As you leave the polling place this November, you may think you cast a ballot for your preferred presidential candidate, but did you? Are you sure?
The truth is, you didn’t vote for president and in Brazos County you can’t even be certain your choice was accurately recorded.
In the convoluted system we use for presidential elections, when you click on your choice that’s not where your vote goes. Instead of voting for president, you really voted for a group of intermediaries whose names aren’t even on the ballot. These folks then get together and vote. Their votes, not yours, decide who will be president.
Who designed such a byzantine system? Actually, nobody. It just kind of happened.
As envisioned by America’s founders and enshrined in the Constitution, it served a purpose, but that was lost long ago. Back in the 1780s, democracy was still a new and radical idea. No-one at the Constitutional Convention was sure if the people could be trusted to choose a president, so they decided to leave that choice to “electors” who were expected to be wiser, more experienced gentlemen chosen by state legislatures. In theory, each elector would use his best judgment in casting his ballot.
As often happens though, practice quickly diverged from theory, judgment went out the window and electors found themselves bound to vote for a particular party candidate. Thus the whole idea behind inserting intermediaries into the process was obviated. Now, the system serves only as an obstacle to democracy, as several recent elections have demonstrated. So why do we keep using it? Mostly just because we do. It’s as if we insisted on tallying the vote using Roman Numerals.
Except it’s even more absurd than that and anti-democratic as well. Texas and 46 other states award their electoral votes on a winner-take-all basis. The presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes, even if it’s barely 50% of the total, gets all the electoral votes. This effectively disenfranchises the voters in the minority. Their votes just don’t count, thanks to the way the idea behind the Electoral College has been perverted. Just within the past few election cycles, two presidents have taken office after losing the popular vote.
As if that weren’t bad enough, voting machines in Brazos County create no paper records and thus there is no effective audit trail whereby voters can be confident their votes were recorded accurately. There are machines that do produce the paper record most Texans prefer, but in 2018, when Brazos County commissioners awarded the contract for new voting machines, they chose a company whose machines are without that capability. Only one commissioner, Irma Cauley, voted in accord with public support of an auditable paper trail.
Today the only way to get a hard copy of your vote is via mail-in ballot, but in Texas their use is strictly limited and efforts to expand availability, which would also reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19, have been thwarted by our own state attorney general.
Why is it a big deal for a voter to get a hard copy receipt for his ballot? Because as everyone should have learned by now, anything electronic is subject to malfunction and hacking. In fact, 21 states were told by the Department of Homeland Security in 2017 that hackers had attempted to penetrate their electoral systems. In 2019 a Senate report disclosed that all 50 states had been targeted after the Senate dumped the Secure Elections Act which would have helped states purchase paper trail voting machines and required election results be audited for accuracy.
Later efforts to ensure election security fared no better. H.R. McMaster, the president’s national security adviser, proposed a task force to focus on election safeguards. McMaster was fired, his proposal never acted on. After the election security adviser for the Director of National Intelligence warned the House Intelligence Committee that there was evidence Russia planned to interfere in the next election — the president fired the director. Again no action was taken on the warning.
We have an electoral system known to be under attack but left vulnerable despite multiple warnings. Measures proposed to address the threat have been ignored, dismissed and discarded. Our system doesn’t work as intended, produces results often at odds with the will of the voters, and cannot be audited effectively or confirmed accurate.
We’ll go to the polls this November hoping our votes will be accurately recorded instead of being certain of it. The only way future elections will be made more democratic and more secure is if we demand it.
If we demand change.
Tom Kiske is a local author and businessman. He can be reached at email@example.com.