Keep it Simple: Paper Ballots

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The immediate vote sizing objective, simply put, is to integrate computers with the actual voting process in order to tally up all our newly resized votes in an accountable and manageable manner. But now, before getting too caught up in the theoretical aspects, let’s take a moment to look at the technology side and address a major concern for many regarding how we are going to utilize computers without becoming dependent on them.

There’s nothing more important than accountability and transparency. When it comes to voting for political office, the danger from inaccuracy is at its peak. So any use of computer technology to assist elections must be approached with an incredible amount of care and respect. In times when we trust computers to help us manage our bank accounts, personal correspondence, news, entertainment, appliances, manufacturing, transportation, communication (gosh, have I forgotten anything?) it’s only natural to allow them to help us manage our democratic ideals too… but that doesn’t mean that we can be negligent and hand over the entire voting process to computers. Although vote sizing embraces computer technology and information processing, we also should be very careful to avoid being at its mercy.

No matter how nifty the latest fad seems to a few lobbyists, computerized, touch-screen, internet and similar methods of voting have continually been proven untrustworthy; so the best method is to limit their use as much as possible and keep it tangible – which means paper. An additional crucial difference is to remind voters that when they cast their vote, they’re affecting the next term of government, and rubbing a finger on a cold glass picture tube just doesn’t seem as significant as leaving our mark by taking a felt marker in one hand and a piece of paper in the other.

In a Canadian federal election, voting is simply a matter of marking an ‘x’ beside the preferred candidate’s name, folding the ballot, and handing it to the poll clerk to be placed in a box. The count is handled this way: scrutineers from each party watch the process at each polling place and alert the officials if anything is out of order. Then they, along with election officials, count every ballot, keeping a tally for each candidate. If the counts agree at the end of the process, the results are phoned in and everyone goes home. If they don’t, the count is done again. Fairness is achieved by balanced self-interest, not by technology. The population of .[i]

Unlike trail-less virtual votes, paper votes leave a tangible, accountable and verifiable paper trail in case of a dispute or recount. That’s why vote sizing is not electronic voting, instead fully endorsing the use of paper ballots over electronic ballots. What’s the use of a sized vote when computer malfeasance can deny you your voice? But many skeptics worry about vote sizing because of its need to cross-reference ballots with incomes. How can vote sizing, which depends upon tax records, go hand-in-hand with paper ballots? Easy − with the use of bar codes. Bar code printers and scanners are cheap and plentiful, allowing even the poorest nations to implement vote sizing.

The process as we envision it works like this: At the polling station each voter receives a printed paper ballot, just like the regular ballot used in most countries today. The difference is that these ballots are personalized for each voter, so that each includes a barcode that when scanned reveals the person’s income, gathered from tax records. Included in the ballot is a tear-off section, which has a duplicate image of the barcode as well as typed-out personal information for the voter to match so that the correct income information is attached to the ballot. After marking her choice, the voter tears off this section and deposits the remainder of the ballot − which has no identifying personal information – into the ballot box. The stub can serve as a receipt or else be put through a shredder nearby. Then, much as in counting regular paper ballots, the ballot boxes are collected and sent to a centralized center where an offline scanner can read the barcodes and size each vote accordingly.

A ballot leaves a paper trail, and barcodes can be verified by off-line scanners at the polling station to relay tax information without identifying the voter.

A ballot leaves a paper trail, and barcodes can be verified by off-line scanners at the polling station to relay tax information without identifying the voter.

ealth / Power Curves

While computers would be used to size the votes in this way, there are proper safeguards maintained throughout each stage: Votes would still be cast in the traditional manner, counting would be conducted manually in an open way, there is full oversight and a paper trail for recounts when necessary and − most importantly − a separation from a costly and volatile over-dependence on computers.

  • Before rushing into the details for some different vote sizing proposals, we ought to take a little time to articulate a clear picture of how we view society as it currently stands − for only by becoming familiar with our own perceptions can we move ahead to trying to fix our How can we decide the best way to adjust the vote sizes without knowing what we’re adjusting them against?
  • But how shall we do this? We can try to talk about it and research all the different opinions out there, but it’s still going to be tricky to simplify and pin everything down in order to come up with the simplest vote sizing formula possible. Once again, however, the technological age we live in will be of use; for with it came a mindset that is different from our ancestors’, as we now think in terms of charts, spreadsheets, databases etc. So even when it comes to visualizing our social ills, we can make use of the same wealth vs. power chart that’s used in the vote sizing calculations. Basically, let’s plot as wealth / power curves some possible interpretations of our current state of affairs.
Different wealth / power curves represent different interpretations of how our society functions.

Different wealth / power curves represent different interpretations of how our society functions.

The curve is affected by all kinds of things that determine the way wealth and power interact: wealth distribution, social welfare programs, spiritual attitudes, media control, resource dependency, and geographical and geopolitical properties. But one thing is certain: in almost any society this line arcs upward, with the amount of political power per person increasing exponentially with the amount of wealth they have. The placement of the line has fluctuated in the past and will fluctuate in the future and differently in different locations. But without structural change in our political system, it will always retain the same basic shape.

[i] PBS I, Cringley, “Follow the Money, Why the Best Voting Technology May Be No Technology at All,” December 11, 2003.

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