the transparent scrutineer

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Companion article to the frustrated voter, the transparent scrutineer explores the counting, complexity, training, balloting place neutrality, spoiled ballots, recounts, media circuses, e-voting and other voter trust issues in changing ballot and election systems. A third article, the responsive party explores how political parties should learn from the more expressive ballot and expand their appeal with directed outreach or alliances with those most likely to hear their message.

the following is from the frustrated voter, edit and expand please!

counting and complexity[edit]

backwards-compatible ballots[edit]

Since a ballot marked exactly the same as an FPTP ballot can be interpreted as a first-rank or maximum-points-allocated ballot under the more complex systems, ballot complexity is not an issue for either. By contrast, MMP ballots absolutely require two marks unless a vote for a candidate is interpreted by default as also a vote for his or her party.

marking, hand-counting/recount and interpretation issues[edit]

Not all of these methods are equally amenable to hand-counting and scrutineering. As the complexity and cost of counting the ballots by hand increases, some of these methods will become impractical. As electioneers begin to change to mechanical vote-reading methods, some of these remain easy to read with mark-sense, punch-card, or optical scan, and others become unlikely. Worst case, electronic counting methods might become relied upon exclusively, so that even if ballots were in principle possible to recount, in practice they would not be, leaving these methods open to all the fraud potential of e-voting.

Interpretation of hard-to-read or non-standard ballots gets harder under the more expressive ballot schemes also. In the first-past-the-post and other traditional methods, any ballot not marked exactly as indicated is 'spoiled'. In the methods shown later, many ballots marked in even slightly unusual ways will remain subject to debate. What if they were clearly marked, and a clear preference expressed, but in ways not prescribed? Did they misunderstand the instructions or just wish to express their individuality? In some close or very contentious votes, marginal votes like that could become a significant proportion, making "hanging chads" look like a simple issue by comparison.

Still, the value of political expressiveness and retaining the possibility of a practical hands-and-eyes paper recount by qualified scrutineers is so great that some solutions to these problems should probably be considered. A few such:

  • Accept voter input electronically in the booth, with extensive help, but print a paper ballot they can verify and mark as acceptable. An electronic tally could be kept, or not, but should have no legal significance other than to help signal potential frauds to investigate.
  • Set an objective standard for the user-friendliness of ballots to both the voter and the counter. For instance, 99% of citizens must be able to mark the ballot correctly and readably when motivated (say by a reward for participating in a test) and 85% of literate citizens must be able to count these ballots to within 95% accuracy given a training program of a single working day. This permits balloting and counting schemes to be tested in advance to these thresholds, and any chance to legally object to them would then be exhausted well before the pressure of an election. If the thresholds are too low, they can be adjusted before the next election.
  • Educate people in primary and secondary school how to use such ballots.
  • Accept a marking method of numerals as Roman-style marks (III for 3) and implement any negative or disapproval marks by putting them in a different column rather than using "minus" or "negative" marks. This may reduce the dependence on literacy as Arabic numerals need not be employed.

where's the real complexity? hidden versus visible[edit]

Note, also, that the complexity of some STV counting schemes is significant and the complexity of district border "gerrymandering" under MMP and FPTP schemes is actually much greater than that of anything above. It is probably a false hope to expect the overall system of districting, nominating and electing representatives to get so simple that all aspects of it could be fully understood by a majority of the public. A general education program on the full complexity of the system as it exists is probably the best antidote to objections of any new complexities.

As with e-voting, systems can be simple for the end user but more complex and less reliable as a result of seeking that simplicity. This principle should guide any advocate who encounters objections regarding "complexity".

democracy demands transparency increase over time[edit]

Democracy probably requires over time a generally higher assumption of public education and the removal of complex hidden processes that have been exploited by power elites and used to "simplify" democracy for the public. Where the public chooses to rely on some group of experts to say draw district borders, the process by which this is done should remain visible. So in such schemes as BSTV+C+L, while ecologists would be the primary authorities drawing objective district borders, there would be many opportunities to object to their recommendations or challenge experts, certainly not fewer opportunities than exist under gerrymandering.