Monday, November 06, 2006

Forced Choice and Lost Opportunity

No doubt the blog arena will start ringing with all sorts of election and voting related stuff, as the midterm elections start tomorrow. I say 'start', as there is evidence that suggests that the process could be long and involved. Both parties have armies of lawyers at the ready.

One of the big bones of contention will no doubt be the electronic voting machines. As has previously been discussed here, this is all a bit of a red herring, as the real problems arise with the tabulator machines. However, there is a related topic that is of interest.

One of the downsides of voting machines of any kind is that they force voters to just choose between pre-defined options. This is problematic. Consider a case in which, when you walked into vote you discovered that your choices were between unplaitable options. For the sake of argument, imagine one had to choose between voting for Joseph Stalin and Adolph Hitler (feel free to substitute other names of your own here). What should a reasonable person do?

With a voting machine system, there would be two options: (1) figure out which candidate was the least objectionable, or (2) walk away without casting a vote at all. This is a classic 'forced choice' situation, which is created by the voting machine technology, be it touch screen, punch card, or whatever method. This is not the only way things can be though.

Other countries, such as Canada and many in Europe use old fashioned paper ballots, where the voter marks their choice with a pen. Such a system has advantages in terms of being able to verify the vote, but of course this makes elections harder to rig, so this system is not popular in this country. However, a paper ballot provides the voter with a third option, when faced with an unpalitable forced choice. The voter can spoil their ballot paper.

In most jurisdictions, spoiled ballots have to be examined by candidates, or their agents, to make sure that there was no misapplied intention to vote. However, this process provides a mechanism through which the voter can communicate directly with the political machine. For instance, in the forced choice case, a voter could simply write "None of the above!" (or, "Get the troops out of Iraq!") across the ballot. With mechanical systems, this option is lost. It would have also prevented the kind of mess that occurred in Florida in 2000, when the Republicans stole the Presidential election for Stupid W.

Fortunately, tomorrow the choice is easy. Anyone who is not extremely rich, or extremely stupid, realizes that the Republicans need to be evicted from the hot tub of sleaze, that they have made the Senate and the House. Of course, whether or not this will happen will depend on how brazen the Republican cheating will be. There are already signs that things are going pear shaped. One of my students told me today that when he went to cast his vote early, he was told that the Democratic candidate had withdrawn!

So, please try and vote. The more votes that are cast, the more fun will be the legal shenanigans that follow. However, remember that "Which ever way you vote, the government will win!"

The CP


Blogger Tenured Radical said...

Dear CP,

Yes, just voted -- and also posted my voting blog, just as you predicted. I htink what you are saying here is quite interesting, and I'll remember it the next time I teach Reconstruction, when the paper ballot became an excuse for disenfranchising several million voters.

Oddly, people are re-inventing the paper ballot, by voting absentee in No Excuse states. Of course, I hear that some 50,000 ballots in Ohio are being held in post offices for "insufficient postage."

Thanks for the tips on linking -- I'm goign to try it in the PM.


9:40 AM  

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