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Let me start by saying that when I voted, the staff members were working with one objective: doing their jobs. Elected or appointed, they worked as a team to get the job done, helping the voters impartially. When supermarket staff help you bring your groceries to your car, they dont care about which candidates you support, and neither should the poll workers.
I saw a selectman helping an old man who was in a wheelchair. The selectman asked, What letter does your last name start with? and brought him to that check-in table, skipping the queue so the selectman could move to the next task quickly. The selectman didnt care which candidates the old man was supporting.
People checked in and were given a poker chip to present to another staff member to receive a ballot. Bad news. The voter checks in, receives a chip and walks through into an area where voters are waiting in line to receive their ballots. Meanwhile there were people walking into that area, through a side door. I saw one such entrant, who was wearing a name tag saying ASST MODERATOR and who was probably returning from an errand, but a non-resident could have entered through that door, bringing in a poker chip to present for a ballot. I did not see any non-residents enter, or anything else fraudulent, but there was that opportunity.
The voters also were not practicing social distancing, before or after check-in.
Start with ballots marked with serial numbers. Cover the serial number with tape so there is no way to know which voter marked it. It is a secret ballot before it is time to be counted.
The checklist should have a barcode next to each name, and the ballot clerk would scan that barcode, registering the time of day when that voter checked in. Now we will know exactly how many ballots must be in the ballot box.
Let the voter proceed to the voting booth to mark the ballot. The size of our ballots required a special privacy jacket. Voters marked their ballots and put them in the privacy jackets and brought them to the ballot box.
Observers need to be able to see that the ballot box is empty before the voting begins.
After the polls close, bring the ballot boxes to a room where the counting will happen. Open the ballot boxes in public and shuffle the ballots somewhat so nobody knows how the last person voted. One by one, remove the tape covering the serial number and barcode, scan the barcode to document the time, punch the ballot with a time clock (Is there any other kind of clock?) and place the ballot face-down onto a flatbed scanner to make a high-resolution bitmap image, using the serial number of the ballot, plus .bmp as the file name. These bitmap images, and the .jpg thumbnails that load faster and require less bandwidth, would go directly to the elections website where spectators at home could confirm that they were tabulated correctly.
Mailing envelopes for absentee ballots would need a barcoded serial number, too. These would be scanned, and punched in a time clock as they arrive, eliminating any question of when they arrived. The voters could know that their ballots arrived because the mailing envelope serial numbers would be posted on the elections website as they arrive. This also establishes how many mail-in ballots must be accounted for on election day, eliminating the risk that a carton of ballots will be discovered a month after the wrong candidate gets sworn in. After the polls close, these envelopes would be opened and the inside envelopes, displaying the voter affidavit, would be punched in a time clock and scanned on a flatbed scanner where the handwritten signature would be masked. There must also be no connecting the voters identity with the secret ballot inside the envelope. After all the envelopes are scanned, then they would be opened and the ballots would be processed the same way in-person ballots are.
Check printers are seeing a sharp decline in sales as more use is made of internet banking. Mostly they are diversifying their product lines, but they are qualified to make documents in a secure environment. Punching a ballot in a time clock would place the time stamp randomly within the alotted area, against varied features of a background, making photoshop forgery difficult.
Computers are good at sorting numbers in order. Some sort processes put 100 far ahead of 99 because the first digit of 100 is 1, and the first digit of 99 is 9, and 1 comes before 9, but if they all have the same number of digits, that is not a problem.
Tabulating the votes by hand would take time. The computers could read the bitmap images as they get scanned. Either way, the paper trail is maintained and the candidates or their staff could review the ballots and the results. Vote totals would be proven by providing on the elections website, a list for each candidate, of every serial number of a ballot with a vote for that candidate, in numerical order and linked to the bitmap and .jpg files where anybody could confirm that the vote was counted correctly. The risk that one pile of ballots would be processed twice or another pile not processed at all, would be eliminated by the use of serial numbers. If a ballot does get scanned twice, only once would that serial number be counted by the computer.
In Michigan, an issue was raised about damaged ballots. The high-speed scanners could not read them, and election workers were given blank ballots to mark and use as substitutes. Any question is eliminated by scanning the damaged ballots into high-resolution bitmaps and displaying them on the elections website.
This would require a lot of terabytes of file storage. How much is a function of the resolution or, more precisely, the square of the resolution, because we are talking about the area being scanned.
Flatbed document scanners are a dime a dozen, especially the ones steeply discounted to get the buyers addicted to the expensive ink cartridges. These may be slow. Again the speed depends on the resolution, and is a function of the square of the resolution. One employee might run a number of scanners simultaneously.
Any accusation that a ballot was photoshopped is refuted by making the paper ballot available. Check printing firms are good at making document forms with reliable serial numbers, and that are so difficult to counterfeit that most criminals prefer to buy a package of them for a few dollars at an office supply store instead.
Poll workers arrive early to set things up. They stay late, after the polls close. A long day would be made longer, but one shift could arrive at 5:00 and leave at 17:00 while the second shift would arrive at 16:30 and work until the job is done.
All of this would help assure the public that the election process is being conducted legally, free of fraud, and that assurance would justify the expense; but there are other problems.
Democrats and Republicans are terrified of having to compete against other parties, so they impose outrageous ballot access requirements, requiring other parties to pay hefty fees and get far more nomination signatures just to be listed on the ballots. Then there are voters who feel they are wasting their votes by voting for the best candidate instead of voting for the second-worst one. Eliminating the ballot access requirements and using ranked voting would solve these problems.
In Maryland, the enslaved persons were emancipated in 1864 when a referendum passed, adopting a new State constitution that banned slavery. In some other States, however, it took a diverted war to emancipate the slaves, because too many persons voted wrong. The Project Vote Smart website may help fix stupid, if more voters would use it, but you cannot fix crazy.