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Nancy Tobi: Need To Eliminate Secret Vote Counting

We Need To Eliminate Secret Vote Counting, Not A Recount

By Nancy Tobi
Democracy for New Hampshire

New Hampshire's primary delivered a "surprise" upset victory to Senator Hillary Clinton, contradicting all pre-election poll predictions and even the facts on the ground, which showed Senator Obama with a strong lead and enthusiastic overflow crowds at every New Hampshire appearance.

Political pundits in the corporate media and citizen journalists in the Blogosphere alike are all asking the same question: What happened in New Hampshire?

It's pretty easy to see what happened in New Hampshire: We had an election in which 81% of our ballots were counted in secret by a private corporation, and this resulted in an outcome that is called into question.

That's what happened.

No recount is going to change this. What will change this is to get rid of corporate controlled secret vote counting in our elections.

New Hampshire holds exemplary elections in 45% of our polling places; elections where our paper ballots are counted by hand by our neighbors in full public view with 100% citizen oversight and checks and balances. These hand count elections, of which New Hampshire is the “hands down” expert, provide the only method known today that can guarantee open and honest elections. These are elections where every ballot, every vote, every mark made by the voter, is observed and tallied in full public view with multiple sets of eyes watching and checking and balancing each count.

New Hampshire already knows how to fix this problem. For the past four years, New Hampshire citizens have been asking the State to fix this problem, but the State has thus far refused. We don't need a recount now. What we need now is for the State to reconsider and implement procedural and legislative solutions to guarantee open and honest elections.

A recount won’t provide any significant benefit to the cause of free and fair and open elections. Bringing back full citizen oversight and checks and balances to all New Hampshire elections is the only way to avoid having any more questionable election outcomes in the Granite State.

Beginning with our state Founders, civil rights activists have been fighting for open elections as the mechanism to protect our freedom and democracy. The New Hampshire Constitution mandates we sort and count our votes in open meeting. The New Hampshire Right to Know law, citing our Constitution, declares that the government derives its power from the people and therefore all government processes and information must be fully accessible to the people.

The United States Bill of Rights similarly asserts that the government derives its power from the people, who have the right to "alter or abolish" said government if it fails to act in our favor. Our right to "alter or abolish" peacefully comes through open and honest elections.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 mandates observable vote counting.

But despite this long history of grassroots activism in support of free and open elections, New Hampshire has turned the majority of our elections into privatized affairs with no citizen oversight whatsoever.

Now activists around the nation are calling for a recount. In New Hampshire the manual recount has always been held as justification for holding elections in which more than 80% of our ballots are counted in secret by private corporations.

Does this logic hold up? Will a recount rectify the problem before us?

I say no. The problem before us is that we have outsourced the most precious thing in our democracy: the counting of our votes. And in New Hampshire, we have outsourced more than 80% of our votes to a private corporation counting those votes in secret, and, as it turns out, that private corporation has a convicted drug trafficker on its executive team to boot. A recount does not solve this problem.

Proponents and apologists of the privatized and computerized corporate elections often justify computerized elections saying how “easy” it is to corrupt a hand count election. They say, “But you can always swap out the ballots to get the count you want!”

And they are 100% correct about this. But only when there is no citizen oversight. And the only time this happens in a hand count election is in a recount.

In the Election Night count, the first count, the count that matters, all hand count elections have complete citizen oversight as a check against the kind of corrupt outcome you would find in a ballot swapping affair. But in a recount, there is absolutely no citizen oversight for the entire time between Election Night and the recount itself.

If we are going to assume the possibility that some nefarious super spy has bothered to rig a New Hampshire election, wouldn’t we assume they have also taken into account our liberal recount laws? Wouldn’t we assume they might have a Plan B to ensure a recount validates their nefarious doings? Is it at all logical that evildoers who find their way into our machine counts might not also find a way into our recounts?

Open and honest elections require citizen oversight. This is a simple thing to accomplish in a hand count Election Night count. But in a recount it is impossible.

In a recount, citizens have no control over the ballot chain of custody. Unless citizens have stood guard over every ballot box from the moment that it was sealed and signed by our local election officials, the recount provides no more assurance than the machine counts. A recount of a secret computerized vote count is just another weak link in the chain of publicly observable ballot custody required for honest and open elections.

In 2004, on request from citizen activists, candidate Ralph Nader had a New Hampshire recount. Only 11 districts, chosen by a mysterious out of state activist, claiming to be a statistician who had found anomalies in the results, were recounted. New Hampshire officials at the time disagreed with her interpretation but the recount occurred as she directed. To nobody’s surprise, the recounts uncovered no significant discrepancies, and New Hampshire’s system of corporate controlled secret vote counting got a big stamp of approval.

And here we are again. Another corporate controlled New Hampshire election. Another questionable outcome. Did the Nader recount change things for the better? Did it resolve the problem?

If New Hampshire conducts a recount now, it’s as reasonable as not to assume this recount will again not reveal any significant discrepancies. Our corporate controlled secret vote count elections will be validated, and we will continue to have elections whose outcomes can not be trusted.

It is time for real accountability and change. We get this not from a recount, but from an investigation. We need questions asked and answered, and changes made so we have a clean election in the Granite State in November 2008, and in every election thereafter.

The first question that needs to be asked is: Why did the NH Ballot Law Commission approve this voting equipment in March 2006 when the vendor himself testified it was defective and after citizens testified for more than four hours against the approval?

Second question: Why did the State not respond to citizen requests for a rehearing after California decertified the same equipment we are using in New Hampshire?

Third question: Why has every citizen request for risk mitigation through reasonable procedural changes and legislation been ignored or obstructed by the State?

Fourth question: Why did the legislature, in two separate sessions under both Republican and Democratic majority, kill legislation that called for full software disclosure for voting equipment?

Fifth question: Why did the legislature kill a bill calling for voting machine approval only if those machines can guarantee the integrity of election results?

Sixth question: Why did the legislature kill a bill calling for election night parallel hand count of a percent of ballots to check and balance against the machine count? Why did the State refuse to make this a recommended procedure for every machine count polling place?

Seventh question: Why did the State do nothing after hearing testimony from internationally recognized computer security experts suggesting recommendations for risk mitigation procedures?

Eighth question: Why did the State, after hearing from the Diebold representative in September 2007 that more secure firmware was available, not insist on having that firmware tested and installed in time for our Primary?

Ninth question: Did the State have any prior knowledge that an executive in the firm programming our elections is a convicted drug trafficker, and does the State think this is appropriate for a firm handling such sensitive state data as our votes?

Once those questions are asked, the very last question must be: What changes will the State implement for November's election so voters can believe in the results?

The days of the status quo are over. The New Hampshire recount, a valuable check and balance for free and open elections, is useless in the face of possible high stakes election tampering. Using the recount to justify secret vote counting is just part of the status quo.

We need an honest and open first count on Election Night, and that will happen only with structural change, not a recount.

Original Article:



Nancy Tobi is the author of numerous articles on election integrity, including "The Gifts of HAVA: Time to Ask for a Refund," "What's Wrong With the Holt Bill," and "We're Counting the Votes: An Election Preparedness Kit." She is Legislative Coordinator of Election Defense Alliance, co-founder of Democracy for New Hampshire and Chair of the New Hampshire Fair Elections Committee. Her writings may be found at and

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