Illustration by Jen Kelly

Ballot Burning for the Modern Meddler

Why we need to stick with physical ballots

Why we need to stick with physical ballots

In 1960, the Kennedys tried to steal the White House. A Kennedy ended up living in the White House, so they may have succeeded. Maybe they stole the election, maybe they didn’t. But because we have the physical ballots, no one can dispute that they tried. In the modern world of voting machines and election apps, we might never know who tries in the future.

If you wanted to rig an election in 1960, you needed a plan, a large team, a smokey basement in Chicago and a lot of money. You needed someone to go to a graveyard and register corpses to vote. You needed to catalog abandoned houses and figure out how many dead or fake people you could put in each one. You needed to physically go out and beat up a few voters—possibly even commit a murder or 20. You needed a large operation full of trusted members willing to do all of this. And perhaps most importantly, you needed to be fine with everyone knowing that you just tried to rig an election.

Stealing an election was incredibly difficult, dangerous, obvious and almost completely ineffective if one candidate had a significant lead. Voting with a paper ballot clearly isn’t a perfect system, but the attempted rigging of the 1960 election is almost common knowledge. We have the paper to prove it.

We know what paper is. We hold it in our hands almost every day. Casting a ballot is an anonymous and easily-understandable physical action. It’s traceable at every step of the way, and we can tell if the ballots don’t make it to their destination.

Conspiracy with physical ballots is possible, even probable, but not effective on a large scale. Certainly, physical ballots aren’t perfect, but they are hard to mess with in a way that will significantly affect an election. There are doubts that, even with all the tampering and violence, the attempted rigging of the 1960 election even changed the result.

Electronic voting, on the other hand, is vulnerable in ways paper voting is not. When you stand in front of a voting machine, there are some questions you probably have.

The most important part of getting people to vote is the trust that the vote goes somewhere. It’s counted. The vote is verifiable, and the process is easily understandable.

Who made the voting machine? Who paid for it? When you press a virtual button on a screen, how do you know the machine tallies it, or gives it to the right candidate? How do you know it reaches a database where it will be counted? Do you know what the software being used is, how it works, if it’s secure, how to tell if it has been tampered with, if the machine is connected to the internet — as many inexplicably are— or if it has been calibrated properly?

The odds are that you don’t. I don’t. Nobody does. Nobody besides the people who managed to remotely change a voting machine’s final tally. Nobody besides interested parties in our own system who might want the election to turn out a certain way. Voting machines are incredibly vulnerable. They are outdated upon release, not tested properly, easy to manipulate and often connected to the internet for some reason.

You don’t have to call on the crime syndicates of the country anymore. You don’t have to organize a massive conspiracy. All you need to rig an election is to know how to hack a virtually-undefended voting machine.

The most important part of getting people to vote is the trust that the vote goes somewhere. It’s counted. The vote is verifiable, and the process is easily understandable.

Electronic voting doesn’t just open our system up to attacks from malicious parties. It erodes the trust between the voter and the system. This would be true even if everything was perfect—even if there was no one meddling. But there is someone meddling. We know there is. There always has been and there always will be. It wasn’t just 1960 and it wasn’t just Democrats. The question isn’t, “Who would rig an election?” It’s, “Who wouldn’t rig an election?”

If someone’s going to attempt to rig the 2020 election in the same way as the 1960 election—and they possibly already have—I want them to have to work for it. I want them to have to go out to graveyards, get their hands dirty and threaten some grandmas. I was disappointed by the Iowa caucuses. These days it’s hard to tell the difference between epic, mind-blowing incompetence and election theft. If these elections are going to be a complete farce, ditch the apps and voting machines. If there’s going to be ballot burning, I want to see the flames.

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