The US election system is broken. Here is how we can fix it.

America is exceptional in many ways. How we count votes should not be one of them.

The US is exceptional in many ways when it comes to elections. First, we are the only industrialized country that disenfranchises so many of its citizens, denying them the right to vote. Second, of those that are allowed to vote, the US has one of the lowest rates of voter participation of any “first world” country.

Europe has scrapped electronic voting; why haven’t we?

When I moved to Ireland in 2005, I arrived right on the heels of a scandal that was embarrassing the Irish government. It seems Ireland had decided to emulate its role model, the USA, and “modernize” its election system with electronic voting machines (EVMs). The Irish taxpayers shelled out 55 million euros (around 60 million dollars) to buy enough machines to outfit every polling station in the country.

Electronic voting is actually a third world voting system

I am sure many Americans think that electronic voting is the “modern” way to vote. In fact, the opposite is true. When it comes to voting systems, the US is the backwards example.

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Only the US, Brazil, Namibia, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, India and Iraq rely on electronic voting systems for national elections.

What’s wrong with electronic voting systems?

Well, everything. Here is just a short list of some of the problems:

These Diebold touchscreen voting machines, being inspected here back in 2013, are still in use in Shelby County, TN. Photo credit: © Jim Weber/The Commercial Appeal/

Public distrust of the system

A major factor in Europe’s turn away from electronic voting was the distrust that people have (and rightly so) of the black box voting systems.

How did we get here?

The US political system makes it uniquely vulnerable to manipulation of a system based on electronic voting. While other countries, like Ireland, could decide on one national supplier and thus negotiate transparency and enforce uniform guidelines, standard and protocols, the US Constitution gives the power and responsibility to run elections to the individual States.

The Help America Vote Act of 2002

This Orwellian named act of Congress came on the heels of the debacle of “hanging chads” in the Florida election of 2000. “Never again!” came the cry from Congress. Further impetus came from the events of 9/11, and the HAVA was passed almost exactly one year after the Patriot Act.

Counting Votes became a Republican Business

In 2012, Victoria Collier published a report in Harper’s Magazine entitled, “How to Rig an Election.” In it she describes how “The G.O.P. aims to paint the country red” — through the rigging of the elections using electronic voting.

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Source: Penn Wharton study “The Business of Voting

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Source: Penn Wharton study “The Business of Voting

Red machines, blue machines

Incredibly, electronic voting systems vendors are overtly and openly politically partisan. Both conduct lavish lobbying operations including inviting political decision makers boondoggles to Las Vegas, etc.

How can we get out of this mess?

The USA can get out of this predicament by leveraging the same exceptionally American qualities that helped cause the problem in the first place.

Make politics truly local again

Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill famously observed that “all politics is local.” The Constitution of the United States decrees that elections are controlled by the individual State legislatures. That has created the competitive market between ES&S and Dominion, but it also offers reformers a more viable path to taking back our voting system.

Some shining examples of progress

The Penn Wharton Report, “The Business of Voting” has a section on jurisdictions that are ditching electronic systems in favor of returning to paper ballots.

Our democracy is on the line

People have been sounding the alarm about America’s black box voting system for decades. But a corrupt political system and a compliant media have colluded to keep the rigged system in place.


About Euroyankee

EuroYankee is a dual citizen, US-EU. He travels around Europe, writing on politics, culture and such. He pays his US taxes so he gets to weigh in on what is happening in the States.
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