This is not a partisan essay. At the time of this writing, Saturday, November 7, it's been over 80 hours since the polls closed and no one in America knows for sure who our next President will be. 100% of both Democrat and Republican partisans are anxious about the outcome, which at this moment rests on the integrity of unknown authorities in a handful of cities and states, and with our legal system.
We have arrived at a dangerous circumstance for American Democracy.
My purpose is not to say that bad things are being done to change the final 2020 election outcome. No, but what is now clear to all of us is how bad things MIGHT be happening, somewhere, in some state or municipality, to “steal” an election. Public confidence, which acts as the bedrock of our civil society, has now been shaken in a way that will be difficult to restore. And our civic peace, good will, and social tranquility have been placed at risk.
Are we destroying public confidence in our elections?
I am a senior machine technician at the Tompkins County Board of Elections. I have spent days working at early voting locations, at Election Day poll sites, and also among Board of Elections teams processing an extraordinary volume of vote-by-mail ballots. I've spent days checking every aspect of our machines prior to elections, "test-decking" their data-keeping functions to ensure a 0% failure rate. And I've spent days auditing those machines for 100% agreement with the paper ballots sealed inside after the polls close. We seal and double-check every possible security weakness and maintain bipartisan custody and security protocols.
But this year, with well-intentioned concerns for public health followed by overkill remedies, the volume of votes secured through our established machine-based process has been swamped by the number of mail-in ballots. In "progressive" New York State we have traveled backward to the low-tech, much less secure days of paper ballots. Of course, paper has always been the absentee ballot option for a tiny fraction of the public who need and request it, as a concession to special needs in proportions that make less security of those paper ballots of little concern.
This year the widespread use of paper ballots has carried an inherent security risk far greater than the recent past. We have traded machine reliability for a return to "the Stone Age" of paper ballots and paper security. In a risk-reward analysis of any imagined machine and/or data tampering, the risks were great compared to potential rewards. But with the widespread use of paper ballots, to be counted after all the machine tallies are known, in proportions large enough to reverse a narrow losing margin, with a 50-state field of play to impact the presidency, the risks and opportunity costs are proportionately low. And the rewards? Enormous!
All the double-verification and documentation of machine seals, all the locks and double-locks on equipment, and almost all the bipartisan and chain-of-custody protocols may be relatively easy to circumvent with paper ballots delivered in large quantities after Election Day's machine totals are known. The public now senses that and Public Confidence is taking a heavy blow, regardless of who finally wins.
Paper ballots have always only been secure in proportion to their scale of use. Back in the day, they were safeguarded by ballot box guardians who knew most of their neighbors. In 2020 they have become the Devil's playground.
I've said "destroying" confidence above after careful reflection. I don't want to over-state. Eroding confidence is easier to swallow, but when it comes to America's election confidence (across the whole population), and not unlike a highway bridge, there's not much room for erosion before the damage causes a break. We may be there now.