Opinion | Counting Ballots by Hand Is a Bad Idea

Republican Party Silent as Supporters Risk Disenfranchisement

The Republican Party is facing criticism for its silence as some of its most loyal supporters advocate for the manual tallying of votes on paper ballots. This right-wing movement is pressuring local governments to abandon the use of machines that ensure quick and precise vote counting. The movement’s leader, a determined man traveling in a branded R.V., is preaching the merits of hand counting to county councils and election boards.

Counting ballots by hand is a rare practice in the United States, and numerous studies and real-world examples have shown that it is not an effective method in the context of American democracy. Unlike other countries with simpler ballots, the United States often has dozens of choices on ballots for federal, state, and local elections. Humans are notoriously inefficient at repetitive tasks, making manual vote counting prone to errors and miscounts.

The potential consequences of this movement are significant. Counties that choose to hand count their votes risk harming their ability to accurately tally votes for years to come. The process of counting votes involves budgets, contracts, and other logistical considerations. The Republican Party’s reluctance to address this issue is reminiscent of its failure to refute former President Donald Trump‘s false claims about voting by mail. Trump’s baseless claims about the safety of mail-in voting created confusion and doubt among Republican voters, ultimately affecting their turnout in the 2020 elections.

Although some key party officials have recently supported mail-in voting, there has been little response from the party regarding the push for hand counting ballots. This silence is concerning, as it would be relatively easy for the party to address this issue and prevent further disruptions. In most counties, movements to hand count ballots lose momentum due to the diversity of political thought, which allows for the introduction of factual information. However, in deeply conservative counties, advocates for hand counting have managed to cause chaos and errors in the election process.

Examples of the problems with hand counting abound. In Nye County, Nevada, a local official attempted to discard the machine count of 20,000 ballots and instead conducted a parallel hand count. After the first day, the official estimated that the volunteers had miscounted a quarter of the ballots. In Cochise County, Arizona, commissioners voted to move forward with hand counting without testing its legality under state law. A judge later ruled that hand counting was illegal, leading to the resignation of the elections director and a costly lawsuit.

The debate over the legality and feasibility of hand counting in Arizona continues, despite the disastrous example of the Cyber Ninjas’ recount of Maricopa County’s 2020 ballots. The CEO of Cyber Ninjas admitted that the numbers were “screwy” and that he couldn’t make sense of the collected data. If more jurisdictions choose to hand count ballots, the potential for errors and disruptions to the election process is significant. Additionally, the financial costs of switching to hand counting and severing contracts with voting machine companies could strain already limited budgets.

One example of the consequences of switching to hand counting is Shasta County, California. The county government terminated its voting machine rental contract and pursued hand counting, only for the state to sign a ban on most hand counting. The county now faces increased costs for administering local elections, and the money spent on the terminated contract cannot be recovered.

Election administrators like Cathy Darling Allen in Shasta County are left to deal with the aftermath. They must hire additional staff, recruit and train volunteers, and navigate the challenges of hand counting while simultaneously familiarizing themselves with new voting equipment. The burden falls on these officials to ensure the integrity and accuracy of the election process.

Despite the warnings and concerns raised by election administrators, the Republican Party has remained largely silent. This silence is troubling and raises questions about the party’s commitment to protecting the democratic process. The party has an opportunity to address these issues and prevent further disruptions to the election process, but its inaction speaks volumes.

Original Story at www.nytimes.com – 2023-10-10 09:01:42

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