Technology, Privacy laws & Internal Conflicts prevent the “Voter Empowerment Act” from being viable
The moral issues for the election polling places are simple: (#1) Eligible voters are able to vote, (#2) Ineligible voters are prevented from voting.
Statistically, based on the two error types, eligible voters will be turned away and ineligible voters will be allowed to vote. Those errors will occur. Hopefully, not too many. The goal of both parties should be to minimize both of them.
The House has passed a bill to fix the statistical errors and stop supposedly intentional voter suppression. The real question is “Will it work?” or will it be overwhelmed with unforeseen disasters. I have identified two from a systems analysis point of view — the bill conflicts with itself and the assumptions about current technology.
Proponents of this bill tend to argue for #1 and generally ignore #2. Opponents argue for #2 and tend to ignore #1. Examples can be found to support each side. Both parties accuse the other of trying to maximize the error that throws the election their way.
That is why two politicians in a debate sound like they do not live on the same planet. They normally do not talk about the same subject. Then, there is the emotional hype from both sides that has no support whatsoever.
So, I downloaded the bill, 116TH CONGRESS 1ST SESSION H. R. 1, and read through the entire 570 pages with special attention on voting eligibility and procedures. It is a good idea, but not at this time and not as written. Nobody has even touched on the real scary aspects of this bill — conflicts inside the bill and implementation.
You may download the bill. I have included the page numbers in my highlighted quotes. The Finance and Ethics sections were not analyzed. David Burke covers that part pretty well.
First, the hype
- “Illegal aliens voting in America.” They are allowed to vote in some local elections, but I could find nothing in the bill that allowed them to vote in federal elections.
- “It is a Socialist plot.” I find it hard to connect this voting bill with Socialism. Some people, right and left, tend to assign anything that they don’t agree with to their favorite scapegoat.
- “Millions prevented from voting in 2016.” The number itself is misleading. It combines truly ineligible people, people who did not follow published procedures, people removed from voter rolls through valid attempts by states to verify eligibility, and eligible voters turned away through errors. Then, I suspect but have no proof, that they do not have a list of millions of individuals. It is easy to inflate or deflate numbers with statistics.
Cultural changes and Internal conflicts
This bill transfers responsibility from the individual to the state and Federal government. In my opinion, only the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had a larger impact. Here are some sections to think about.
Under current law, you have to register to vote and do so by a deadline set by each state. You may need to bring your voter’s registration card to vote. The new law states:
(B) it is the responsibility of the State and Federal Governments to ensure that every eligible citizen is registered to vote; (page 34)
The citizen is no longer responsible to use their own initiative to register to vote. You hope that the Federal Government systems function properly so that you can vote.
The state, however, must provide a way for voters to register themselves just in case the automated systems fail. The new law states:
(a) REQUIRING AVAILABILITY OF INTERNET FOR ONLINE REGISTRATION
A State shall accept an online voter registration application provided by an individual (page 17)
Even though methods are spelled out, current technology has no way to guarantee that the person registering online is the voter.
Currently, the logic is that if you are old enough for the military, you should be able to vote. That is 18 years of age. The new law has a section that states:
TREATMENT OF INDIVIDUALS UNDER 18 YEARS OF AGE (page 39)
Automatic registration applies at age 16, not 18. There may be an intent to lower the voting age in the future. If so, the infrastructure would be in place to just flip a switch.
New burden on institutions
There are a large amount of data collection and reporting procedures that may not exist today in the form required. The new law states:
(A) REQUIRING STATES TO ESTABLISH AND OPERATE AUTOMATIC REGISTRATION SYSTEM (page 35)
Each institution of higher education that receives Federal funds shall be treated as a contributing agency (page 47)
All colleges and universities must send personal data of students for automatic registration. This puts a new burden on states and universities to collect the data, keep it secure, and send it in an acceptable form.
Same day registration
Currently, voters must register early enough so that election officials can compile voter lists for polling places. That puts some burden on voters who move during that time or neglect to register. The new law states:
…election official at the polling pace for any such election shall permit the individual to (1) update… (2) correct any incorrect information (page 58)
SEC. 304. SAME-DAY REGISTRATION (section starts on page 65)
Voters can change their address and personal information at the poll on Election Day without any challenge or way to check (wide open for fraud, see page 68).
Verification becomes illegal
Currently, it is difficult enough to confirm voter eligibility between districts. The new law makes it impossible. The new law states:
… interstate cross-check (b) REQUIRING COMPLETION OF CROSS-CHECKS NOT LATER THAN 6 MONTHS PRIOR TO ELECTION (page 68)
People can register the day of the election but states are not allowed to check with other states within 6 months of the election.
States really have tried to validate voter rolls. Some do that by mailing a card to the voter and removing the voter if the card is returned as undeliverable. The process is now known as “Caging.” This could happen to you. The card could be delivered to a valid address with a different name and the resident just throws it away, i.e. a new fraudulent voter since it was not returned. The new law states:
VOTER CAGING AND OTHER QUESTIONABLE CHALLENGES PROHIBITED:
(A) a nonforwardable document that is returned to the sender (page 92)
Of course, if the voter’s address is the court house, like about 70 people in one city, they would be returned. They may never get purged. I am still getting mail containing my old company name from 8 years ago when I was at a different address in a different state. That was two states ago.
Finally, who defines “Questionable?” That may be in another section of the bill.
The current technology problem
The law requires that states, counties, cities and universities all build computer systems to automatically register voters from their records. The voter may not even know that they are registered, although the law contains sections for additional software to send notifications.
The writers of the bill have no idea what that means. They are no better than Trump who thinks that they can wave their hand and expect the world to change. Both are clueless in that respect.
The law is supposed to go into effect in 2020. A huge mega-system needs to be built, probably more complex than Facebook. Look at the problems that they have had. Then each entity has to build its part to feed it. The complexity behind audits and recounts will make the hanging chad controversy seem trivial.
I have analyzed, designed and built over 100 systems (apps for younger people). I learned after the second one to add “Post implementation adjustments” at the end of my estimates. Those are bugs and things that people do that I never dreamed of. We had to fix them immediately. I had time included for unexpected fixes.
The new law has no provision for a parallel test or enough time to build the software itself. Imagine sending astronauts up in ships that had not been properly tested. They did include costs, though. Most likely, they would need to run a parallel in 2022 or 2024 and install everything in time for the 2028 election. The apps will not be built in one year! This is one application that should not be rushed due to the high risks.
The security will be horrible. Hackers of every persuasion will attack it to change data or steal identities. It will be a target for entire governments. The security industry is barely keeping up. My latest catalogue contained 15 one-week classes costing over $90,000 just to stay current. Security will be an ongoing cost to everybody.
Finally, how does an election official know that you are you? How is security going to keep someone from doing an instant registration in two different locations?
Mexico City and Peru require government issued picture ID’s. In fact, Peru requires that a person vote or they will be fined. That would require a national ID card with a picture and fingerprint. The new law does not provide for anything like that. In fact, it has a section prohibiting it.
I suspect that the U.S. will go to full online voting at some time in the future when a person’s identity can be easily confirmed. We already have rudimentary technology that can read fingerprints at the border for Global Entry.
Online voting probably shouldn’t happen until everybody’s fingerprints and DNA are registered and simple technology, like cell phones, can read them.