With the US presidential election approaching, people are more interested than ever in getting involved as election integrity activists. An election activist may count the number of voters as they enter a precinct, take exit polls, engage officials in public meetings, or take legal action when necessary to verify some aspect of an election.
What almost no one knows in the United States, except election officials, is that there is a simple means of verifying a vote count in nearly half of the precincts in the country, if that precinct uses paper ballots that are then fed into what's called an "optical scanner." An optical scanner reads and "counts" the vote electronically, without any human ever actually looking at the ballot.
As you might imagine, there is room for mischief there. What if the machine is programmed to throw in an extra vote here or take away a vote there? As it so happens, this is exactly what is possible. The HBO documentary "Hacking Democracy" illustrates it well, when it shows how a computer hacker could easily program such instructions into a machine's memory card, or even hack in from afar and do it.
This election season, with all the talk about "rigging" by Donald Trump, who blames it on the Democrats, and by the Democrats, who blame it on the Russians, it is important to understand what "rigging" is. There are different kinds of rigging. One main kind is voter fraud, where people who shouldn't be voting try to vote, or people vote more than once, by hook or crook. Such as looking up the names of dead people and casting fraudulent votes.
Voter fraud hardly ever happens on a scale that can swing an election. It is risky, with a high chance of getting caught.
The other main kind of fraud, and much more worrisome, is election fraud. This includes fraud which occurs at the vote-counting level which is run by election authorities. Marxist dictator Josef Stalin once said famously, "Those who cast the votes decide nothing. Those who count the votes decide everything."
When the paper ballot votes are counted incorrectly by the machine, accidentally or by design, a very large number of votes can be added or subtracted from any candidate to "flip" the vote count, and the election. Voter fraud is for amateurs. Electronic ballot box stuffing is how the pros do it.
Now here is where you are not going to believe your good fortune, as a person concerned for fair elections. When those paper ballot vote-counting machines were installed, between 2000 and 2010 with the passage of HAVA - the Help America Vote Act - politicians with cheating on their minds must not have known that three of the most popular models of paper ballot vote-counting machines automatically make digital images of the ballots, at lighting speed, as the ballots are fed into the machine. These images are then stored in a file like you see on your Windows Explorer.
Yes, a pdf digital image of every ballot fed into that precinct vote-counting machine should exist, and is stored for anyone to examine and count who gets access to them.
The point was to have a back-up to the paper ballots inside the ballot receptacle, and it was brilliantly conceived. And most people don't even know about it.
What this means is, you can ask your election department, or any election department, to provide you with copies of these files, which after all are as easy to copy as doing a "cut-and-paste" to a thumb drive. Each machine, usually one per precinct, makes a folder.
No one needs to handle the paper ballots, which has been one objection by election officials to citizens doing their own recount. No election officials need to get paid overtime for doing the counting.
In other words, a powerful oversight tool has been right under our noses all along. It took a bunch of election integrity activists working tirelessly to understand their elections processes to discover it.
The first step to becoming an election integrity activist who monitors voting results by examining the images of the paper ballots, is to find out if the precincts you are interested in use the right kind of machines, which are in use in about half of US voting districts. These are machines manufactured by Election Systems & Software (ES&S,) and the ImageCast Precinct made by Dominion Systems.
Go here for a step-by-step guide using software created by the nonprofit VerifiedVoting.org.
As stated, about half of jurisdictions won't have these kind of machines, but half do. That is a lot of jurisdictions and a lot of accountability. (edit update: updated estimates is that a majority of US precincts have ballot images.
You can do this whether you support Jill Stein, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, or someone else, to verify how many votes your candidate got. Everyone should be interested in fair elections. Have fun!
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.