Early voting is like showing your cards to your competition in a poker game

Early voting is being pushed by political parties, candidates, and election officials in the name of “convenience.”  Why? For years we were able to show up on election day and we revered that day. It was a special occasion, a privilege. Since 2020, COVID set the precedent of voting many weeks prior to the election either by mail, drop boxes, or early voting centers.  The paradigm changed. Election officials now prefer weeks of elections where ballots are pouring in with little oversight and questionable chain of custody. Do voters really want to sacrifice the security of their ballot for convenience? Are we really getting that lazy and impatient about our process of selecting the people who represent us?

There are many risks and concerns regarding early voting. First, candidates can get access to poll book data to know who has voted and who hasn’t to drive turnout to their benefit. This would be advantageous for a candidate who has more funds to spend on a last minute “get out the vote” initiatives. This poll data could also potentially be modeled to predict not only turnout but potential results via sophisticated algorithms. If nefarious actors had access to the tabulator data via hacking or other methods (internal hidden modems/flash drives) they could “fine tune” algorithms to flip or weight votes in favor of a certain candidate.  In short, a longer voting period gives potential bad actors more data and more time to act.

An appropriate metaphor would be that early voting is similar to a poker player showing their cards to their opponent in a game. That would give the opponent the ability to know when to draw more cards for the win.

Elections matter and have world wide consequences. Power and money are powerful incentives to cheat. Lack of transparency just amplifies the voters’ lack of trust. The fact is that South Carolina citizens cannot get access to audit reports which provide details about how their vote is counted over the duration of the election (the cast vote record), the security logs (to confirm that there was no outside interconnectivity to the machines), and source codes (apparently counting dots on a paper is proprietary).  This should be of concern to every South Carolina voter.  We also have no idea who owns these corporations who are involved in our elections (ES&S, Clear Ballot, SCYTL) because they are closely held private entities.  There is a cloak of secrecy surrounding our electronic voting system and the vendors who provide services to that system.  On top of that, our State Election Commission is far less cooperative than many other states regarding their willingness to disclose the above information when compared to other states. See the chart below for one example that shows which states allow public disclosure of ballot images.

What is the answer?

We need to have reverence for our elections and not treat them like a quick trip to a fast-food restaurant drive through window. We must realize that in order to preserve the sanctity of our vote voting should have some “intention” behind it. The voters should educate themselves about the candidates and issues– not just vote for recognizable names. They should also plan on being available on election day—yes, it should only be one day and preferably a state and or national holiday so that voters are available.  One day voting is favored combined with preferably the old-fashioned method of hand counting hand-marked ballots.  This could be incorporated with technology that makes the process transparent and verifiable such as a live video feed.  Hand counting was done for years prior to any machines being involved and is currently used in some states as well as countries in Europe.  It requires keeping precincts small less than 1500 people (as is already mandated by law in South Carolina).

If 1,000 people show up at the polls (approximately a 70% turnout) this method would require about 8 people to count ballots and they could finish in about 4 to 4 1/2 hours.  If you pay these workers well, they will show up. Alternatively, you could use a system similar to jury duty selection to select workers. Young college students would be willing to work as well. This effort would save hundreds of thousands of dollars if not millions for the taxpayers—you would simply need paper, pens and people.  The cost would be far less than what is being paid to maintain the electronic voting system.  For one small example, in the city of Milton Georgia, cost savings estimates were $250K for their municipal election.

This simple hand count method would shift a high risk, high cost, low confidence system to a low risk, low cost, high confidence system. Isn’t that what voters want? After all, it is our tax dollars paying for these election processes. We would hate to think those dollars are being used to subvert our will.

Don’t get swayed by the mantra “vote early.”  Don’t let them see your cards in this crazy game of election poker.     Keep a poker face until election day. That’s playing your cards right to win the game.