipt. There is absolutely no good reason why a voting machine shouldn’t be able to do the same. Every American should be able to leave the booth with complete confidence that their vote will be counted correctly, and that is simply not the case currently.
On Sunday, I asked Naomi Klein about election reform. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a response from her with all the chatter. “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism” is an excellent book giving an alternative history of the past half-century. As with anytime I get a chance to ask an author about their work, I usually bring up a point tangential but related topic. There is little point asking about something specific about Chile, since I should have been able to grok that fact when I originally read it, or with subsequent research. Nor does rehashing history help us fix the future beyond giving us context. What I am currently sick of is the hand-wringing, apathy and defeatism. Universal Health Care is a noble cause, however I feel that it can be turned into a weapon against us if we get another horrible administration in office. As Klein’s book shows, massive debt can be leveraged against the nation to force a bitter pill of economic reforms favorable to the economic elites. Therefore, I feel the fix starts with ensuring better stewards of our government, and entails getting our voices heard better. Unfortunately, trying to project that agenda is like herding cats.
There were a few problems I had with what Ms. Klein said. First of all, she urged not to put hopes in a political savior. I completely agree with that point. People need to be vigilant. However, we need to get people who agree, or at least will honor democratic processes in office. Otherwise, it is a completely rigged game from the get go and the powers that be will eventually win the game of attrition with the people.
I don’t believe we start with campaign finance reform or FCC regulations. If the system is rigged it doesn’t matter. Starting with either of those two will leave a constant obstacle in the way, the plurality voting system. The plurality voting system is mathematically structured to force a answer between two choices. This is the exact reason two parties arose and third parties are marginalized. It is also the reason why our public policy swings so violently. A voter preference system based on a Condorcet winner seems to be the best way to correct the problem. I mentioned STV/IR because I thought that Klein might be more familiar with it and also because I was not aware of the substantial differences in outcomes between Condorcet and STV/IR when I wrote the question. With the new information, Condorcet seems to be the way to go.
However, upon watching Uncounted, it is clear that a more basic goal is necessary: making sure the votes are counted in the first place!
With this discussion, it is important to look at the Supreme Court decision that put us here in the first place, how the judges voted and who appointed them. Here is a layman’s guide to Bush vs. Gore. Here is a table to ponder.