Re: Hand-marked ballots [OVC-discuss Digest, Vol 28, Issue 30]

From: Nancy Tobi <ntobi_at_democracyfornewhampshire_dot_com>
Date: Sat Feb 17 2007 - 13:53:50 CST

Mr Richards et al,

I am quite used to this type of response. We "villagers" in New Hampshire
conduct hand count elections in towns processing as many as 4,000 ballots.
This is 3-4 times the national average of number of ballots processed in any
given polling place (which is 911).

Clearly not everyone knows each other in these towns. The matter of respect
and honor in the system speaks more to the method and management than to the
bucolic nature of NH towns to which Mr. Richards, rather derisively,
refers.It is the method and management that engender the trust and
respect, and not
the other way around.

It also speaks to NH's culture and sociopolitical and legal tradition of
grassroots democracy, enshrined in our Constitution (which states that our
votes shall be "sorted and counted in open meeting" - since 1784), in our
infrastructure of checks and balances, which also Constitutionally
requires eight
elected election officials for every polling place, keeping watch on each
other and beholden to the voters' will to keep them in office, and to our
laws, which provide accessible and financially feasible recounts, all
conducted manually, among others.

It is easy to be derisive, harder to pay attention and study the elements
that make up REAL democratic elections, which are, I believe, tied to the
concept of community. These elements, while historically in place in New
Hampshire, can be replicated anywhere. Every neighborhood in this country
has a sense of community, be it in the Boys & Girls Club, the Rotary, Church
Groups, Neighborhood Watch, PTA, or whatever.

Trust and respect ARE buildable when community is acknowledged. And if you
want real democratic elections, you would do well to consider these aspects
of human society that support such a a thing.

New Hampshire has the honor of having the longest serving Secretary of State
in the nation. The Honorable Bill Gardner, re-elected every two years by the
NH legislature. Coming into office at age 28, with the self-expressed goal
of bringing more people into the political process, Secretary Gardner has
the historical and administrative continuity of office that has allowed NH
to develop some of the more efficient and effective methods of election
administration. Even with our opscan cities and towns.

Democratic elections do not happen by accident - they take hard work. We are
willing to do this, and so can everyone else in the nation. Take off your
blinders and be willing to learn.

Another common misconception is that New Hampshire can hand count because we
have simple ballots. After all, we're rural, right? We must be simple too.
Maybe even simple minded. Who knows.

But the fact of the matter is, we have some of the more complex ballots in
the nation. With our multimember districts, and our issue-laden ballots, we
face significant challenges in our election administration. I myself was a
counter in a State Rep race recount. We had 26 candidates for 13 seats and
14,000 ballots. With around 20 counters and 20 observers/challengers, it
took us around 15 hours to count just that one race.

We understand the challenges of hand counting, and we continue to study ways
to improve and enhance our election integrity. These methods are
translatable to other locales precisely because we have the experience
dealing with ballot complexity and large numbers of ballots processed in any
given polling place.

Next time you think of New Hampshire's election integrity, maybe you will
appreciate just what goes into it. We are happy to share what we have
learned over the years. For the sake of our nation's democratic future, I
hope you are willing to learn and share your knowledge as well.

If anyone wants a copy of our "We're Counting the Votes and You Can Too"
kit, you can download it or ask me to send you a print version.

downloadable videos here:


Nancy Tobi, Chair
Democracy for New Hampshire
DFNH Fair Elections Committee
PO Box 717 | Concord, NH 03301
On 2/17/07, Hamilton Richards <> wrote:
> Ms. Tobi's account of voting and vote counting in an idyllic New
> Hampshire village paints a very attractive picture. How lovely it
> would be if all voters were so idealistic and all election officials
> so pure-hearted!
> Sad to say, history is full of counterexamples. The same dark forces
> that subverted recent elections in Florida and Ohio would be quick to
> seize the opportunities presented by personalized ballots. Some
> voters would be bribed, and others intimidated, into voting for the
> Dark Party's candidates, and their identifiable ballots would be
> checked for proof of their cooperation.
> According to Doug Jones's excellent tutorial [1], it was outraged
> response to widespread fraud in the 1884 elections that led to the
> introduction of the secret ballot in the US. To preserve ballots'
> anonymity, they are required to be marked according to strict rules;
> since departure from the rules could be used to make a ballot
> identifiable, ballots with stray marks or nonstandard markings are
> supposed to be discarded.
>     And now two valuable principles collide. To head off vote buying
> and coercion ballots must be anonymous, but every ballot where the
> voter's intent is "clear" must be honored. What should we do with an
> identifiable ballot whose intent is clear?
>     In Ms. Tobi's idyllic village, the choice is obvious. Families
> have known one another for generations, and everyone knows their
> neighbors would never sell their votes (even if anyone were offering
> to buy). Every voter's political beliefs are respected, and there's
> no reason for anyone to fear retribution for voting their conscience.
>     Unfortunately, such idyllic villages are not exactly common
> nowadays, and as the decades-long trend to urbanization proceeds,
> they are increasingly rare. In today's urbs and suburbs, we don't
> know all of our fellow voters. I've lived in the same house in Austin
> for 28 years, but the national average is more like 5 years. When I
> go to vote, I seldom recognize more than one or two other voters, and
> I hardly ever know the election judges.
>     In this situation, it's much less clear how to handle intent-clear
> ballots with stray marks or nonstandard markings (for example, check
> marks instead of X's). Are the marks innocent, or could they be
> intended to make the ballot identifiable to prove cooperation? The
> judges must decide. Are the judges' decisions objective and
> independent of which candidates the ballot supports? One would hope
> so, but the history of Texas politics hardly inspires confidence.
>     As far as I know, Austin's elections (which are actually run by
> Travis County) are relatively clean (though the adoption of DREs a
> few years ago is highly regrettable). Imagine what it would be like
> in certain districts in Ohio and Florida, where the officials in
> charge of elections have been caught using extraordinary measures to
> suppress the votes of some citizens (especially African-Americans).
> Would you trust their election judges to evaluate hand-marked ballots
> impartially?
> Of the several advantages of ballots printed by machine over those
> marked by hand the most important is that the element of corruptible
> human judgment is eliminated. The machine ensures not only that all
> ballots are strictly anonymous, but also that once a ballot has been
> verified by its voter there can be no grounds for declaring it
> invalid.
> If the villagers of New Hampshire want to use their ballots to
> express their personal commitment to country and community, that's
> fine with me. The rest of us, who can't rely on personal
> relationships to ensure the integrity of the vote, can cast our
> ballots anonymously, and we can find other ways to communicate with
> our fellow citizens.
> With best wishes,
> --Ham
> 1. <>
> At 9:13 AM -0800 2007/2/16, wrote:
> >
> >Message: 2
> >Date: Fri, 16 Feb 2007 12:13:05 -0500
> >From: "Nancy Tobi" <>
> >Subject: Re: [OVC-discuss] Hand-marked ballots [Re: OVC-discuss
> >       Digest, Vol 28, Issue 26]
> >To:, "Open Voting Consortium discussion
> >       list"   <>
> >Message-ID:
> >       <>
> >Content-Type: text/plain; charset="windows-1252"
> >
> >I like to think about this in terms of "what instances of life merit our
> >personal, human touch"? Where is technology warranted, where is it not.
> >
> >For instance, I would not want a marriage contract marker. Or a bank loan
> >marker.
> >
> >Similarly, I would not want a machine to mark my American ballot, which
> is
> >my signature of commitment to my American Republic and the community in
> >which I live.
> >
> >I would want to know that my hand marked commitment is read, discerned,
> and
> >understood by my fellow countrymen/women, who in their reading of my
> intent,
> >signify their commitment back to me.
> >
> >Those of you who have never participated in a hand count election should
> >view our videos online, or better, come to NH for one of our statewide
> >recounts.
> >
> >We know, from reading our neighbor's ballots, that sometimes their
> political
> >expression is so intensely personal that they choose to mark their ballot
> in
> >their own unique manner, which may not be welcomed by a machine reader,
> but
> >which is certainly understood by their human neighbors determining their
> >voter intent.
> >
> >I don't believe that, with something as personal and precious as our vote
> >for freedom and liberty, we should be restricting our expression to that
> >permitted by a computer.
> >
> >Nancy
> >
> --
> ------------------------------------------------------------------
> Hamilton Richards, PhD           Department of Computer Sciences
> Senior Lecturer (retired)        The University of Texas at Austin
> ------------------------------------------------------------------
> _______________________________________________
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Received on Wed Feb 28 23:17:21 2007

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