Pearls of Wisdom: Voting is a Critical Part of a Democracy

In an August 3rd New York Times article, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson told reporters: “We should carefully consider whether our election system, our election process is critical infrastructure, like the financial sector, like the power grid… There’s a vital national interest in our electoral process.”

The Wall Street Journal printed an opinion piece on September 12th: Keep the Feds Out of the Voting Booth by Hans Von Spakovsky and John Fund. They say:

  • If everyone understood how decentralized the election process is and the way the current election system is organized, they’d realize how mistaken it would be to call in the feds.
  • Hacking (the voting machines) requires unobserved physical access to the machine…Perhaps if the Russians could recruit thousands of hackers to go into polling places to hack individual machines without being noticed, they could steal a presidential election.

And what do Spakovsky and Fund see as the risk:

  • This could be the first step in federalizing election administration. An Obama administration that has already attacked election-integrity reforms across the country by filing lawsuits against common-sense voter ID laws, and has disputed state rules on early voting and same-day registration (or the lack thereof), could use the hacker threat as an excuse to try to dictate what states should and shouldn’t do when they are exercising their constitutional authority to run elections. That is a greater danger than any Russian hackers.

I disagree with Spakovsky and Fund.

First on the facts, they are just wrong:

  • Our very decentralized election process means we have more, not less risk. If someone is trying to cheat and sway the election, the cheater does not need to get a majority of the votes. Just in my lifetime, there have been three presidential elections which could have been changed by changing the results in as few as two counties.
  • Hacking voting machines does not necessarily require physical access to the machines. Risks exist at many levels from the way the software is distributed to the machines, all the way to the way the final results are tabulated. There are many ways that a failure at one point could affect the results of many voting machines.

And also on the philosophy, I profoundly disagree:

  • They believe that the people who originally signed the constitution intended for there to be independent states (then 13, now 50) which banded together for the very limited purposes of a common military, a customs union, and a few other things. Kind of like the way France, Germany, and other countries in Europe have banded together without giving up their national identity in the European Union and NATO.
  • But in my experience, we here in New York think of ourselves as Americans who happen to live in New York. Some of our fellow citizens may think of themselves as Virginians or Alabamians who happen to have the occasional need to deal with the United States government. If you are part of the former group, you probably think it is ridiculous that we elect a president using different systems in different parts of the country. If you are part of the latter group, of course you think that the federal government imposing rules on how your state chooses its electors is ridiculous.

Voting is indeed a most critical part of a democracy.

Many Americans look at the president and not only see a black president, but they see a president who does not look like them, who they believe does not reflect their values, and who is not a part of their culture. They see a total defeat of the way of life that they and their families have had for generations. The Supreme Court (Shelby County v. Holder) has finally restored to them the rights which they lost when the Voting Rights Act gave control over their election procedures to unelected officials from far-away Washington. These people know that restoring their way of life depends on never again ceding control over their voting.

Joseph Stalin famously said: Я считаю, что совершенно неважно, кто и как будет в партии голосовать; но вот что чрезвычайно важно, это – кто и как будет считать голоса. Usually translated as: The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything.

A more literal translation is more like: I consider it completely unimportant who in the party will vote, or how; but what is extraordinarily important is this—who will count the votes, and how.

Perhaps the Wall Street Journal article reflects the extreme admiration some American political leaders hold for Russia.

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