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JAMES PINKERTON: Want To Restore Election Integrity? End The Secret Ballot

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James P. Pinkerton Former Fox News Contributor
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Kari Lake makes good arguments about irregularities in the 2022 Arizona gubernatorial election. The Republican nominee’s Twitter feed is constantly updated, and journalistic allies, too, have weighed in. For instance, on January 18, The Federalist cited numerous breaches in the “chain of custody” of ballots, as they went from voters to tabulators.

Yet as The Federalist also noted, “Arizona has an impossibly high bar for overturning elections on the grounds of misconduct.” In fact, Lake’s Democratic opponent, Katie Hobbs, has already been sworn in. (RELATED: JAMES PINKERTON: Ron DeSantis And Gavin Newsom Offer Dueling Definitions Of Freedom)

Maybe Lake was robbed, but if so, nothing is going to change the outcome of the election. Already, seven cases from Arizona in 2022 feature in the Heritage Foundations’s vote-fraud database; there will surely be more entries—and Hobbs will still be governor.

Indeed, it does seem that every close election these days has its share of bugs—or maybe worse. So maybe it’s time to confront the plain fact that the architecture of our elections was developed in a different era. Today, new forces—political, technological, and cultural—are changing balloting. Authorities have decided to make voting more “user friendly,” and yet the use of voting machines, of early voting, and of mail-in voting seems to have overwhelmed capacity. And that’s assuming that the alll voting officials are operating in good faith—and there’s no reason to assume that. Moreover, down the road is electronic voting, maybe by app on a smart phone. Republicans might hate the idea that Silicon Valley will be more involved, but that doesn’t mean that Democrats won’t do it in, say, California.

So what to do? Here’s a thesis-statement to consider: The ultimate solution to vote fraud is to make sure that each vote is linked to an identifiable voter. That way, if there’s a dispute on the count, vote-auditors can check back with the voter to make sure his or her intention has been properly tallied.  

As we chew on that statement, we might consider the situation today: If you vote, your vote becomes a bit of electronic data; of course it can be hacked or otherwise mulcted. That happens all the time to electronic data: Wikipedia keeps an ever-growing list of data breaches, affecting billions of files and people. It’s obvious: If you rely on an electronic activity, somebody, somewhere, can mess with it. And yet if you’re a victim and can prove who you are, you can likely get redress. As in, I was not in Beijing on Tuesday when my credit card was used there. By contrast, if voting is anonymous, then there’s no redress, because there’s no way to do the forensics—the vote has been disconnected from the voter.

Some might have had hopes that blockchain, and crypto technology, would improve cyber-security. But then we all met Sam Bankman-Fried. It seems that for every smart person trying to figure out how to keep data secure, there’s another smart person trying to figure out how to make it insecure. In this endless cat-and-mouse game, we can never know for sure who’s winning.

Some will suggest another answer: “Let’s go back to paper ballots.” To be sure, the solidity of a paper ballot is reassuring. And yet all the ballots still need to be counted—159,633,396 were cast in the 2020 presidential election—and that’ll take some electronics. And with that automation in the counting, so enters the dragon of electro-uncertainty.

So how to end that uncertainty? There’s only one way to be sure. Be on the record: “I, John (or Jane) Q. Public, cast my ballot for ___.” If there’s an identifiable person who voted in an identifiable way, then it’s always possible to check the vote against the intention, making sure the two match. With a name, and only with a name, it’s possible to trace out the chain of custody, from the voter to the vote-counter.

But what about voter privacy? The act of voting is, of course, a public record—as it has to be, otherwise fraud would really be rampant. Indeed, Republicans are militant about proper voter identification, and interestingly, the public at large overwhelmingly supports voter ID, (although professional Democrats, not so much). Although, of course, with mail-in ballots, authorities know who you voted for, even if you yourself, at present, can’t know for sure that your vote was counted.

Admittedly the idea of public ballots is a significant change. But it was only in the late 19th century was the idea of a secret ballot imported from Australia. Prior to that, voters dropped ballots in different bowls, or sometimes they just voted by a show of hands. In his classic work, “Democracy in America,” Alexis de Tocqueville praised the New England town meeting, where citizens could speak openly, witnessed, of course, by their fellow citizens: “Township institutions . . . give the people the taste for freedom and the art of being free.” Does that sound so bad?

Maybe the secret ballot was right solution for a different era. But now, in this era, a different approach is needed. And that new thinking doesn’t have to come all at once: Let it be an experiment in a state, a “laboratory of democracy.” In the meantime, let Democratic operatives explain why they think their voters—or “voters”—should be kept hidden.

Transparent balloting, with a transparent chain of custody, would all but eliminate vote fraud.

James P. Pinkerton, a former White House domestic policy aide to Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, and is a former Fox News contributor.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller News Foundation.

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