Blueprint to an uncontested election
Our country has lost confidence in the election process. It's clear that our system needs an overhaul, and it's not too soon to start thinking about ways to prevent 2020's disastrous outcome. The following proposal, which optimizes transparency, would restore voter confidence in our election process.
Confidence through Redundancy
Designers working on data-processing systems for satellites where physical repairs are difficult use triple-modular redundancy, which triples the hardware units processing each piece of data. "Voter" hardware would look at each result and accept a result only if it achieved two or more matches. Accounting's double-entry system is based on a similar concept: reach a conclusion via two separate ways, and verify that they match.
For elections, both major parties would provide ballot-tabulating machines. They would send the results to the national parties and governing authorities for macro-tabulation and public viewing. If they matched, that would be the correct result. Should they not match, the precinct would physically recount ballots, with both parties witnessing the procedure. The physical count would be the deciding result. People could still request absentee ballots.
Ballots — Ballots would start as a blank sheet with only a simple code on the bottom (e.g., Year-State-County-Precinct-Serial Number). This way, every ballot would be unique.
Vote Casting Machines — Casting machines should have no external connection, wired or wireless, to the internet or other external source. During the election, the only cord should be for power. Voters would insert blank ballots into these machines. After voting, the machine would print a document for the voter's review. The document would have only English words and the numerical ID but no QR codes. The voter, after approving the printout, would carry the completed ballot to the counting machines. I live in North Tarrant County, Texas (Fort Worth), and the machines they use appear to fit the bill.
Counting Machines — Each major party would provide a counting machine and be responsible for the machine's accuracy. Again, these machines would have no ability to communicate externally. Voters would run their ballot through each machine for it to read, and then put the ballot in a sealed box. At the end of each day's voting, the counting machines and all sealed boxes would be moved to a secure and monitored area overnight.
Results could be disclosed only once all voting was complete. Data within the machines would be indexed and sorted by the ballot ID to prevent duplicate counting (i.e., running a ballot through one machine multiple times). A counting machine would need only two ports: a power cord and a USB port to export results.
Before the Election
Once poll workers verified a voter's identification, the voter could pick from among several blank ballots to ensure that the ballot ID number is arbitrary, to ensure vote confidentiality. Voters would record their ballot ID numbers so that, after the election, they could verify that their votes were recorded properly.
During the Election
Early voting would start two weeks before the election, with evening and weekend hours to assure that everyone has a chance to vote. All voting would be in person with approved ID (except requested absentee ballots). Daily voter counts would be maintained and reported to both parties and election officials. These voter counts would later be compared against the vote totals the counting machines reported. The election would terminate at the same time for all states (sorry, Hawaii), preventing partial results or projections from affecting voting in the western states.
After Polls Close
In-person voting results would be available for the entire country within an hour after the polls closed. Each precinct would attach a zip drive to its respective counting machines and download the voting results to an unencoded and easy-to-import spreadsheet application (I prefer .csv format). The precincts would then submit their results to their parties at the state and national levels. The party, in turn, would forward the file to its respective county, state, and federal election officials. At every step, the file recipients would post the results for anyone to download. The votes from each party's counting machines could be verified against each other, and individuals could go online and use their ballot IDs to ensure that their votes were counted.
For election result expediency, if there are discrepancies between the two counts, the precincts would do physical recounts of a single day's ballots for the candidate seeking the highest office on the ballot (for the most recent election, the presidency). After one party is established to be more accurate, that party's results shall have priority for the purpose of calling elections. Ultimately, all discrepancies shall be addressed. With all the information duplicated and online, anyone can check for duplicate ballots, count discrepancies, etc. Any problems will quickly become obvious to the people.
David Premo has a B.S. and M.S. degree in electrical engineering. My experience has included both computer hardware and software design. I am currently a small business–owner and entrepreneur and the sole developer of an open source accounting application.
Image: Ballot box by ArtJane. Pixabay license.