Elections

Do US elections, such as the GOP primaries, need international observers?

I think it’s not surprising that Ron Paul is catching a lot of flak, since he is close to becoming a front runner. Part of the deal in the USA is intensifying the scrutiny on any candidate who begins to head towards the front of the pack — a healthy thing, I think, except that our main media outlets are not unbiased or unbeholden.

There is one more thing I think about when scrutiny intensifies, and that is the toxic methodology pioneered by former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, which involved compiling dossiers on everyone he thought might attain a position of power, to use against them if their ascendance was undesired, and to coerce them — extort them — if he had something embarrassing which could help control outcomes. This methodology, rather than dying along with Hoover, was effective and has been expanded outside the FBI to run-of-the-mill political operatives, to become a way of doing business.

Ron Paul did not become enough of a threat in 2008 for any of the political powers that be to pull out their dossiers, but I do expect to see the media go after him with everything they get this year (and everything that is handed to them, strategically timed.)

I certainly witnessed journalistic malpractice in the Ron Paul contests in 2008. One of the networks, CNN I think, represented the percentage of votes being received by each Republican candidate with a labeled pie slice. Except for Ron Paul, that is. Whereas all the other candidates had a red slice of the pie with their name on it, Ron Paul’s name was nowhere to be found, and in place of his red pie slice was an unlabeled gray piece of pie. At times, his unlabeled gray slice was nearly twice the size of some of the labeled red slices.

Now, as to the idea of authenticating whether Ron Paul’s election is fair, that requires public ability to authenticate each of four steps:

  1. Who can vote
  2. Who did vote
  3. Chain of custody
  4. The count

As for the Iowa caucuses, if the same process is followed as we saw in 2008, there may be problems at a specific choke point. In the caucuses, it’s pretty public “who can vote” — the eligible Republicans file into a room and raise their hands, as I understand it, or fill out a paper ballot which is hand counted on the spot. “Who did vote” is equally visible to anyone in the room. But here’s where it breaks down: Chain of Custody.

After the votes in the caucus are tallied, they are called in, or entered into a phone gizmo, but they are not publicly published at all, much less before the total is announced. No one really knows whether the votes that go into the pipeline for statewide tally are the right totals, because the data is not committed publicly before the announcement of the total.

In New Hampshire, you can know who can vote because the voter list is available to anyone for $25. But you won’t necessarily know who did vote, because their same-day registration process allows poll workers to add names to the checklist (which is New Hampshire’s name for polling place list), and the public controls on that are absent. Specifically, the public is not allowed to see the applications filled out by same-day registrants, and must take their word for it that whatever list of names is appended to the end of the checklist is real.

In New Hampshire, it is required by law for each location to transmit to the secretary of state a report for the number of persons who voted and the number of votes, among other things. This can help catch ballot box stuffing. And this is a real concern — in these forums, go to New Hampshire – Swanzey and look at the 2008 forms, which show 1,000 persons who voted and 1,500 ballots cast! So what are they doing? In violation of their own law, the secretary of state’s office does not plan to require these reports this year. (Concealed, computerized counting also violates the law in New Hampshire, because the New Hampshire Constitution requires that votes be counted “in public meeting.”)

In New Hampshire, over 100 jurisdictions still count in public by hand at the polling place, which resolves both chain of custody and public counting issues. But another 200+ locations count by tamper-friendly machines programmed by a couple of tough-guy characters who run LHS Associates. The count on those machines is completely concealed from the public, and the chain of custody of the actual votes becomes moot because New Hampshire passed a secretive law in 2003 to forbid the public from ever examining the ballots, removing the ballots from its Right to Know law.

Short answer: You could have an election observation team, but the only place it can really do meaningful observation is in Iowa. If you got an observer in each of the 1900 locations to videotape the counting and the announcement of the total, that could be compared with the “trust me” tally you get from the statewide Republican old guard.

In New Hampshire, you can’t really observe many of the key elements, but if you would like to get involved there I do know some rather spectacular citizens. Google “Protect the Count” New Hampshire. I think they also have a Facebook page.

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