By Brad Friedman on 8/22/2012, 7:45am PT  

I actually feel sorry for Pat Kerby, the Republican delegate to the Republican National Convention from Nevada who attempted to add an amendment calling for paper ballots --- so nobody would have to trust in the "voter machine fairy" --- at the RNC's Platform Committee on Tuesday.

The poor fellow seemed to want the right thing, but by the time other members of the Committee amended the amendment, several times over, the original was completely gutted in favor of electronic computer tallies with no actual way to verify the accuracy of those tallies.

It seems the good-natured Kerby never knew what hit him, as he generously supported each change to his amendment, deferring to others who appeared to know more about voting, like fellow committee member Kansas Sec. of State Kris Kobach (responsible for the state's polling place Photo ID restrictions to help curb non-existent polling place voter fraud in Kansas, as well as serving as the author of Arizona's infamous anti-immigrant "Papers Please" law, most of which was found unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court recently.)

It was a good idea, but Kerby wasn't clear on the exact language he needed to use and that opened up the door for others on the committee --- who have more confidence in unverifiable electronic voting machines than in paper ballots --- to completely gut the original amendment, compared to the one originally introduced during the proceedings.

Kerby's initial amendment read as follows:

We recognize that paper ballots are the best way to insure [sic] a fair election. "Let ambition counter ambition," as Madison said. When all parties have representatives observing the counting of ballots in a transparent process, integrity is assured. We strongly suggest that all electronic voting systems have a printed paper ballot so that preliminary electronic results can be verified by a hard count of paper ballots.

While (most) electronic voting systems don't print "paper ballots" in general --- they print so-called "Voter-Verifiable Paper Audit Trails" (VVPATs) which may or may not reflect the actual intent of the voter, may or may not be verified by the voter as accurate, and are not actually counted by anyone, in any case (the internally recorded electronic results are used instead) --- it seems as if Kerby had the right idea, in general. At least as he offered a perfect description of his reasons for wanting to add include the amendment in the party's platform...

"I just believe that if a system can be corrupted, it will be corrupted," Kerby explained. "And I think we're a lot better off when all of us are looking over each others shoulders as ballots are counted then we are trusting in the voter machine fairy."

Given the number of times I've described most Americans who go vote and then go home to "wait for the election results fairy to let them know who won or lost," I'm gonna guess Kerby may have read The BRAD BLOG or heard me on radio at some point or another.

What he must surely have meant to call for was hand-counted paper ballots, counted in public, at the polls on election night in front of everyone, with results posted before the ballots are moved anywhere. We call that "Democracy's Gold Standard".

In any case, Kerby had the right-ish idea, even though his initially introduced amendment --- calling for a "printed paper ballot" allowing for a "hard count of paper ballots" --- wasn't perfectly worded. At least the principle of "all of us looking over each others shoulders as ballots are counted" was clear, even if the amendment he introduced --- and certainly the final one which was adopted by the Platform Committee --- wouldn't allow for anything of the kind.

Poor Mr. Kerby. He never knew what hit him --- or his amendment.

First, a delegate from Maryland (Ms. Selenga?) offered a "friendly amendment" to it, explaining that in her state, "we been fighting this and the correct words that we've used is a 'Voter-Verified Paper Audit Trail'" She explains that it's "exactly what it stated, the voter verifies the paper audit trails, so it doesn't just print out a piece of paper, but the voter verifies that that is indeed what they've chosen."

The delegate from Maryland doesn't know what she's talking about.

"Voter VerifiABLE Paper Audit Trails" or VVPATs are the printed rolls of paper that some Direct Recording Electronic (DRE, usually touch-screen) voting machines print just before the electronic ballot is cast by the voter. Maryland still uses Diebold touch-screen machines with no VVPAT (along with Georgia they were the first states to start using them back in 2002, even though they have been known for years to be easily hacked and often just inaccurate, as a SAIC report exclusively obtained by The BRAD BLOG back in 2006 showed), and though the state legislature passed a measure calling for paper ballots years ago. That paper ballot initiative has never been carried out in MD.

The VVPATs she references are not necessarily verified by the voter. They are verifiable by the voter who may, or may not, actually bother to verify them. In either case, as mentioned above, they can be gamed and nobody ever actually counts them. The internal electronic results are used instead. So Kerby's hope of "looking over each other's shoulders as ballots are counted", rather than "trusting in the voter machine fairy" would be immediately dashed if, as the Maryland delegate requested, the words "printed paper ballot" are substituted with "voter-verified paper audit trail."

"If that's the technical term for that," Kerby politely obliged, he had no trouble agreeing to the substitution suggested by the disinformed Maryland delegate. And the gutting was under way.

To further help in "removing redundancy", they'd also strike everything after the word "hard count", so the words "paper ballot" would no longer appear at all in this amendment calling for overseeing the counting of paper ballots.

Kobach then rang in to support the changes, by authoritatively informing the assembled that the language from the delegate from Maryland was "correct" (it wasn't) and that "the voter-verified paper audit trail or VVPAT is something we are trying to move towards in a number of states."

He then added that, either way, with either a VVPAT or a "paper ballot that you then run through a scanner, you have a paper record that that vote was cast." Not that it was recorded accurately, mind you, but that the "vote was cast." Good enough, for Kobach's government work, apparently, so he offered his support for the "better" amended language.

Next up, Ms. Tzuma (don't know if that's how her name is spelled), who says she serves on the Mecklenberg County Board of Elections, the largest county in North Carolina --- where they use touch-screen voting systems almost exclusively --- argued that paper ballots are the problem, not the solution.

"What concerns me are paper ballots," she explained. "I'm all in favor of voter integrity [ed note: what does any of this have to do with voter integrity?!], but I would like to make a motion to strike that first sentence about paper ballots because I have a lot more confidence in our machines with our paper trail that we print, than I do in paper balloting."

She wants to strike almost everything in the amendment.

At that point, the Chair of the Platform Committee --- Gov. Bob "Forced Ultrasound" McDonnell of Virginia (where they also use 100% unverifiable touch-screen voting systems) --- suggested that the delegate from NC get together with Kobach and Kerby and work out new language for the amendment.

Later, after adopting an amendment to support the "electronic delivery of ballots" over the Internet to military men and women serving abroad, they revisit Kerby's amendment with some new, even more meaningless and vague language for the first sentence: "We recognize that having a physical verification of the voting process is the best way to insure [sic] a fair election."

The words "voting process" are then changed to "vote", as in "a physical verification of the vote".

But what is a "physical verification" in terms of transparent, overseeable vote-counting systems? Who knows? Does it even matter?

Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley of Pennsylvania, a state which uses, almost exclusively, unverifiable touch-screen voting systems which do not include VVPATs, complains that "physical verification" is impossible, since a voter cannot confirm that his vote is counted collectedly by a counter. Apparently, he, too, has more faith in 100% unverifiable electronic voting systems than in paper ballots.

"What we're trying to do here is just get to the principle that we don't trust electronic voting without a paper backup," Kerby responds, almost desperately, having long ago lost his well-intentioned platform battle for paper ballots to approval of electronic voting in which "paper backup" is meaningless. (How much do you want to bet he's a Ron Paul supporter?)

"It's a philosophical thing and we're not trying to dictate procedure," Kerby says at the end. "It's a philosophical idea that we don't trust electronic voting without a physical backup."

By then, his philosophical idea was all but dead in the RNC Platform Committee. But it was a nice try.

A few more speakers, including Delbert Hosemann, the Sec. of State of Mississippi, instruct the committee that, in their state, where 100% unverifiable touch-screens are used, testing has shown that their machines are perfectly "accurate".

"In each instance over the last four years," Hosemann says, "we have had zero instances of our machines being incorrect and they have been verified by technical people in each and every election without problem. ... We've taken quite a bit of time to go back and verify the machine count and in each and every instance they have been accurate."

How he knows that they've been "accurate" (hint: he can't know) is not mentioned, though he does offer this enlightening gem: "On our machines, we do have paper ballots that verify."

Good luck this November, Mississippi! Hosemann has your back.

Lt. Gov. Cawley of Pennsylvania joins Hosemann in his unquestioning faith in unverifiable electronic voting systems. He reminds us that the problems with vote counting all started in 2000 in Florida "which were, by the way, paper ballots." He doesn't bother to note that the problems weren't as much with the paper ballots, as with the Republican Party's successful lawsuit at the U.S. Supreme Court demanding that those paper ballots not actually be counted --- by anyone.

"Time and time again these electronic voting machines have proven to be accurate," Cawley says, as leprechauns and unicorns flit across the C-SPAN screen. (That point about leprechauns and unicorns is as true as Cawley's statement.)

The last comment in support of the amendment comes from the very confused Maryland delegate again, the one who supports a "Voter-verified Paper Audit Trail" on 100% unverifiable touch-screen systems "so that you know your vote is counted a certain way and that there is a way to go back and check the vote and not just hit the recount button on the electronic machines."

Did I mention how confused that woman is? Under her scheme, there is absolutely no way "to go back and check the vote," to know that the system registered it accurately as per the voters' intent. The only option, under her plan, whether she knows it or not, is to "just hit the recount button on the electronic machines."

Kerby's amendment finally passed, completely gutted and meaningless, and with a fair number of voice votes against it. "In the opinion of the chair," McDonnell announced, "the amendment is adopted."

Here is the final language approved by the RNC Platform Committee:

We recognize that having a physical verification of the vote is the best way to ensure a fair election. "Let ambition counter ambition," as Madison said. When all parties have representatives observing the counting of ballots in a transparent process, integrity is assured. We strongly support the policy that all electronic voting systems have a voter verified paper audit trail.

Too bad nobody can, or will, observe the counting of ballots in a transparent process, as Kerby's amendment calls for, even if it was adopted by every state in the union.

The voter machine fairy wins again.

[Hat-tip Karoli at Crooks & Liars for the heads up on this RNC platform amendment!]

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The entire discussion of Pat Kerby's RNC Platform amendment, from intro to adoption, on 8/21/12, follows below...

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• See TPM's Ryan Reilly on the RNC formally adopting calls for polling place Photo ID restriction in every state.

• And kudos to RNC delegate Mary Dye from Washington state, for her amendment opposing all Vote-by-Mail elections (we oppose them as well). This was her statement of principle, as adopted by the RNC Platform Committee: "States that use vote-by-mail cannot assure the integrity of the ballot. Ballots mailed to every registered voter cannot verify the voter who cast the ballot and ballots must be considered at-large and at-risk."

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