Sanders Supporters: How to File a Lawsuit to Count the Ballots in Your Democratic Primary Without a Lawyer

Updated on June 8, 2018
Volunteers count provisional ballots in California
Volunteers count provisional ballots in California

Like a muscle, rights which are not used will atrophy. One right of Americans is to have the votes they cast at the polling place be counted in a meaningful and transparent way, or else democracy becomes nothing more than an illusion, and the entire, vast election machinery nothing more than a farcical rubber stamp for the predetermined choices of local and national oligarchies.

Progress happens in slow increments. One surprising indicator of progress is that much of America has moved to "verifiable" paper-trail voting over the last ten years, the result of the hard work of election integrity activists who have worked under the radar and with little thanks to make elections more honest. Because paper ballots or paper evidence of votes are now used in most jurisdictions, there is something to count when there is suspicion of fraud.

Where the law lags is in making it easy for citizens to know what those ballots say, and to verify totals which are usually arrived at by optical scan machine. The existence of ballots is pointless if citizens, their representatives, or campaigns cannot use them to assure confidence in results.

To find out what kind of voting systems your state uses go to

Which means that in most cases it requires a court order, by a state or county court, to arrange a viewing and counting of ballots. In California, citizen volunteers are in the process of counting millions of provisional ballots, which has narrowed Clinton's lead and has "flipped" at least three counties to Sanders, including the large ones of San Luis Obispo and San Bernardino. This sets a precedent for how citizens can be quickly trained to participate in the process and help minimize the cost of vote audits.

Citizen election integrity experts are showing the way to secure, honest elections. The single easiest thing that states can do is scan all paper ballots and paper receipts from touch-screen machines as soon as the voting ends, with citizen and campaign representatives observing and taking notes and pictures, of equipment serial numbers, seals, and observing DVDs are "read-only" format, that is, cannot be written over.

Since it is an expense and sometimes a chore to find a lawyer for cases that are about a principle rather than a large settlement, it might be necessary for election integrity activists to file lawsuits themselves, to force local governments to make paper ballots or paper trails available for citizen audits, under supervision of the election office to insure the proper handling of ballots. This is not as difficult as one might imagine. Many US state and federal court systems publish guides on how to proceed on your own, or "pro se" (Latin for "for self.") Regardless of the court it is filed in, the parts of a "complaint," as an initial lawsuit document is called, are pretty much the same. A good general pro se guide is here, published by the US District Court of Massachusetts.

First one must decide in which court to file. If you want to count the ballots cast in your town, the county court with jurisdiction over that town would be appropriate. If multiple towns are requested, the state's high court might be a better venue. A pro se lawsuit cannot be class action. A pro se plaintiff can only represent him or herself.

Like software programmers, lawyers copy each other, and try to do as little new work as possible. Similar cases cite similar grounds in terms of precedent and case law, and they can be much the same from one similar case to another. One sample is that which has been filed by Election Justice Massachusetts, of which the author is a member, complaint here. Communities can be substituted for relevance. It asks the local court to order:

"the access to ballots in selected districts and precincts, under supervision, in order that citizen watchdogs may either hand count and tabulate ballot markings for themselves, or witness officials open properly sealed boxes, the seals to be inspected, and hand count the ballot markings contained within, in a manner which allows citizen representatives to discern ballot markings for individual candidates."

It is no secret that paper ballot tabulators can be easily hacked, as shown in a shocking demonstration in HBO's award-winning documentary "Hacking Democracy." This film should shake every American to the core, as it shows how invisibly and easily tabulating machines may be made to say something different than what is in the ballots.

The ballots must be counted, in as many jurisdictions as possible, which at the very least includes California, Texas, Mississippi, Ohio, Illinois, Connecticut, Virginia, West Virginia, Indiana, Michigan, Tennessee, and Massachusetts. These are the states with paper ballots where exit polls diverged most widely from official results. Exit polls are important tools in detecting election fraud. The 2015 USAID publication "Assessing and Verifying Election Results" affirms that:

"Exit polls provide data that is generally indicative of how people voted. A discrepancy between the aggregated choices reported by voters and the official results may suggest, but not prove, that results have been tampered with."

Two states of interest, Alabama and Georgia, are no-paper-trail states, highlighting the importance of having a paper trail. These states are "vote on faith" states where voters have only the word of election officials as evidence of voting results.

Sometimes filing fees are involved, but these can be raised from Sanders supporters at sites like GoFundMe.

A wave of ballot access lawsuits unleashed before the Democratic convention on July 25 would put the spotlight on well-founded doubts of Hillary Clinton's legitimacy as the true victor of the Democratic primaries. Some may succeed. Some may not. Either way, putting election integrity in the spotlight should become a part of the Sanders Revolution. This should happen immediately.

A Stanford study, exit polls, and other data indicate something amiss in the vote totals. This is what ballots are for. Let's see them. The DNC should know that their candidate will stand exposed before the world.


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.


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