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California voting – an anecdote

Yesterday, I was chatting to a Californian friend. He described his experience of voting in the recall election.

He was sent a postal ballot – a ballot and an envelope to return it in. He had not asked for it and did not want it but got it anyway. His wife was also sent one and what I say below applies to her as well.

Both envelope and ballot had serial numbers printed on them – and they were sequential: the return envelope’s serial number differed by one from its ballot’s serial number. (His wife’s likewise, so it seemed to be a pattern.) This gave him some concerns.

  • As the state had posted the serial-numbered ballot specifically to him, it sure looked like, after the election, the authorities would be able to tell how he’d voted. In a state where expressing a heterodox thought can be career-ending, this was a little worrying. Of course, he could have chosen to trust the Governor’s assurance that the state would never dream of recording the serial-to-address data, let alone exploiting it afterwards (if the Governor had given that specific assurance, but he did not recall whether Newsom had clearly promised that as such).
  • As the envelope and ballot serials had this simple sequential relationship, it sure looked like anyone who saw the returned envelope (which had to have his name and address on it), would be able to deduce the serial of his ballot. In a state where the operation of the law can make defying antifa more dangerous to you than to them, this was a little worrying. Of course, he could have chosen to trust the Governor’s assurance that no such person would later be able to get access to the ballots or their scanned data to relate his name and address to his vote (if the Governor had given that specific assurance, but he did not recall whether Newsom had clearly promised that as such).
  • As there was no secrecy sleeve, it sure looked like whoever ripped the envelope open to get the ballot during the count would have a hard time not seeing his name, address and vote all at once anyway. In a state where supporting the wrong party can lead to unequal application of the law, this was a little worrying. Of course, he could have chosen to trust the Governor’s assurance that the electoral staff would be unable to record or memorise such information (if the Governor had given that specific assurance, but he did not recall whether Newsom had clearly promised that as such).

After thinking about this, he went to the local polling station on election day to try and get a ballot from them and put it in the ballot box the old-fashioned way. Wisely, he took the postal ballot with him, knowing they should – and in this case probably would – want to see it destroyed. Unwisely, he filled it in beforehand in case they refused to let him vote the old fashioned way (so that, in that case, he could at least put the postal ballot straight into the box, thus cutting some intermediaries out of the insecure loop, without making a second visit). He gave me a vivid word-picture of the crossed-arms, blocking-the-way lady in change of the polling place when he made his request. They did not absolutely refuse, but it was made clear to him that the first thing to happen would be his postal vote being torn open and carefully examined before its destruction. Cursing himself for the ‘forethought’ of filling it in “in case”, he decided that that would destroy the point of the exercise, which was to cast a secret ballot – though he did wonder by then whether, despite his studiously-meek demeanour, the lady felt any more doubt of whom he was voting for than he felt of whom she was voting for. So in the end he used it as the state intended he should.

I report this wholly anecdotal case (just two ballots and one polling station) because I know my friend is describing his own experience accurately and the details surprised me. When the Nazis tried to find out which Germans voted ‘no’ in Hitler’s plebiscites, they put serial numbers on the ballots – but they did so secretly, by using a typewriter without a ribbon to make an invisible impression that could be recovered later, and then had a very hard time arranging for the appropriate invisibly-serial-numbered ballot to be given to the appropriate suspected voter when he or she showed up at the polling place. How they would have loved the simplicity of being able to send openly-serial-numbered ballots by post.

I do not know whether my friend’s experience represents much of California’s voting, but, like him and his wife, I am just a little worried to learn that it represents any of it.

35 comments to California voting – an anecdote

  • George Atkisson

    Gov Noisome has ‘won’, by a 60/40 margin. He is going to punish those who challenged his regal, silver spoon Entitledness with a heavy boot. This couple is quite right to be concerned. He is petty, vindictive and without shame.

  • bobby b

    He also has a 2-1 Dem/Repub advantage. It was a hot and angry bunch of people who got the recall petition signed in large enough numbers, but it’s tough to whip up Dems to oust a Dem governor months later. I would have been very surprised at any other outcome. Elder surprised me, but then he (of course) got assassinated in the final weeks. They pestered him until he answered the abortion question, which is a California third rail.

  • dougg

    We are not voting our way out of this. If it wasn’t clear before 2020, it should have been made abundantly clear by the events of 2020. You have to be a thick skulled ignoramus at this point to not be able to perceive what exactly is happening.

  • Alex

    UK ballot papers have a serial number printed on the back and when the ballot is issued the person to whom it is issued is recorded in the counterfoil book.

    Officially there must be a court order to examine these counterfoils and ballots. However once an election is over and done with, does the chain of custody really protect these counterfoils and ballots adequately? Are they all shipped off to be stored until the statutory waiting period has expired and then securely destroyed by a “trusted partner”, who then has plenty of time to scan and correlate the ballots and the counterfoils?

    I understand that the storage facility used to be in Hayes, Middlesex. I’m not sure whether or not it is still there.

    Our ballot in the UK is not really secret. It doesn’t surprise that the Californian ballot is similarly traceable.

  • bobby b

    Our Arizona Audit process has been bolluxed up by these numbered ballots.

    One side wants to see all of those ballots, on the theory that only then can they begin to track down which ballots were properly issued and returned and counted, which is the exact purpose of that numbering system, and the other side claims that the secret ballot principle would be violated if auditors trace a specific ballot to a specific voter.

    Both are entirely acceptable arguments, pointing out that the system itself is poorly designed.

  • jmc

    To those of us who have been reading the detailed election results in Cal since the 1980’s the numbers and voting patterns shown in the official numbers make no sense whatsoever.

    https://electionresults.sos.ca.gov/

    Well the straight up 600K plus fakes votes in LA, SF etc counties are there. As expected. They have been a perennial for the last decade or two. But given that every voter was sent a ballot, unlike 2003, and Newsoms polling numbers were just as bad as Gray Davis in 2003, not just the county results look wrong but the margins look wrong. The turnout could only be that low in a lot of counties if a lot of ballots were made to disappear.

    My best guess is that when you subtract the fake votes and added in the ballots that were “lost” Newsom probably just squeaked in. But only by 52/48 at very best. There is a reasonable probability (around 20%) he lost. But you can be sure that in order to get those special interest block votes (a few 100K) Newsom made some very expensive promises which the tax payer will have to foot the bill for.

  • Paul Marks

    Gavin Newsom is a rich kid who has ruined California – he is Governor because he his politically connected family (including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi) gave it to him as a present – as they made him Mayor of Sam Francisco (which he helped turn into a dump) before this.

    Mr Newsom has destroyed about a third of the small business enterprises in the State. He has messed up water and power supplies. Crime is out of control. And the State is burning because he does not manage the forests.

    And he got almost two thirds of the vote?

    It is all so crooked it is a corkscrew.

  • Shlomo Maistre

    We are not voting our way out of this. If it wasn’t clear before 2020, it should have been made abundantly clear by the events of 2020. You have to be a thick skulled ignoramus at this point to not be able to perceive what exactly is happening.

    This. This 100%.

  • Sam Duncan

    “Our ballot in the UK is not really secret.”

    In fairness, with millions of paper ballots, it’s really difficult to match every one to every voter. You have to take the ballot paper, find the serial number, look it up in the register, note down how the person voted, and do that for every paper. The counts are undertaken in public and we can see that this isn’t done there, so you’re essentially talking about an entire “shadow” count. Not impossible, but difficult enough that we can be reasonably confident – no, not certain, but reasonably confident – that it isn’t done routinely. (And there’s good reason to be able to match individual papers to voters, in the case of fraud and “personation”.)

    Start counting them electronically though, and all bets are off. Okay, I have the book here, and I want all the votes for serial numbers… er… 2206134 to 2206234… tap tap tap, there they are. Electronic counting of paper ballots was investigated and rejected for England a few years ago, citing security issues.

    It has, however, been adopted for Scottish Parliamentary elections. Draw your own conclusions.

  • Ah. I voted in Colorado for presidential. All vote by mail, serial number, no privacy sleeve.

    Look, guys, the reason they’re acting like this is that they think we can never get rid of them. We’re peasants whom they fool under cover of “democracy”.

    They don’t understand that if you don’t give people a say…. they take it. This will end in tears. Or really, truly, in blood. rivers of blood. This is not what I wanted, but dear lord, these people are ignorant of history. And think themselves smart because they can parrot platitudes.

  • BBC News has just finished covering reports of vote rigging in Russia’s election. They seemed less hostile to taking evidence of vote fraud seriously than they were late last year.

    It’s a subject on which the BBC has its prejudices.

  • Sam Duncan wrote:

    The counts are undertaken in public and we can see that this isn’t done there, so you’re essentially talking about an entire “shadow” count.

    In the US, it’s often not done that way.

    This ZH article contains a link to all the ballot images for Fulton County, GA, 2020 General Election. They don’t appear to have serial numbers.

    IIUC, Dominion Machines image all ballots.

  • Snorri Godhi

    The worst electoral system in the Western world, when it comes to privacy, might well be Sweden.

    From what i understand* Swedish voters must use a different ballot for every party. Voters can pick up a ballot before entering the cabin, but there are also ballots inside the cabin. But if you don’t pick up a ballot before entering the cabin, doesn’t that show that you are going to vote for the Sweden Democrats?

    Plus, it seems that there have been complaints about ballots for the S.D. being unavailable in the cabin at some locations.

    * I considered trying to be an observer for Swedish elections, but never got around to do it.

    I asked Johan Norberg by email for clarifications, and he told me about the ballots being available inside the cabins; but, as i said, that does not resolve the issue, especially in a country with such conformist attitudes.

    If anybody can provide more information, i’d be grateful.

  • Sam Duncan

    “In the US, it’s often not done that way.”

    Oh, I know. That was my point, really. In the UK, we can be reasonably sure our vote is usually secret except in exceptional circumstances, because tracing votes is difficult and awkward. But deviate even a little from our system, and that confidence begins to fall away. I really do think that our traditional electoral process (ignoring the massive expansion of postal votes undertaken by the Blair government and “temporarily” extended last year) is probably the best in the world. It’s cumbersome and perhaps anachronistic to make a mark in pencil on a piece of paper then have it counted in full view at a public hall in the modern digital world, but that’s why it works: no hacking or backroom jiggery-pokery.

    Which isn’t to say that under other systems, The Authorities are routinely checking up on who voted for whom or what, but you can be less confident that they aren’t. And confidence in the system is kind of important.

  • Schrodinger's Dog

    Dougg (September 19, 8:12am), Shlomo Maistre (September 19, 4:12pm), do you realise the implications of what you are writing? Are you really willing to literally fight and possibly die for the cause or, more likely, spend the rest of your days rotting away in prison somewhere? Really?

    Sarah A. Hoyt (September 19, 8:35pm), do you think there will be rivers of blood over this? I don’t. One thing that has become abundantly obvious in the last eighteen months is that people do not care much about liberty. Anyone who doubts that needs only to note the response – or, rather, the lack of same – to the curtailments of liberty imposed by governments around the world in response to Covid-19 which is, after all, nothing more than a rather nasty strain of ‘flu. Most people will not give any trouble, just so long as they are fed, warm and well-entertained. (Sometimes I think the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc would still be around, had they simply had better television.)

  • Sam Duncan (September 19, 2021 at 7:29 pm), plus one as regards your reply to Alex (September 19, 2021 at 8:27 am). That was the point of my comparison to 1930s Germany. The Nazis wanted the style of Hitler’s plebiscites to look outwardly like the style of earlier elections – so found they could only check up on a very small number of already-suspected citizens. The vague rumour that leaked out (suggesting Adolf might be able to know how you voted) was more useful to them than the actual data provided by the operation.

    As you say, “draw your own conclusions” about people who want to make it very much easier for themselves than it was for the Nazis.

  • Snorri Godhi (September 19, 2021 at 10:48 pm), your post reminded me of how the USSR ran the ‘election’ that made Estonia ‘vote’ for incorporation into the USSR at the end of WWII. Voters were given a ballot marked for the Soviet position and told they could either put it in the box as marked or else go behind a screen to change it.

    What you say of Swedes having the choice either to openly pick up a visibly-party-specifying ballot or else to go into the booth to select a secret ballot may only be a small step towards that, but I can see no fair reason why ballots should be both outside the booth and party-coloured.

    I am puzzled how ‘ballots inside the booth’ can work. If the booth has just one ballot for each party, does it have to be refilled after each use, by someone who can see which ballot is now lacking? If it has a stack of ballots for each party, what stops anyone from voting repeatedly? If the voter selects their ballot from a stack outside the booth, can the skilled stage magician grab several or is the voter offered a pallet of just-one-for-each-party ballots to choose from? These questions probably just show I have not grasped the system. If you (or anyone) comes across a link that details it, by all means put it here.

    Swedish Democrats – not as popular with the beeb as US Democrats are (or were and doubtless will be – even the beeb’s gone a bit off Biden of late, but they’ve appointed someone to head up BBC news who I’m sure will remedy that 🙂 🙁 ).

  • do you realise the implications of what you are writing? Are you really willing to literally fight and possibly die (Schrodinger’s Dog, September 20, 2021 at 1:09 pm)

    Well, at first glance, it would appear that Schrodinger’s Dog isn’t – but perhaps I should not leap to conclusions.

    Both the willingness and Sarah Hoyt’s reason for it (September 19, 8:35pm) is very much how and why the US was created in the first place. Burke (in ‘An Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs’) notes that, at the start of the American War of Independence, Benjamin Franklin told him,

    The question with them [the American Revolutionaries] was not whether they were to remain as they had been before the troubles … but whether they were to give up so happy a situation without a struggle

    In several ways, the US improved on the liberties of the British Colonies of North America, but that was not what they began fighting for. They saw they were losing freedoms they had enjoyed and they decided not to “give up so happy a situation without a struggle”. Otherwise there would have been no United States of America and no US constitution.

    Of course, it is easy (even cheap, I would grant any US commenter’s right to say) to write such things in distant Britain, because it raises no comparable question of whether and how one should act. The parallel effort over here to make democracy a fraud failed. Our latest government, like its predecessors, sometimes illustrates Churchill’s point that

    Democracy is the worst form of government in the world – except for all the other forms that have been tried.

    but the Brexit vote was effected, not nullified, and our current administration is, for better and worse, the one that the UK’s voters chose by the lawful procedure via honestly-enough-counted votes.

    Biden, by contrast, is a usurper beyond reasonable statistical doubt (and statistical tells hardly exhaust the volume of evidence against the 2020 election). He boasted before the election that he had the best vote fraud organisation ever, and after it that dissenters had better not tangle with the US government since the government had the F15s and the nukes, but the Taliban found this argument unconvincing, and the impression of ineptness is being maintained, so I’m unsurprised some US commenters seem less fearful than Schrodinger’s Dog appears to think they should be.

    Others, of course, may simply know that their constitutional duty requires risking the Kohima epitaph

    For your tomorrow, we gave our today.

    A friend of mine became a US citizen a few years back, which requires swearing to defend the US constitution by force of arms if need be. People are usually very solemn when taking the citizenship oath but she, typically English, made the official laugh by pausing after that bit and saying, “If they got to needing me, things would be pretty desperate.” Decades ago, Sarah must have taken the same oath – and (having done due diligence on the same electoral facts as I have, and a good deal more) may echo my friend’s remark without feeling it lets her off it.

    P.S., for reasons that Sarah understandably may not know (nor Schrodinger’s Dog, it appears) but most UK commenters will, the phrase “rivers of blood” tends to get a comment hung up in auto-moderation, needing me to review it before it can appear – so maybe consider avoiding that.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Niall:

    I am puzzled how ‘ballots inside the booth’ can work.

    Yes, i am puzzled too. That is why i toyed with the idea of becoming an election observer in Sweden.

    I can envisage a scenario in which this might work, sort-of:
    The voter must pick a ballot specific to a party, and (s)he can pick it either outside or inside the booth; then mark the preferred candidate inside the booth (if there are multiple candidates for each party); and finally post the folded ballot outside the booth, with the folded ballot giving no clue as to what party the voter voted for.

    In this way, the remaining problem is that your choice of party is not really secret. A significant problem, but not one that can be labelled as ‘election fraud’.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Sam Duncan:

    I really do think that our traditional electoral process (ignoring the massive expansion of postal votes undertaken by the Blair government and “temporarily” extended last year) is probably the best in the world.

    A rather smug statement 🙂
    I should think that electoral fraud is easier in the UK than in most continental countries, but not significantly so. Nothing like the US.

    OTOH the UK is arguably more of a democracy sensu Popper than most other Western countries, because the UK has not had a ‘natural party of government’ to the extent that other Western countries have had:
    Democrats in the US of A;
    Christian Democrats in Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands;
    Gaullists in France;
    Social Democrats in the Nordic countries.

  • Paul Marks

    jmc is correct – the vote was massively rigged. And Shlomo has a point – if the Democrats are allowed to rig elections (which the clearly are allowed to do), why are we even talking about this?

    We might as well discuss the Russian elections – whether there has been much a swing away from the United Russia Party and so on.

    It is all a farce – indeed a bigger farce in California than in Putin’s Russia.

  • AFT

    I don’t know the Swedish system but it sounds similar to how things work in France, where I voted many years ago in European elections. The key thing is that you place the ballot corresponding to your chosen list (and it would be the same for an individual candidate in an election that isn’t list-based) inside an envelope before placing it in the box. It is the envelope that is designed to be unfalsifiable. More than one ballot paper in an envelope is a spoiled vote (the equivalent of putting more than one mark on a ballot where you’re supposed to put a mark beside only one candidate). An empty envelope is a blank vote. You go into the booth with as many ballot papers as you want. In my experience, most people take all of them, although some people make a point of being seen to take one (or not take one). That’s their choice. It in no way compromises the secrecy of the ballot.

  • AFT

    Slight rectification to my previous comment, notably my last sentence. It could be argued, of course, that the only way to guarantee a truly secret ballot is to design a system that makes it impossible to prove to anyone how you’ve voted, even if you want others to know. However, with the ballot-in-an-envelope system, extra ballot papers build up inside the booths and, in practical terms (unless there has just been a tidy-up), I could very ostentatiously pick up a ballot for one party and have a good chance of finding one for another party inside the booth.

  • Snorri Godhi

    AFT: thank you for the information.

    It could be argued, of course, that the only way to guarantee a truly secret ballot is to design a system that makes it impossible to prove to anyone how you’ve voted

    In fact, there is such a system, even in systems with multiple seats in every constituency: every voter is given a ballot with a list of parties, and the lists of candidates for each party is shown inside the booth. The voter marks the chosen party and then (optionally) writes the numbers corresponding to the preferred candidates in the allotted space next to the party symbol.

    BTW my understanding is that, at least in Italy, the counting is done not by election officers but by volunteers from all the parties. All parties must agree on every single vote. That makes fraud pretty difficult, i should think. Especially when combined with voter ID requirements and the automatic purging of any dead voter from the electoral register.

  • bobby b

    We used to have a near-perfect voting system in the US.

    All voting was done in person, on one day. You walked up to the entry desk, and showed your valid picture ID. Your name was found on the list of registered voters – you had to preregister before voting day – and it was crossed off. You were given a ballot containing all races and all candidates. The ballot had no number or other identifying characteristics. It needed none, because all proof-of-ID had already been accomplished. You went into the booth, put marks next to your favored candidates, and then walked out and dropped your own anonymous ballot into the big box up front. After voting ended, these were pulled out and counted on site by mixed groups of poll workers. Then the ballots were locked away, in case a recount was needed.

    All it lacked was the indelible ink on your thumb.

    We trashed this system because it was “too hard” for some specific groups.

  • AFT

    Snorri Godhi / bobby b

    Absolutely. It isn’t rocket science to design a secure electoral system with genuine confidentiality. One advantage of pre-printed list/candidate-specific ballots (particularly of different colours) is that it makes the counting process much more transparent and easy to follow for electoral observers (whether party/candidate-affiliated observers or independent observers). It was in that specific context that I was thinking about ballot secrecy. It shouldn’t be possible in any system to be able to show who you’ve voted for, however much you might want to, because that’s a recipe for intimidation.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Bobby:

    We used to have a near-perfect voting system in the US.

    I don’t question what you write, but i must admit that it shatters my prejudices, which were based on watching Gangs of New York.

    I grant that GoNY is fiction, and i would be happy to believe that it is no more than fiction. (In fact, it is perhaps the least psychologically realistic Scorsese movie that i have watched.)

    Still, it is conceivable that the golden age of voting integrity that you describe (based on personal experience?) was preceded by GoNY levels of voting fraud.
    And of course, you don’t live in NY State.

  • Snorri Godhi

    PS: presumably, at the time of Gangs of New York, there were no picture IDs.

  • bobby b

    “And of course, you don’t live in NY State.”

    Or Chicago, or Philadelphia, or a few other Dem-machine-controlled big cities, thankfully. No, you’re correct, they’ve always found a way in those places.

    But the places where most of us live were as I described since I was a kid, until they began excoriating picture ID’s and demanding voting by some method other than showing up on “the Tuesday next after the first Monday in the month of November” – the traditional one day of voting.

    Essentially, we gave up fair and honest voting because we were afraid to fight back when progressives claimed blacks were too dumb to figure out how to vote. That was their entire argument, and yet they retained the loyalty of 90% of blacks.

    Personally, if I were black, I’d be too insulted to ever vote for them again.

    (P.S. Love that movie.)

  • Ferox

    In a good election process, the ballot is controlled through its entire cycle – from the printing press to being filled out, to being placed in the ballot box, through to being counted. And this control is verifiable (a critical component).

    Any innovation which undermines this (mail-in ballots, electronic voting machines, storing the uncounted ballots in random places so that extra boxes of ballots can be “found” at the key moment, etc) undermines the fair election process.

    Similarly, in a good election process voter access is controlled in a way which ensures that all voters who are entitled to vote, and only those voters, are able to cast ballots. Any innovation which makes it possible for unentitled voters to cast ballots (or which makes it impossible for entitled ones to do so) undermines the fair election process.

    If you look down the list of election innovations pushed by Progressives in the United States over the past couple of decades, every single one of them undermines the fair election process. Given that, how could any rational person not conclude that their intention was to cheat, all along? You would have to be as gullible as Gilligan or as stupid as Ginger not to see that election cheating has been the Progressives goal since the beginning.

  • […] Samizdata, Niall Kilmartin recounts what he heard from a Californian friend after their recent election on recalling the […]

  • Shlomo Maistre

    Schrodinger’s Dog,

    Dougg (September 19, 8:12am), Shlomo Maistre (September 19, 4:12pm), do you realise the implications of what you are writing? Are you really willing to literally fight and possibly die for the cause or, more likely, spend the rest of your days rotting away in prison somewhere? Really?

    You obviously read way too much into my comment. As Dougg said:

    We are not voting our way out of this. If it wasn’t clear before 2020, it should have been made abundantly clear by the events of 2020. You have to be a thick skulled ignoramus at this point to not be able to perceive what exactly is happening.

    Exactly.

    We AREN’T voting our way out of this. We AREN’T getting out of this AT ALL.

    Wishing something is true does not make it so.

  • Shlomo Maistre

    Paul Marks,

    And Shlomo has a point – if the Democrats are allowed to rig elections (which the clearly are allowed to do), why are we even talking about this?

    Indeed.

    As Curtis Yarvin has elucidated many times in his excellent writings, Progressivism is a predatory political ideology. It needs prey. If you do not give something to Progressivism, it moves on to another victim.

    Recently Curtis Yarvin did an hour-long interview with Tucker Carlson on “Tucker Carlson Today” which is the day-time show on Fox Nation. During this one hour interview entitled “American Degradation” Curtis Yarvin discussed many things. One thing Curtis discussed is an analogy about American politics and, indeed, politics in the Western world: American conservatives are like buffalo and American progressives are like lions. The buffalo’s strategy BY NATURE CANNOT be to kill the lion, but only to prolong its own life.

    Though I may not agree with every single perceived implication of the analogy, there are a couple important lessons from this concept that are true and often overlooked.

  • Shlomo Maistre

    And by the way, Curtis Yarvin doing a full-length hour-long interview with Tucker Carlson, who is one of the most prominent conservatives in the USA is a big deal and I was genuinely shocked when I found out that it had happened. It’s a watershed moment for the American conservative movement. For many many reasons. Yarvin is very much anti-democracy and pro-monarchy. He is a seminal figure in the neoreactionary philosophy/approach to politics on the far-right. For such a “controversial” man to do a full-length hour long interview with one of the biggest mainstream conservatives in the United States is something I never thought I’d see.

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