LP Ohio Recount Controversy

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LP presidential candidate Michael Badnarik has teamed with the Green Party's David Cobb–and now the Kerry campaign–to demand a recount in Ohio's election. It appears as if that recount will indeed happen–to the consternation of some local election officials:

"I'm just really thoroughly disgusted with the whole thing," [Ross County Board of Elections Director Nancy] Bell said…."I resent our honesty and integrity being questioned."

Bell said if there were a great difference between the "unofficial vote totals and official vote totals," that is the total votes on election night, and the later count which includes provisional ballots, the board would want a recount. However, she said, there is not a great difference between these totals.

She's not the only one disturbed by the recount request. This move from Badnarik's team has sparked a fair amount of controversy among some LP supporters as well. Some think it merely benefits the Greens and the Democrats and others who wish to cast a shadow of illegitimacy over Bush's second term, wastes taxpayer resources (although the challengers had to pay Ohio's counties $10 per precinct for the recount, the effort will cost far more than that–Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell claims as much as $1.5 million), and provides no benefit for the LP and the possible P.R. harm of making the party seem a tool of disgruntled leftists. (No recount requests have been made in states where Kerry was the official victor, and in Ohio apparently the Greens needed Badnarik as a frontman for suit since, as he was a candidate on the ballot and Cobb was not, he had standing for the challenge.)

The money for the campaign is being raised by the Green side, with, according to reports from workers with the Badnarik campaign, only $10,000 or so raised through Badnarik supporters, and the Badnarik web site no longer has a contribution option for this cause. Badnarik wonders about the wide gap between early exit polls and the final results, saying

"Our goal is to uncover voting irregularities and bring them to light…Voters all across America have a legitimate expectation that their votes are going to be counted, and that they're going to be counted legitimately."

The national LP has disavowed Badnarik's effort, in a statement from National Chair Mike Dixon, supplied to me today by LP press secretary George Getz:

"The national Libertarian Party was unaware of this lawsuit until after it was filed, and no party funds have been spent in the effort. Mr. Badnarik is making a well-intentioned effort to protect the integrity of the voting process. However, because no one anticipates that a recount will change the outcome in Ohio, the Libertarian Party prefers not to see taxpayer resources expended in this effort."

The executive director of the Ohio state LP, Robert Butler, has also been complaining in some e-mails I've seen circulating about angry donors and the fear of negative press because of the recount campaign, a campaign in which he sees no real upside for the LP. People supporting the recount argue that it presents the LP positively as disinterested defenders of the integrity of the electoral system, and helps cement possibly beneficial future ties with Greens down the road.

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  1. From the No Publicity is Bad Publicity School of Public Relations, there’s an argument to be made that keeping the LP in the press is a good thing.

    I didn’t say it was a good argument; I just said it was an argument.

  2. See!
    Maybe it ain’t over after all.
    Disregard a couple of threads back.
    Maybe some of my Scots-Irish cousins here in Ohio forgot to pay their poll taxes?

  3. If this recount turns out to be a bad PR move, it might jeopardize the LP’s chances in the next presidential election. They’d better be careful, here.

  4. If the challengers had to pay for the recount, then what would the problem be with this? I mean, christ, why does it automatically make you a loony leftist to want every vote counted properly? Were the Republicans shouting about voter fraud in 1960 dismissed as “crazy righties,” or have we only recently turned free and fair voting into a partisan issue?

    And, yes, some of the evidence pointing to voter fraud across the County is indeed compelling. In fact, I don’t doubt there is some level of fraud in every election (from both the D’s and the R’s), so somehow saying our election went perfectly seems awfully naive and saying there is always a certain level of fraud and so it balances out does not make voter fraud okay.

    Not that any of it matters, as one could just as well blatantly fix an election and then dismiss all critics as “disgruntled leftists” and that would probably be the end of it.

    Take, for example, the Washington governor’s race. (R) Dino Rossi won (after a machine recount) by 42 votes out of 2.9 million cast – that is a .001% margin. The D’s are now paying (in full) the cost of the hand recount. It is not inconceivable that an optical scanner would have an error rate of more than .001% and the hand recount may indeed be the most accurate. But that did not stop Rossi from calling the effort “sad and desperate,” as if that was a good enough ‘argument’ as to why the recount should not move forward.

  5. Oh and I forgot to mention that perhaps the intent of the Ohio recount is not to actually change the result (unlikely with such a big gap), but to highlight the fact that a hand re-count is, in fact, impossible when you vote on a machine with no verifiable paper trail. Again, I see nothing wrong with that.

  6. The main problem with this is that the challengers are not paying for the recount effort. Sure, $10 per precinct may add up to a bunch, but it’s nowhere near the actual cost. How can a Libertarian justify such a frivolous use of public money, especially if the recount has no chance of actually changing the result of the election? This had to be a Green idea from the beginning, but it’s a big shame that the Ls fell for it.

  7. Am I the only libertarian who doesn’t get upset if tax dollars are spent on auditing the government?

  8. No, you’re not. Of all the frivilous things government spends taxpayer money on, this might be the best of the lot.

    …and the yuks we all get, listening to government employees complain about pointless expenditures, might even make the whole exercise worth the price of admission.

  9. thoreau,
    The only expenditures needed are for straw smeared with pitch torches plus pitchforks. Even the Scots-Irish are able to spring for those.

    audit shmaudit.

  10. Am I the only libertarian who doesn’t get upset if tax dollars are spent on auditing the government?

    Auditting makes sense when precise figures are relevant — e.g., when determining how much money the government spent. Since it doesn’t matter whether Bush won Ohio by 110,000 votes, 120,000 votes, or 130,000 votes, auditting the Ohio vote seems silly. There’s no credible chance he lost the state.

    But since it’s not my money being spent and the end result will be that the Democrats, Greens, and Libs look petty and vindictive, I can’t really say that I’m that strongly against it either.

  11. I dunno, I think there’s a decent possibility that some major voter fraud scandal shakes loose from this. If so, it will be more than worth it. Though I suspect that it will result in reforms that only make the problem worse.

  12. Dan: I agree that there is no reasonable chance that the recount will change who won Ohio. But I cannot agree that it is insignificant whether Bush after a recount turns out to have won the state by, say, 100,000 rather than 118,000 votes. I think that is quite significant to the 18,000 people whose votes were (hypothetically) miscounted. One’s own individual vote is almost never enough to change the outcome of an election, and yet having it counted is an individual right, and I thought libertarians were in favor of individual rights…

  13. Db wrote:
    “The main problem with this is that the challengers are not paying for the recount effort. Sure, $10 per precinct may add up to a bunch, but it’s nowhere near the actual cost.”

    That’s the fault of neither the Greens nor the Libertarians. The State of Ohio set the price of a recount back in the 1950’s and didn’t bother to update it or index it to inflation. Would you have them forfeit their right to a recount because the state set the price too low?

    Dan wrote:
    “But since it’s not my money being spent and the end result will be that the Democrats, Greens, and Libs look petty and vindictive, I can’t really say that I’m that strongly against it either.”

    As an Ohioan, I’ll be paying for the recount and I don’t have a problem with it. The Republicans looked petty and vindictive back in the 1990’s, but they were effective in diminishing President Clinton’s effectiveness and making it difficult for him to govern. If we Democrats can be as effective in hindering President Bush’s second-term agenda, a petty and vindictive image will be a small price to pay.

  14. having it counted is an individual right, and I thought libertarians were in favor of individual rights

    If accurate vote counts are so vitally important, shouldn’t libertarians favor non-anonymous ballots backed up by a reliable government identification system? That way we could be absolutely certain that our specific vote was being accurately recorded, because there would be a publically-available file detailing exactly how every person in America voted, and we could all look at them to reassure ourselves that everything was fair.

    “Ah”, you might say, “But that would violate our privacy rights.”

    Indeed it would! So the question in that case wouldn’t be “is accurate vote-counting something libertarians should care about” — it is “is the right to have your vote accurately counted more important than your right to privacy”. Most people share what I feel is the libertarian position on that: no.

    Something similar applies in this case, because recounts aren’t free. They are paid for with taxes, and taxes are stolen money. Even assuming that recounts are more accurate and less fraud-ridden than original counts, the very act of obtaining that more-accurate count requires violating people’s right to property; you have to steal people’s money to pay for it. So the question, again, isn’t “are accurate counts important”; it is “are accurate counts more important than property rights”.

    In my opinion it depends on whether or not a recount has a reasonable chance of changing the outcome of the election. If there is no reasonable chance that the outcome will be changed, then the value of each vote is $0, and property rights win. That is the scenario that, in my opinion, applies here. $1.5 million in stolen wealth is being pissed away by the state to satisfy the egos of a few upset politicians.

    Of course, the situation could be rectified by requiring that anyone requesting a recount pay all of the state’s expenses (with the fee fully refundable in the event of a reversal of the election’s results, of course).

  15. they were effective in diminishing President Clinton’s effectiveness

    So he was only able to bang, what, like half the interns he wanted to? Damn Republicans. 🙂

  16. “the end result will be that the Democrats, Greens, and Libs look petty and vindictive”

    Dan made my earlier point for me. Why exactly is wanting a recount petty and vindictive? What if there really was voter fraud on a large scale? Would they still be petty and vindictive?

    Let me ask the doubters, and Bush voters in particular, another question – what evidence would you need to see before you felt there was overt fraud in this or any election? Would you care about it, or demand an investigation, even though your guy won?

  17. There should be some tangible point to the recount, and I’m not sure Badnarik has one. Keep in mind that he was the standard bearer for a political party, and the purpose of a party is to elect candidates and to move policy in a particular direction.

    Badnarik stands no chance to win the state, obviously. He stands no chance to move up in any meaningful way, including reaching the 5% needed to give the LP of Ohio automatic ballot access. This latter should be the real objective, but it seems to not have crossed Badnarik’s mind.

    If it is generating ill will rather than good will, then the Oscar Wilde Rule goes out the window. If the Executive Director of the LP of Ohio is complaining that the effort is hurting their affiliate, then it is far worse than mere rah-rah principle wheel-spinning.

    Moreover, it is maddening to me that Badnarik could find a way to raise $10,000 AFTER the election, when it could have been far more useful to raise it DURING THE CAMPAIGN so that he might have earned the ballot access for Ohio. That would have been money and energy very well spent.

  18. “is the right to have your vote accurately counted more important than your right to privacy”. Most people share what I feel is the libertarian position on that: no.

    This is the most ludicrous way you could frame this question. It’s not a choice between ballot secrecy and letting the government bug your home without a warrant; it’s a choice between having a secret ballot and a non-secret ballot. If you phrased the question: Would you be willing to sign your ballot in order to ensure that it’s counted accurately, well, like you, I have no fucking clue what “most people” would say. But I suspect many if not most Americans might agree with my answer, which is hell yes! In any event, I’ve never seen any kind of referendum, state legislature proposal, congressional bill, or even a private poll that would give some indication of how “most people” feel about this issue, so we’re both pissing into the wind.

  19. I think the recount may, if the press coverage is done well enough, uncover larger problems with the politics of voting in any state.

    For instance, the owner of the company supplying all the electronic voting machines in Ohio had made a statement along the lines of – I will do whatever it takes to get George W. Bush reelected- before the election. He also made very large contributions to the GOP, but unlike most businesses who donate to both parties to cover their ass, he donated zero to the Dems. Also, the SOS of Ohio Blackwell was the chairman of the reelect Bush campaign in Ohio. Do these allegations and facts (some of it) plant a seed of doubt? There probably isn’t a conflict of interest in this at all, huh? Both of these guys may be able to duck out the public life now and go teach Ethics classes at Crackpot U.

    I realize we may never….will never have an election larger than student council without fraud of some degree, but if we spend (well, someone else spending our money) so much money on something that is crooked anyway, why bother? Just have an American Gladiators-like contest to see who can cheat the best? Televise it as the next “reality” t.v. show and profit from it. What a turn-around of the bottom line!

  20. Would you be willing to sign your ballot in order to ensure that it’s counted accurately, well, like you, I have no fucking clue what “most people” would say. But I suspect many if not most Americans might agree with my answer, which is hell yes!

    “Many if not most”. Nice weasel words — tell me, is there any percentage of the electorate that doesn’t qualify as either “many” or “most”? I’m sure you can find plenty of people who are willing to vote non-anonymously. But the idea that the majority of Americans want government officials to know how they voted — which is what you’re proposing, even if you don’t understand that — is just silly.

    In any event, I’ve never seen any kind of referendum, state legislature proposal, congressional bill, or even a private poll that would give some indication of how “most people” feel about this issue

    Anonymous ballots were implemented by congressional and state legislative actions and replaced the non-anonymous ballot procedures used previously. Attempts to reverse this have never managed to gain majority support (despite the fact that reversing it would favor the incumbent politicians). That pretty much settles that.

  21. Perhaps we should vote on it…

  22. These discussions often remind me of the People’s Front of Judea (or was it the Judean People’s Front) meetings.

    Good Day, Brothers and Sisters. Now a vote to end my post; do I hear a second…

  23. the owner of the company supplying all the electronic voting machines in Ohio had made a statement along the lines of – I will do whatever it takes to get George W. Bush reelected

    O’Dell’s words were “I am committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year”, not “I will do whatever it takes to get George Bush elected”.

    Do these allegations and facts (some of it) plant a seed of doubt?

    No, for three reasons. The first is that, as noted above, his actual statement of intent wasn’t at all sinister. The second is that it is ridiculous to believe that a wealthy CEO would risk decades in prison and the loss of his entire business just to deliver Ohio to George Bush. The third, and most important reason, is that O’Dell couldn’t rig the voting machines even if he WAS both crooked and crazy. He’s not personally responsible for building and administering the system; he’s just the CEO of the company. Rigging the voting machines would have required the complicity of almost the entire engineering and QA teams at Diebold, plus the third-party engineers who auditted the system. That’s dozens or hundreds of people, all of whom can now blackmail O’Dell for the rest of his life, and any of whom could have cost Bush the election simply by opening his or her mouth to the press.

    So, no, I can’t say that it’s rational to buy into the O’Dell conspiracy theory.

  24. Dan says, “If accurate vote counts are so vitally important, shouldn’t libertarians favor non-anonymous ballots backed up by a reliable government identification system? That way we could be absolutely certain that our specific vote was being accurately recorded, because there would be a publically-available file detailing exactly how every person in America voted, and we could all look at them to reassure ourselves that everything was fair.

    “‘Ah’, you might say, ‘But that would violate our privacy rights.'”

    It would, if implemented in the straw-mannishly simple way Dan supposes. On the other hand, it is possible to encrypt ballots so that the identity of the voter is kept secret (unless the voter himself comes forward with the proper “key”), while the content of the vote is decodable and available for counting by anyone — election officials, disgruntled third parties, or you yourself.

    ALL encrypted ballots could be posted on the public internet (or on CD-ROMs, in large books, etc., and records of local vote could even be published in special sections of local newspapers-of-record). Each voter could verify the existence and correctness of his own particular ballot, and could count all the ballots to verify the result against the officially declared one. To allow for statistical alarms against possible problems with the voting process, the number of votes cast could easily be ascertained and compared against the number of registered voters, by state, county, or precinct; or the voting results for various races could be compared against each other, down to the precinct level (to find, for instance, precincts or counties where reasonably unknown Republicans running for “downticket” offices did extremely well — suggesting large Republican turnout and general party loyalty — but Republican candidates for Senator or President did very poorly, suggesting either voting irregularities or spectacularly repulsive candidates!).

    The knowledge and methods necessary to make this kind of thing happen were well understood in 2000. Many people across the country advocated for an “open source, open books” approach in the ensuing years. So why did we arrive in 2004 without even a credible “open source, open books” demonstration system in place? It gets back to Dan’s opener, I think: “If accurate vote counts are so vitally important…” Obviously, they are not. What is vitally important, apparently, is to maintain the turmoil of doubt about the election process, so that those in power can put in place “remedies” that consolidate their control, while those out of power can rally crowds with allegations of vote fraud. The present situation does not serve the public. Who does it serve, exactly?

  25. greens and LB’s??? Reminds me of the mighty know-nothing coalition of whigs and nativists in the 1840s.

  26. Did you know that John Stuart Mill opposed the secret ballot? (Earlier he had favored it.) For his reasoning, see http://groups-beta.google.com/group/soc.history.what-if/msg/b7ee5a1751134040

  27. *sigh*…even the TinFoil Hat crowd should be able to tell this does absolutely nothing positive for the Libertarian Party. People already see them as generalized wackos, is it really necessary to risk making people associate them with the Left-wing wackos on top of that?

  28. “I resent our honesty and integrity being questioned.”

    I’m trying to imagine what my boss would do to me if I responded this way to somebody who asked to see the Planning Board minutes.

    They denied your application…Trust me…What are you, questioning my integrity?

  29. On the other hand, it is possible to encrypt ballots so that the identity of the voter is kept secret (unless the voter himself comes forward with the proper “key”), while the content of the vote is decodable and available for counting by anyone — election officials, disgruntled third parties, or you yourself.

    Step 1: The corrupt election officials look at the votes.
    Step 2: The corrupt election officials delete X number of ballots representing votes they don’t like.
    Step 3: The corrupt election officials create X number of new ballots representing votes that they do like, so that the vote totals come out the same.

    (this, by the way, is the same system they use for vote fraud today — not altering your actual votes, but discarding/adding ballots)

    Later on, you come forward with your private key. There is no record for it to decrypt. *You* know you got defrauded — but since only you ever knew what your key was, you can’t prove you didn’t (a) forget it or (b) lie about what it was in order to manufacture a phony vote scandal.

    So basically, your suggested system serves no purpose other than to waste money. Brilliant plan.

  30. I can understand why people might distrust the Diebold e-voting machine. What I don’t understand is why they keep ignoring the fact that not a single county in Ohio (or in Florida for that matter…) used those machines:

    http://www.truthout.org/docs_04/111004V.shtml

    “No Ohio County used Diebold Electronic Voting Machines.

    “Ohio did not use modern electronic voting machines in this election. Six counties use an older form of electronic voting, which has a means of verifying the accuracy of the vote. In 69 Ohio Counties, punch card ballots were used.”

    http://www.cuttingedge.org/news_updates/nz1799.htm

    “Both Broward and Miami-Dade counties use machines made by Election Systems & Software, while Palm Beach county uses machines made by Sequoia Voting Systems. No Florida counties used touch-screen machines made by Diebold Election Systems, the company whose machines have received the most scrutiny over the last year.”

    I’m in favor of the recount, as I said. But not because of Diebold, and not because I expect a huge number of votes to be changed…

  31. Dan-

    Not sure what you mean by a waste of time. If you come forward with a valid key that doesn’t correspond to a ballot, then clearly your ballot has been lost, because one of the goals of the election system is to guarantee that voters don’t get valid “receipt” keys without casting ballots.

    In the scenario you describe, if enough people came forward to complain of valid keys that didn’t correspond to recorded ballots, there wuld be ample evidence of problems with the system. At very least, the open source, open books system couldn’t be any MORE fraud prone than the current system, surely. What happens now, should someone come in with serialized ballot stubs, and the elections officers can’t find the corresponding ballot? The difference in the open source, open book scenario would be that the voters would actually have a CLUE that they had been been personally disenfranchised, and could offer up their “stubs” to assist an investigation.

    A more important purpose of encrypting the ballots would be to keep them from being falsified in the way you describe (or at least to make it more difficult). Data can be embedded within an encrypted receipt, which allows investigators to determine whether the ballot recorded against that receipt actually contains the selections that the voter made. So, there would be easily found irregularities if, for example:

    1. The vote-containing portion of a legitimate ballot were replaced by record containing votes that the fixers liked. (Software could determine that the “receipt portion” didn’t correspond to the “vote portion.” Or later, the voter would see that his vote was mis-recorded, and the election officials could verify that his legitimate “receipt” didn’t match the recorded ballot.)

    2. A legitimate ballot were merely discarded in total, and replaced with a completely fictitious one. (Voter would not be able to find his ballot. Investigators would be able to find at least N number of unaccountable votes — probably for a major opponent — to correspond to N complaints.)

    3. A legitimate ballot were completely discarded. (Voter couldn’t find his ballot, the number of ballots cast would be less than the number of keys issued.)

    4. A completely fictitious ballot were stuffed into the box. (More keys than registered voters would be issued, more votes than registered voters would be recorded.)

    No voting system will ever be perfect, but I don’t think the kind of scenario that I mentioned would actually be vulnerable to the problems you described. One of the strengths of an open source, open books method would be that millions of individual voters would be empowered to ensure that their personal votes were recorded and counted properly. As it is now, individual voters have little or no way of knowing whether their own votes survived the process intact. Challenges to the voting system must be made on the basis of observed procedural irregularities, actual evidence of tampering, the results of recounts and audits, etc. A group of voters who could show personal disenfranchisement would provide more solid and less expensive grounds for invalidating the results of an election. Conversely, every voter could look at his or her own personal results and approve the election: there would be little reason to doubt the results of a tally that was endorsed by exactly as many registered voters as cast recorded ballots, for example.

  32. “Auditting makes sense when precise figures are relevant — e.g., when determining how much money the government spent. Since it doesn’t matter whether Bush won Ohio by 110,000 votes, 120,000 votes, or 130,000 votes, auditting the Ohio vote seems silly. There’s no credible chance he lost the state.”

    After the 2000 election, when Democrats were calling for a recount, conservatives like Dan dismissed their request as illegitimate, because it was self-serving. Since a recount could have changed the result, the talking point was that Democrats wanted to “count until Gore wins.”

    Now that there is almost no chance of a recount changing the result, Dan dismissed the legitimacy of calls for a recount because a recount that won’t change the result doesn’t serve any purpose.

    Does anyone else think this stinks to high heaven?

  33. I understand and appreciate many of your concerns about the election in Ohio.

    I have been personally involved with taking testimony from Ohio voters who experienced the irregularities. I have no doubt that there was some level of voter fraud and activity designed to prevent lawful voters from voting.

    The problem is that most of the incidents involve the prevention of voting. A recount will only count people who were able to vote on election day, thus confirming the numbers already available.

    I would fully support an investigation conducted by independent reseachers. I’m troubled that Ohio Libertarians have not been including in any activities sponsored by the Greens. They do not include us in any of their plans, and only seem interested in contacting us when they need our names or signatures for lawsuits and other legal matters. They don’t let us know when they have their press conferences, so our views have been kept out of the media.

    Even Michael Badnarik, our own Presidential candidate, did not inform us of his decision to ask for a recount. I heard about it from a press release. He only calls us when he needs a favor, or needs us to sign something.

    In Liberty,
    Robert Butler
    Executive Director
    Libertarian Party of Ohio

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