To the Editor:
Former state Sen. Dennis Damon did a good job in last week’s Islander addressing the previous editorial which made incorrect assertions about November’s referendum Question 5 on ranked-choice voting (RCV).
RCV elections that have been held around the country (including Portland) have shown that voters are not confused and that campaign civility goes up and polarization goes down. Compatibility with the Maine Constitution is a recognized issue, and the RCV proposal’s two-year phase-in period allows for that issue to be addressed.
There is, however, one major potential RCV problem the editorial did not address – the necessity of using non-transparent voting machines. In our plurality elections, local results are simply added together to get the final result, and can be hand-counted. About half our municipalities – with about 15 percent of the votes – currently do this.
With RCV, on the other hand, the ranking process is only possible by tabulating all the results statewide in a final batch and running an algorithm to determine the winner. It would be logistically impossible to hand-rank 600,000 state RCV ballots, and local audits are irrelevant. This means a commitment to electronic vote counting statewide.
The last decade has seen a steadily accumulating mass of evidence of not only the demonstrated hackability of both touch-screen voting machines and optical-scanning tabulators (Maine uses the latter), but also of the actual electronic theft of elections shown by statistical analysis of exit polls and actual voting results. This has been well documented in Jonathan Simon’s book “Code Red.”
Those of us who have been pointing this out for years have been met with denial and accusations of “conspiracy theory.” So it a bit ironic that only now, with the new Cold War-style accusations of Russian hacking of our electoral system, that suddenly the nation is panicked about the vulnerability of that system, a vulnerability that has been around and denied for years.
Earlier this year, long before the Russian claim, the Hancock County Democratic Committee formally recognized this problem. In discussions with the proponents of RCV in Maine, they reached an agreement that one focus of the two-year RCV phase-in period will be the electronic security of Maine’s election system. There are methods by which this can be achieved.
The Maine Democratic Party also has recognized the issue, in a platform statement that supports “[making] the process of electronic voting transparent and fraud-proof by putting all aspects of it under public control, including the use of open-source ballot-handling software and an effective auditing process.”
Now that the danger of electronic election theft has been publicly acknowledged, voting “yes” on Question 5 is a move towards developing actual protective measures.