Monitoring who votes

I don’t know if this is happening everywhere, just in the battleground states, just in Virginia, or just in states that require election officers to audibly repeat the name and address of voters as they check in. But this practice disturbs me. From Parties Assign Lawyers to Watch Polls, Turnout – washingtonpost.com:

A training manual that the Virginia Democratic Party distributed to hundreds of lawyer volunteers instructs them on the Obama campaign’s get-out-the-vote effort, called the “Houdini Project.” Lawyers will periodically enter into a database the names of those who have cast ballots so that campaign staff can contact those who have not voted, almost in real time.

“The research that has been done is extremely professional and really unbelievable,” said David Traynor, 24, of Ireland, who traveled to New Mexico to volunteer in the Obama campaign and has blogged on the subject. “It could have a significant effect on the vote, perhaps 2 to 3 percent.”

The training manual instructs volunteers stationed inside the polling places to “mark down targeted voters as they vote.” They will be able to get voters’ names, because Virginia law states that officers of election must repeat “in a voice audible to party and candidate representatives present, the full name and address” of the voter. (If the officer of election does not do this, the manual also instructs volunteers “to politely remind them of their obligation to do so.”)

Then twice during the day, at 9:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., volunteers inside the polls are supposed to pass the list of voters who have cast their ballots to the lawyers outside the polling place. They, in turn, will call in to a central database and enter four-digit codes assigned to each voter. The names of those who have voted will be removed from the voter database created by the campaign — their names will disappear, hence the name Houdini — so that campaign workers can knock on doors and call those who haven’t voted.

The concept of the secret ballot should be more than just a technical requirement having to do with the content of one’s votes. It should be a principle that governs the whole rite of voting. I’m not even going to tell any exit-pollsters how I voted. I realize that might throw off the networks’ early predictions, but there it is.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • FW

    Interesting that you should raise this issue Dr Vieth.

    I have been reading lately from the founding fathers and others about voting rights, and many of them, to my surprise were not in favor of secret ballots. they felt that people should be open about who they vote for as a matter of integrity.

    On the other hand, maybe this view has been (correctly) tempered by experience. as in black voting up until the civil rights movement.

    A newer third wrinkle has been the issues raised about registrations, and voter ID. so this does in fact provide a safeguard where interested parties can verify voter validity.

    I believe that voter registration lists are public records and as such available to everyone. am i wrong on this? IF so, the issue that you raise is really a moot one is it not? if the registration lists are public, then how exactly does it matter substantively to have a voter´s name announced when he votes?

    finally, the really important question is why you feel that secret ballot is important and why, and then determine if what you describe undermines those reasons in some way. it seems to me that secret ballots shield people from peer pressure or undue influence on who they vote for. I am not seeing where announcing the names and addresses of those who vote violate these two reasons for secret ballots dr vieth. care to enlighten me dear sir?

  • Susan aka organshoes

    Why lawyers?
    Funny how easily Obama’s campaign could come up with this well-oiled Houdini Project–a training manual and timed procedures, no less; immediate removal of a person’s name from a database–but could not figure out the complexity of verifying its small-dollar donors.
    Do they just not trust the voter or the system? Must it all be managed?
    Again: why lawyers?
    FW: it reeks because a voter’s name is spoken only for the benefit of the workers at the polls, and then only those in the immediate vicinity, for the purposes of verifying; not for the use or advantage of any candidate. I’d challenge it as a misuse of my name–and my address–by persons (a political machine) not intended by that law.
    Let them do their own research.
    And why lawyers?

  • The Jones

    In my state, electioneering, is illegal within 600 ft of a polling place. That includes buttons, pins, T-Shirts and even conversation about candidates or parties. I’m surprised this practice is allowed.

  • Susan aka organshoes

    Ditto, The Jones. What are volunteers for a specific candidate doing inside the polling place?
    Or, is this going to be addressed like the questionable donors: it’ll all get reconciled *after* the election?

  • Eric M

    Procedures may require the voter’s name to be repeated out loud so that the judges verify the correct name. OK fine. But as Susan and “The Jones” note in #3 and #4, there is no electioneering in or around the polling place. Volunteers from candidates should not be there. If they are, they can potentially influence the vote.

  • WebMonk

    I’m with Susan on this. I can’t imagine what use this would have to the voting process itself. It seems to be a specific concession to campaigning.

    Outside of that though, I can’t say I’m upset about Obama using the system cleverly. I’m sure McCain’s campaign would do the same if they had thought of it and had the money. I don’t think the possibility should be there in the first place, but since it’s there it would be stupid for a candidate not to use it.

    FW, I think I don’t like it because I think a secret ballot should be more fully secret – it should be a secret whether or not you voted, not just who you voted for. Voter registration lists, in many instances, are catch-all lists generated from just about everyone who gets a drivers license, so there’s not much significant data. Frankly I would prefer that even those lists not be made available to candidates or researchers, but I’m less concerned about those lists.

    The entire goal of secret ballots is to shield voters from undue pressure from candidates. Obviously “undue” is a major word there. Are the targeted calls more “undue” than the barrage of advertising and stuff? I think it is – it gives the candidates specific access to place pressure on voters who haven’t yet voted for whatever reason.

    Why aren’t sign-carriers and people like that allowed within a certain distance of polling places? To avoid that “undue” pressure. I think providing a list of who has or hasn’t voted is coming too close to being the same sort of situation as the sign-carriers. It allows for a potentially abusive situation to happen, and the whole secret ballot concept is partially to stop that.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Veith

    The volunteers are checking off who votes as a way to see who doesn’t. Then they go out and drag their partisans who haven’t voted to the polling place. (Not all registered voters who haven’t cast their ballot, but only the ones they think will vote for their candidate.)

    I think people should have the right not to vote, if they don’t care to, and they shouldn’t be identified and pressured.

  • FW

    #7 Veith

    “pressured” is in the eye of the beholder. it is a rather subjective term is it not? if anything seems certain , it is that no one will be forced to vote in this election. your comment comes close to painting a different picture. “dragging” partisans paints an interesting word picture…..

  • http://www.scyldingsinthemeadhall.blogspot.com The Scylding

    In some countries, like Australia, voting is mandatory, and not voting is a punishable offense (I think just a fine, though).

  • Carl Vehse

    An article, A Repeat of 2004 Philly Voter Chaos, Fraud, reports GOP poll watchers have illegally been removed from precinct polling places.

    In the meantime, there is orderly demonrat party voting going on at Chicago area cemeteries.

  • Carl Vehse

    An article, McCain campaign sues over overseas military ballots, notes that the courts are being asked to extend the deadline for accepting overseas ballots, particularly from military personnel.

    Delay in sending out absentee ballots to the military, known to vote predominantly Republican, has been seen as a way, in addition to “getting lost in the mail” of reducing GOP votes.

  • Manxman

    This is just another sleazy political tactic for parties to mobilize the riff raff who haven’t got the character or brains to recognize the resposibilities associated with their citizenship. It corrupts the election process.

  • Anon

    The fraud is widespread with more than 200,000 fraudulent registrations in Ohio, 100,000 in Minnesota, tens of thousands in other States.

    The Democrat SOS project to get Democrat Secretaries of State elected this time around so that the vote can be tampered with has been fairly successful. They were extremely angry that the Florida Sec of State obeyed the law, preventing Gore from stealing the White House, in spite of the best attempts of the Dems to invalidate GOP and military ballots and create new Dem punches in the secret, unobserved “recounts”. The Stupid Party hasn’t had the wits to combat this.

    Nonetheless, the fear of many Republicans to admit not voting for The One may have skewed the polls substantially, and McCain might actually be in the lead. The car keyings, stolen signs, vandalism of vehicles and homes that the Dems have been engaging in, along with the attempted use of the law to attack dissidents from Obama have caused a lot of fear in McCain voters; to keep their identities secret.

    We need the purple fingers to prevent multiple voting. We need some means of verifying voters as allowing only non-felon American citizens who are alive and of age of majority to vote, and only once. Fingerprints on detachable portions of ballots, to be tallied separately from votes?

    No exit polls?

    No announcement of a winner until after the Electoral College votes? (the real election, BTW).

  • Kirk

    @Carl: Wow, I had no idea that the democrats had that much control over polling places, election commissions, voter registration, and the international mail system. Their organization is quite impressive.

  • Joe

    It is not electioneering. Electioneering is asking for someone’s vote. This is observing and keeping notes that are then used at a different location to encourage people to vote. Any person has the right to observe an election. This has been going on for at least the last three elections. I have participated in it as a lawyer for the Wisconsin GOP.

    In Wisconsin, where we have same day registration, in addition to keeping track of targeted voters, it is necessary to have people there to make sure people are properly registering. You don’t have to show a picture id; you can use a untility bill for proof of residency. It is often the case that under trained volunteers allow people to register with a magazine or a piece of personal correspondence which is not a valid id. It happens all the time and unless you are there to stop it or document it and have the ballot marked as disputed there is nothing you can do after it is cast.

    In Milwaukee it is also necessary to follow the ballots from the polling place to city hall. In 2004, we documented poll workers tossing ballots into a dumpster instead of taking them to city hall. None of this was litigated because Ohio went for Bush – but Wisconsin was almost became the Florida of 2004. After all Kerry won Wisconsin by only 11,000 votes.

    And lawyers are used because, in theory, they understand the legal process that will take place if there is a challenge so they will know what to document. The people who track targeted voters are not lawyers. The folks who observe the election workers to ensure they are following the law are.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    The Jones (@3), in my understanding, such laws prohibit campaigning for a candidate — that is to say, to try to influence people who are there to vote. This is nothing like that. These campaign workers are not there to influence people there to vote.

    I know you all think I’m hopelessly biased, so I will explain my reaction. Here in Oregon, we vote by mail. I got my ballot weeks ago, and turned it in (I don’t actually like to mail it back) a week ago. In Oregon, the fact that you’ve voted is a matter of public record, and everybody knows this because, as soon as you’ve turned in your ballot, you stop getting political flyers in your mailbox. This system is used by everyone — Republican and Democrat — and I’m fine with it. Certainly better than continuing to receive all that junk (which is therefore an incentive to vote early!).

    If you know enough about a person (date of birth, address), you can even look up in the state’s database to see if they’ve voted — I did this to myself to make sure my ballot had been received by the county.

    I see no problem with this. The point of the secret ballot, as I understand it, is to prevent the influence and/or buying of votes other than your own. This system is still in place if someone knows that you’ve voted, if not for whom.

    I guess Virginia doesn’t have such a database (because they don’t have such a long voting period?), so Obama’s campaign figured out a way to implement one. It may unnerve Virginians, but not this Oregonian.

  • Joe Medley

    The Houdini system is just a new twist on an old practice. Someone once asked Abe Lincoln how to win an election. He answered something like, “Make a list of your supporters and get them to the polls.”

  • J

    tODD @16 is right.
    Let’s bone up on basic civics. The secret ballot protects the secrecy of your ballot preference, not the fact that you did or did not vote. I learned this years ago when I worked as a reporter; my paper habitually checked to see if elected officials voted – not just in elections involving themselves but in all kinds of special elections. We’d always catch a few who did not vote.
    But the point is that it’s public information whether one votes, just as it’s public information whether you’re registered to vote. Campaigns buy these lists to send us all kinds of campaign flyers.

  • The Jones

    tODD @ 16,

    I understand your point. I’ve been involved in some rather sophisticated ways of reminding people to vote, too. But that all went on out in the field, in the door-to-door field, the phone-banking field, the massive-lists-of-registered-voters-in-campaign-offices field. Even though that’s a necessary part of campaigning, I just always had this feeling (and at least in my state, the law has this feeling, too) that the voting place is non-partisan, non-electioneering, un-biased, political Holy Ground. Having those lists and the people near the booth checking off who has voted or not seems to violate that Holy Ground.

    Sure they keep a record of who votes and who doesn’t. that’s the job of the Registrar of Voters in my state. And that information is open to all through the proper channels. I react against this practice because having an actual campaign representative in the building violates of the law in my state (Louisiana), and I really like the effect of the law in my state. But I must admit, I don’t know the law in whatever state that is happening. I’m sure it’s legal, but that doesn’t mean I like it.

  • Don S

    To add to what Joe and tODD said, both parties do this and have done this for a long time. The GOP 72 hour program is centered around monitoring who has voted and following up on those who have not as the day progresses. “Secret ballot” means no one knows how you voted. It does not mean no one knows whether you voted. I am for any protections being used in the polling place to protect the credibility of the election process, and I am definitely for having observers from both parties there to ensure a minimum of shenanigans with the ballots and procedures. Thank you, Joe, for your efforts in Wisconsin to protect the electoral process.

    I will be manning a phone bank tonight from 5 to 8 PM for Proposition 8 (Protect Marriage Amendment) out here in CA. We will be reviewing the data on who has voted, and calling those who in our earlier calls indicated that they were certain or probable yes voters, but have not yet been listed as having voted.

  • http://gpiper.org/katiesbeer TK

    Wait! Please help me out here! Are you telling me that it is legal for someone to find out whether or not I have voted??? I’m skimming and on break, so I am not reading every single word everyone has written, but Don S was quite clear “…We will be reviewing the data on who has voted, and calling those who in our earlier calls indicated that they were certain or probable yes voters, but have not yet been listed as having voted.” How is that possible? Is it done in all states? This is new to me.

  • J

    TK – yes. Call the local elections office, give them a name and address, and you will be told if that person voted. The voting rolls are public information. Of course, your ballot is secret, as noted above.

  • utahrainbow

    I recently learned that who one voted for was not even secret until the mid 19th century or so. It was a very public affair, and, I understand, a tad more dangerous if you were in an area in which you had a minority view.

    Another interesting fact: percentage voter participation went down from that time on.

  • WebMonk

    Part of my trepidation comes from an older guy who told stories of his union being very ‘persuasive’ when it came to voting. They had a list of all the union guys who were in each precinct, and someone to stand outside the voting location and check names off their list. If you didn’t vote they contacted you to persuade you to vote.

    The persuasion wasn’t just a phone call reminder. It was a personal visit from the union rep. Be it at home or at work, they took you to vote, and strongly encouraged it to be a Democrat vote. If you refused to vote, you were marked down and generally had bad things happen – performance evals, fewer hours, and stuff like that. Lee said he took a great deal of pleasure in voting precisely opposite whatever the union wanted, but he always had to indicate in public that he voted according to the union lines.

    I realize that isn’t the level of pressure being put onto voters. (or at least I presume it isn’t) However, the verbal announcement given (apparently) just for the benefit of the various candidate parties certainly opens up the possibility for that sort of shenanigan. It would probably backfire if done crudely, but if done smoothly I can see it being very effective and much more corrupting than the generic, broad-scale mailings, phone calls, and door-to-door promotions.

    I see absolutely no reason against stopping the collection by parties (both sides) of real-time, who-voted information, and I see a very good preventative measure being put into place by stopping it.

    If there’s some reason that a voting record should be made public, then make it available the next day or something like that. Personally, I can’t see that there’s any reason that a person’s voting or non-voting record ought to be publicly available. I realize they are in many places, and it’s not a huge issue to me, but it’s private information none the less.

  • Anon

    We need to keep the ballot secret, yet make sure that every legitimate voter gets to vote, but only once, and that no one else votes.

    So, gang, as we sit at the pub, let us think up some ways to do that? I bet we can come up with some good ones if we put our heads together.

  • http://www.scyldingsinthemeadhall.blogspot.com The Scylding

    In South Africa, you have a ID book, that gets scanned, plus your manes gets checked on the voters’ roll. Plus, after you vote, you are marked by ink that leave visible and invisible marks. All voters get checked for an ink-mark before they vote. All votes are by paper ballot. These are counted by election officials under the watchful eyes of party volunteers.

  • http://www.scyldingsinthemeadhall.blogspot.com The Scylding

    At the same time there is no mail-in voting whatsoever.

  • J

    tODD, Scylding’s comment raises a question in my mind: does mail-in voting in Oregon preclude voting in person on election day? In my state, we can do early voting by mail, but only until about 10 days before the election. After that, you can vote early in person or, of course, on election day in person.
    So how’s it work in OR and does your process speed up election returns? Thank you, sir.

  • J

    Hey tODD,
    Scylding’s comment raises a question in my mind: does mail-in voting in Oregon preclude voting in person on election day? In my state, we can do early voting by mail, but only until about 10 days before the election. After that, you can vote early in person or, of course, on election day in person.
    So how’s it work in OR and does your process speed up election returns? Thank you, sir.

  • J

    I humbly apologize for the double post; it looked like it didn’t take the first time so I resubmitted.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Well, first off, we all get our ballots in the mail. (For people who don’t get one — say, didn’t register a change of address with the county — I think you can get one at the elections office up through Election Day.)

    The idea of “voting in person” doesn’t make a lot of sense in Oregon, though. Once you have your Scantron-like ballot, you can fill it out wherever you want. At a party discussing the issues (like my friends and I had a few weeks ago). At work. And, I suppose, at the county elections office, if you feel like it. That’d be the closest thing to “voting in person” we offer.

    Once you’re done, you can either drop the ballot in the mail (you have to pay the postage, as well as ensure it’s in the mail early enough to arrive by Election Day), or drop it off at one of several official drop boxes. They will also take your ballot at the elections office.

    But there are no actual polling places, yes? And voting takes place from the day they send out the ballots until 8pm or so tonight.

    I don’t know the effect on election returns processing. I remember things were rather slow in 2000, I think, but that was the first major vote-by-mail election for us, and as you may remember, there were other states that took some time in delivering a final count that year, since things were close.

    In general, I think a desire for speedy election returns has really hindered the overall security of our elections, and thus our faith in them. I do not see the appeal of electronic voting machines, especially those without a voter-verifiable paper trail. I have a degree in computer engineering from a school that has done a lot of research on electronic voting, and precious little of it has given me more faith in such systems.

  • cattail

    In Oregon’s “vote by mail” system, ballots are mailed out several weeks before the election. You can mail yours back right away, or you can wait and drop it off at the elections office or the nearest public library (where there’s a special locked box) on election day. Since all ballots have to be received before 8 pm on election day, it’s advised that if you’ve procrastinated until the Friday before the election, you use one of the drop boxes.

    Waiting until election day is discouraged. With your ballot you receive a “privacy envelope” with no clue to your identity, and an outer envelope which you have to sign. Your signature from your voter registration (which has been scanned onto the computer) must be checked against the signature on your envelope before the inner envelope with the ballot can be removed and sent for counting. This takes time and can delay the results if too many folks wait until election day (which usually happens).

    I really love this system because I can sit at home and fill out my ballot at leisure, after doing my research. I can proofread at leisure without feeling under pressure due to people standing in line behind me. Turning in the ballot early not only greatly decreases the amount of junk in my mailbox but puts an end to the non-stop phone calls.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Cattail (@32), thanks for filling in some more details. And hello to a fellow Oregonian!

  • PT Ben

    Greetings tODD from Faith LC in Texas.

    I like how Oregon does voting. Why don’t more states do it that way?

    I thought the touch screen electronic voting was neat and easier (no hanging chads) but I do wonder how I do know my vote counted? Sounds like there are some ‘issues’ with the newest technologies. Can you elaborate?

    we don’t get a receipt in my county but I heard some touch screen/electronic voters do. How does that assure no tampering occurs?

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