Everything about elections should be as transparent as possible, except of course, how any specific voter voted. Such transparency would be of little value, however, if voters do not understand how elections work. Therefore, it is important to comply with “The Jones Rule.” The Jones rule is named for computer science professor Douglas Jones (U. of Iowa) who stated it so succinctly: Everything about elections should be understandable by a reasonably bright high school student. Voters cannot be expected to trust anything they cannot understand.
Every step of every process must be engineered to make fraud substantially impossible. It must be extremely difficult and highly unlikely that election results could be nefariously controlled or influenced by any special interest group. If fraudulent manipulation should nevertheless somehow occur, its detection and correction must be virtually certain. Furthermore, the evidence required for successful prosecution of the perpetrators should be available.
Every operation (other than a voter’s handling of his or her own ballot) that could affect an election’s outcome must be supervised by trained election officials and must be closely observable by observers from opposing factions; preferably, also the public. It should be obvious that there must be no exceptions to this as even one exception is enough to engender doubt and destroy trust. Some of the operations that must be so controlled are:
- Identification of voters and verification of their eligibility to vote
- Guaranteeing that the voter who checked in is the person who completes a ballot
- Any handling of ballots, including counting and verification
- Any transport or storage of ballots between operations
- Any handling, transport or storage of ballot tally information prior to its publication
Achieving and maintaining the required level of supervision, control and transparency is difficult. The difficulty increases rapidly as the time period over which controls must be maintained is made longer. The difficulty also increases rapidly as the spatial area, the number of people or the complexity of the operations is made larger. It follows that all such critical operations should be carried out in a small area, with the fewest people and over the shortest possible time period.
This requirement, as is true for some of the others, is best met by having a manageable number of voters (say, 500 to 2,000) vote in each properly staffed and managed polling place. The physical setup is prescribed, and carefully thought-through procedures are followed as established by law. A Judge of Elections is in charge. Poll workers assist. Watchers from opposing factions can watch. Polling place personnel are trained on the procedures.
Video surveillance of polling places is a good idea; a copy would be sealed and preserved with the ballots. Obviously, it must not be possible to read the choices on any ballot, but observing the movement, flow and activities of people could be quite helpful evidence in the event of audit discrepancies or suspected fraud.
Although it should be unnecessary to say, it must be officially stated that mail-in voting cannot meet this requirement. Mail-in ballots float around the countryside for at least days, more likely weeks. They are handled by an unknown and unknowable number of unknown people. When returned, they are handled by more people who validate and count them. The opportunities for serious problems are too numerous to discuss. Some of ways to manipulate elections that are possible when perpetrators have plenty of time and no one is looking are very hard to detect and harder still to prosecute.
Transparency, supervision and control difficulties explode exponentially with mail-in and also with large mail-in ballot counting operations, especially ones spanning multiple days and requiring safe overnight storage and lots of handling of ballots. Even if, miraculously, no fraud occurred, fraud would often be suspected and there is no conclusive way to prove that it didn’t happen. Citizens could not implicitly trust their elections, which would be endlessly disruptive, just as it now is.