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Canada Government United States Politics

Election Tech: In Canada, They Actually Count the Votes 500

Presto Vivace writes with this outline of what voting can look like while remaining countable and anonymous — and how it does look north of the U.S. border. "In Canada, they use hand-marked paper ballots, hand counted in public. Among other things, that process means that we can actually be sure who won. And if the elections of 2000 and 2008 are any guide, and the race stays as close as the pollsters sat it is, we might, on Wednesday, November 7, not be sure who won." Any Canadians among our readers who want to comment on this?"
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Election Tech: In Canada, They Actually Count the Votes

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  • Perfect (Score:5, Funny)

    by fustakrakich ( 1673220 ) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @12:21PM (#41280449) Journal

    If we don't know who won, we won't know who to blame.. Exactly what the politician wants.

    • Re:Perfect (Score:5, Interesting)

      by MightyYar ( 622222 ) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @12:26PM (#41280491)

      There is a fundamental flaw in elections today: lack of consideration for "margin of error". In my opinion, margin of error should be calculated and any election which falls within the margin of error should either be held again or some sort of tie breaker should kick in.

      Pretending that we can deduce the intention of every voter with zero errors is noble, naive, and ridiculous.

      • by goombah99 ( 560566 ) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @12:46PM (#41280675)

        There is a fundamental flaw in elections today: lack of consideration for "margin of error". In my opinion, margin of error should be calculated and any election which falls within the margin of error should either be held again or some sort of tie breaker should kick in.

        Pretending that we can deduce the intention of every voter with zero errors is noble, naive, and ridiculous.

        As long as the election precision is within the accuracy of the election measurement then either candidate is equally qualified by definition. Just flip a coin when things are within the margin of error. Things like bad weather, a flu outbreak at school, a big traffic jam, or a huge mega death concert down town can tip the number of voters. Elections are not perfect measurements of citizen will. they are a good approximation. No need to say that one politician got one more vote, he is more qualified. The fact that they are tied tells you they are equally qualified.

        IN the national elections the last thing we want is to elect someone who got a few more votes. We want someone who earned their votes from as broad a base as possible. A very good geographic proxy for "broad base" is to outpoll in as many states as possible. This proxy is also useful since the senate has a small state bias that until we eliminate the senate, we need a president who won in a majority of the senators states if he's going to govern.

        Thus we need to invent a system that to first order follows the popular vote, but that as it heads towards a tie that the winner is determined by who won in the most states. I just can't think of a good name for such a system.

        • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 09, 2012 @01:13PM (#41280879)

          No need to flip a coin. If it's that close, the residual randomness of the process can be used directly: The candidate with more votes wins. Hardly surprising, this is how it's done already.

      • In fact, I believe it is law that any tally within some defined percentage (2% comes to mind) in any poll triggers an automatic recount, and if the entire riding has a margin of victory less than, I think, 1000 votes, that also triggers a recount.
      • Re:Perfect (Score:5, Insightful)

        by nebular ( 76369 ) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @01:10PM (#41280859)

        Well in Canada we do factor in error. It's called spoiled ballots. And the election is not a statistical analysis of the votes of the population, it is the actual votes. There is no margin of error. You mark your ballot with an X in the proper bubble, which is beside the name and party of the candidate. It's nice and big and so is the name of the person. There are many signs at the polling station that tell you how to vote in very easy to understand pictures and the people running the polling station can easily tell you how to do it without referring to any candidate. If you mess that up, your vote doesn't count.

        Margin of error puts the onus on the system. For an election to work the system must be held to a standard of infallibility and that all errors fall on the voter, if it's found not to be the case and is significant to have possibly affected the outcome a re-election is called.

        So the margin of error is factored in, but more is taken into consideration than a mathematical equation.

        • And the election is not a statistical analysis of the votes of the population, it is the actual votes.

          If you are telling me with a straight face that millions of ballots are counted with no mistakes, I have a bridge to sell you.

          For an election to work the system must be held to a standard of infallibility and that all errors fall on the voter,

          That's impossible. No system is infallible.

          if it's found not to be the case and is significant to have possibly affected the outcome a re-election is called.

          Which is exactly what I am calling for. A set of criteria, that if met, declares the result to be invalid. I'm just asking for the rules to be clearly defined in the beginning.

          So the margin of error is factored in

          No it isn't. You said so yourself - the system is presumed to be infallible.

          • Re:Perfect (Score:5, Informative)

            by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @01:36PM (#41281075) Journal

            Rice University determined that hand-counted ballots tend to have an error rate of 2%, which in most elections would be below the relevance of statistical margins of error. It is precisely this reason that when the leading candidates are very close (I think 100 votes in Canadian Federal elections), there is a judicial recount (a recount in front of a judge who will certify the resuls). Obviously even with this safeguard there are probably a few candidates who have been screwed out of an election they may have won, but I would posit that it would be a relatively small number since Confederation (1867).

            Mind you, the key reason that there are such low margins of error in Canadian elections is because ballots, at least at the Federal level, are very very very simple. You simply have a list of candidates and their party affiliation with a box next to them that you mark with an X or check. Simple ballots means simple rules to determine what represents a spoiled ballot. In the US, ballots are often quite complex, with multiple elected positions be selected, as well as voter initiatives. As we saw from the hanging chad controversy in Florida in 2000, complex ballots can cause just about any counting system to produce a high number of errors.

            It's also notable that in the US, the agencies responsible for managing elections and counting ballots are often politicized. Elections Canada is pretty fiercely non-partisan, and even with the robocall scandal, it is demonstrated that it is not afraid to take on the government that signs its paycheck. The idea of a Conservative or NDP electoral officer for any riding in Canada would be an anathema.

          • Re:Perfect (Score:4, Informative)

            by Daniel Dvorkin ( 106857 ) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @02:26PM (#41281491) Homepage Journal

            If you are telling me with a straight face that millions of ballots are counted with no mistakes, I have a bridge to sell you.

            You're missing the point. Margin of Error [] is a statistical concept having to do with what happens when you take a small sample from a large population (e.g., what happens in pre-election polls). Mistakes in counting are a type of measurement error, which is a different beast entirely and can occur whether you're taking a small sample or measuring the entire population (as is the case in elections, where "population" in this sense refers to the set of people who cast ballots). Margin of error can be calculated based on the numbers measured (and if you run the MoE calculations on the "count all ballots" scenario, you will get a result of precisely 0) while measurement error, pretty much by definition, can't. The only way to detect measurement error is by calibration, which in this case means a recount.

      • Re:Perfect (Score:5, Informative)

        by smpoole7 ( 1467717 ) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @01:28PM (#41281001) Homepage

        > some sort of tie breaker

        For the record: for US Presidential elections, it's Congress and the state legislatures. That's clearly spelled out in the Constitution, and modified by the 12th Amendment. This came into play in the election of 1824, where no candidate received a clear majority of electoral votes. (One interesting quirk that most people are unaware of: in this event, the votes are BY STATE -- in other words, each state gets one vote for the President, regardless of size and how many electors in has!!!)

        I'm not saying that the electoral college system couldn't be improved (or even eliminated), but the assertion that there is no "tie-breaker" is one that has been deliberately raised by both parties to allow them to slug it out in court, instead of handing it to the legislature, as is provided by the Constitution. In fact, the somewhat-complicated electoral system here in the US has "tie-breaking" built in, if it's followed correctly.

        I was screaming back in 2000 that the whole quagmire in Florida could have been avoided if the Constitution had simply been followed. In that case, the state legislature should have gotten involved. The fact that it had a Republican majority at the time meant that Bush would have won anyway, but I'm completely fair when I say that: if Florida had had a Democratic majority in 2000, it would've been Gore, and I would have accepted that just as readily. ANYTHING rather than throw it into endless court fights that left half of America bitter to this day.

        And I disagree with anyone who thinks that the Canadian model would work any better with our much larger population. The US is as divided as I've ever seen it, and there will continue to be close elections. I don't know what the final answer will be, but I don't think the Canadian approach would work here.

      • Re:Perfect (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Teun ( 17872 ) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @01:54PM (#41281229) Homepage
        Why worry about a few votes per districts when the voter turnout at US presidential elections is only 50 - 60%?
        That's statistically a marginal problem.

        Even when you have to look for hanging chads to establish who's the next president :)

      • And the tie breaker should be a no holds barred cage match! To the Victor goes the office and to the defeated --- DEATH!
  • 10x the votes to count, but maybe it would be worth it. If you can mark an X, you're my kind of people.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 09, 2012 @12:25PM (#41280487)

      There's also 10x the number of counters

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      10x the votes to count, but maybe it would be worth it. If you can mark an X, you're my kind of people.

      Yeah but you also have 10x more people to count the votes, so it isn't an issue.

    • by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @12:29PM (#41280517) Journal

      There is no reason the system could not scale. Since counts happen at polling station, providing you have enough of them in any district it would not matter whether the population was 30 million, 300 million or a billion.

    • by brunes69 ( 86786 )

      And 10x the polling stations to spread it out, and the volunteerism available.

      The "too many votes to count" is a red herring in the US. The US population is not that dense. If anything the regional population density in Canada is on average GREATER which makes the whole argument silly.

      • by tofubeer ( 1746800 ) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @12:50PM (#41280711)

        "The US population is not that dense."

        are you sure about that?

    • by Dzimas ( 547818 ) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @12:45PM (#41280659)
      Everything is easily scaleable. The count is done at the local level, with representatives from the major parties on hand to watch as the votes are tallied. It's a relatively quick process that usually only takes two or three hours (it can be slowed somewhat by spoiled ballots). In CEOs where the count is close, candidates can request a recount, a process that takes several days. All in all, it's a system that I trust more than electronic voting machines, simply because you *can* recount and reexamine all of the voter's original ballots. You can also have observers (from major parties and Elections Canada) actually watching the process in real time at thousands of polling stations, whereas an electronic system has the potential for massive centralized fraud.
      • by TheLink ( 130905 ) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @01:41PM (#41281105) Journal
        The problem with many electronic voting systems is they are weak at an important requirement for voting systems: Convincing the losers they've lost. If you cannot convince the losers they've lost and they start a civil war, the election is just a waste of time, money and resources.

        With hand counted paper ballots, it doesn't take a genius to know you've lost if you (or your party's representatives) watch the votes being taken out of the ballot boxes and counted one by one, and the majority of the votes are for "The Other Party".

        Yes you can still cheat, but it's a lot harder to do it and not make it obvious. The cheating is usually in the postal/zombie votes and gerrymandering, and in isolated/remote areas. The electronic system is just as weak in those areas.

        With the electronic voting system - how are you going to convince enough people that no cheating is happening?
    • by prefec2 ( 875483 )

      You also have 10x more people who could count. Therefore, the size argument is a non issue. In Germany (60 mio) we can count the votes by hand (to be precise, we must count them by hand, all other methods have been judged to be intransparent and therefore not applicable to an election). And on European-elections (300 mio voters) we do the same in most countries. So it should be possible to do that in the US as well.

    • by Mashiki ( 184564 ) < minus caffeine> on Sunday September 09, 2012 @12:54PM (#41280745) Homepage

      10x the votes to count, but maybe it would be worth it. If you can mark an X, you're my kind of people.

      It works fine in the GTA(Greater Toronto Area). The population there is around 7.8m people. We just use more polling areas to make sure everything is accountable. The same reason why we have a voter ID system in place, because it bloody well works. [] Remember where it says "oath in front of an election officer, with them swearing for one person" Perjury in Canada can land you upto 14 years in jail. And the judge will throw the book at you. Perjury is a serious crime here.

      • by Minwee ( 522556 ) <> on Sunday September 09, 2012 @10:22PM (#41284501) Homepage

        Perjury is a serious crime here.

        Unless you're the Mayor. Then it's a matter of being too busy to tell the truth.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by markhahn ( 122033 )

        I'm an American and recent Canadian immigrant - I haven't voted here, in Canada, yet. But I've been receiving "you are registered to vote" cards for about at least a decade.

        The point is: counting is only a fairly small, technical part of the problem. WHO VOTES is if anything, more important. not only outright fraud (double voting, or voting in the wrong riding), but clear campaigns of voter suppression (phone calls claiming to be from Elections Canada, but which provided a misleading polling place.) our

    • by gl4ss ( 559668 )

      10x the votes to count, but maybe it would be worth it. If you can mark an X, you're my kind of people.

      this is what americans always bring up when someone questions their shitty paperhole machines and other voting customs.
      it makes it look like americans think that every country has an appointed fixed number of voting officials from galactic council or some shit like that.

      don't use the "MOAR PEOPLE!!" argument, since it's obvious it scales with the number of people.

      you could use the "a smaller percentage of americans actually cares about the voting process" argument successfully though, since that's what it b

  • I'm Canadian (Score:5, Insightful)

    by iplayfast ( 166447 ) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @12:24PM (#41280477)

    It gives the little old men and ladies a nice part time job for a while, and good times are had by all. I used to think that computer voting would be better but now that I've seen it in action, I'm glad we stuck to hand counting. Also it's fun watching the result get tallied, it's not instant so there is some buildup/drama.

    Voting as entertainment and job market. :)

    • Re:I'm Canadian (Score:4, Insightful)

      by spire3661 ( 1038968 ) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @12:40PM (#41280611) Journal
      The problem is we havent seen TRUE computer voting in action. What we have seen is vested 3rd parties push machines on us that OBVIOUSLY can be backdoor'd. Any one of us here could design an e-voting system that outclasses anything made by Diebold, if only for the fact that we wouldnt be trying to backdoor it on purpose.
      • Re:I'm Canadian (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Daas ( 620469 ) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @12:54PM (#41280747)

        I'm also Canadian, from the wonderful province of Québec.

        A couple of years ago, they did some kind of "super city elections". Pretty much every city and village of the province had elections held on the same day, most of them using an electronic voting system. It was, I think, the best type available : your ballot wasn't any different then the one we're used to, just white circles on a black background. The difference was that instead of putting it in a box, you'd put it in a scanner first and it would fall in a bin after that. Re-counting, if necessary was pretty straight forward.

        It was, however, the last time I saw electronic voting used in the province. Because of electoral law, the electronic ballots were kept at the voting stations until they were closed, the scanners would then upload their results in batch onto the servers of the company that had been chosen to do the counting. It failed miserably, possibly because of the amount of data they had to process at once, most probably because they had a web facing interface where you could go and watch the results coming in live. Most ballot boxes had to be recounted by hand and the results had to be phoned in.

      • by maxwell demon ( 590494 ) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @12:56PM (#41280763) Journal

        The problem is we havent seen TRUE computer voting in action.

        You're right. In the end, it's still the people who vote. It's time to change that. ;-)

  • by RichMan ( 8097 ) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @12:25PM (#41280485)

    We get away with hand counting because any one poll (vote collection point) is less than a thousand people. Each riding is many polls.

    See Elections Canada for Details: what happens after a vote - []

    Following the close of a polling station, the deputy returning officer in an electoral district counts the votes, in the presence of the poll clerk, and any candidates or their representatives who are present, or, if none are present, in the presence of at least two electors. Before the count, the deputy returning officer must, in the following order:

            * count the number of electors who voted and enter the number in the poll book

            * count the spoiled ballots, place them in the envelope provided for that purpose, indicate the number of spoiled ballots on the envelope and seal it

            * count the unused ballots, place them in the envelope provided for that purpose, indicate their number on the envelope and seal the envelope

            * ensure that all ballots provided are accounted for

    The deputy returning officer then empties the contents of the ballot box onto a table to proceed with the count.

    During the count, the deputy returning officer examines each ballot, shows it to each person present and asks the poll clerk to tally the vote in favour of the candidate for whom the vote was cast. The poll clerk (along with any of the candidates or their representatives who also wish to do so) keeps a tally of the votes for each candidate.

    • by ThaumaTechnician ( 2701261 ) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @01:01PM (#41280789)
      It's important to mention that the ballots were redesigned after the 1995 referendum so that the voter's choice is clear and unambiguous. See here: [] Mark one of the circles only (an X, fill the circle in, whatever), and it's OK. Mark more than one, the ballot is spoiled. In addition, by law, each citizen gets four continuous hours to vote. That is, somewhere in the twelve hours that the polls are open, your employer has to schedule you so that you can get four uninterrupted hours to vote. So if you local poll open times are 8:30 am - 8:30 pm, and your work schedule is 9:00 am to 6:00 PM, your employer MUST either start your day at 12:30 PM, or end it at 4:30 PM. In all the voting I've done in Canada, the whole process, from the time I've walked into a polling station to the time I've walked out, has seldom been longer than half and hour and never longer than an hour. No, I've never had to queue outside.
  • by aegl ( 1041528 ) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @12:26PM (#41280495)

    Why is there an obsession with getting the the results of an election within hours/minutes of the polls closing?

    In the USA elections are in early November, POTUS isn't sworn in until mid January. Take a week or two to count the votes.

    • Hell, it's more than feasible to count the votes in a few hours by hand, no need to wait weeks.

    • by cpghost ( 719344 ) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @12:35PM (#41280571) Homepage

      Take a week or two to count the votes.

      Why take so long? In Germany (population 80 millions), where they manually count the votes like in Canada using a highly distributed system, it usually takes less than 6 to 10 hours to _complete_ the counting for the federal elections. In practice though, exit polls and the first intermediary results (Hochrechnungen) are usually very close to the final result, so it is seldom a cliffhanger that lasts deep into election night.

      • by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @01:52PM (#41281209) Journal

        I can't think of an election here in Canada where the final results are not known within 2 to 3 hours. The last election had a few more close races, so I think it was around 11pm Pacific that the various media outlets were calling the election.

        Americans have been fed a lot of pure horseshit about manual voting, and yet I hear of no actual evidence of any of the major Western countries that use it where there is any evidence of any kind of mass screw ups or fraud.

    • by bruce_the_loon ( 856617 ) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @12:39PM (#41280605) Homepage

      In darkest Africa us 40 million South Africans vote manually, count manually and verify by holding each ballot up so that the polling station members can all agree. And we still finish counting by the next day.

    • by prefec2 ( 875483 )

      The problem of that, the show cannot be marketed that good by the media, if it takes that long. From a democratically point of view, this is a non issue. However, in a mediacracy country, like the US, the show is important not the results. You need a winner and a loser. And you need it fast. The drama is performed through the pre-election-campaigns with the selection of the candidates, where there is a winner and loser all the time. In the end one wins this phase (Mitt Romney) and is now ready to face to pr

    • by TrevorB ( 57780 ) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @01:21PM (#41280941) Homepage

      In Canada we *get* the results of the election within hours of the polls closing, usually 2 or 3. That's with four federal parties who make the math of who exactly won a little more difficult.

      Hand counting isn't as slow as you think it is when you have enough people organized to do the job properly.

  • by Strider- ( 39683 ) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @12:33PM (#41280549)

    The real difference is that when we vote, all we vote for is the local representative. Unlike the US, we actually allow the politicians to govern, for better or worse. What we don't have is a gazillion citizens initiatives demanding that the government spend money on new projects while preventing the government from raising taxes to support these projects.

    Enshrined within the constitution is the premise of parliamentary supremacy, which is exactly as it sounds. The vote of Parliament is supreme, it can even override the supreme court (though only for a period of 5 years). Binding referendums are thus, by definition, unconstitutional, and thus we don't have to do this stupid crap on election day.

    If we don't like what they do, we turf 'em out in the next election. (Also, we have more than two realistic choices on the ballot paper)

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Yeah, let's just ignore the election fraud, proroguing, and general corruption that's been going on lately. Every time I turn around it's another circle jerk about Canada.

      The grass is NOT greener up here folks, we just do a better job of painting it that way.

      I love this country, and if all people ever do is spout off out about how great it is while at the same time sweeping growing problems under the carpet and silencing criticism, we're going to wind up in the shitter, fast. You should the people and the m

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I'm sorry, but that is an oversimplification of the system. We also have an appointed senate, for which the governing party appoints their representatives to seats made vacant during their reign. And, there is the massively disproportionate representation of seats for Central and Eastern Canada.

      There is a lot of misunderstanding about the later. I'm old enough to remember the Meech Lake Accord that the politicians tried to ram down our throats. A guaranteed minimum of 25% representation in parliament fo

    • Canada has a worse system though. No primaries - party organization rather than voters select the candidates. No executive branch election - winning party sets up the cabinet however it wants. No accountability except the vote in the next election which is in 5 years time in the lower house - at least US House representatives can be kicked out in 2 years. No voting at all for the upper house - the members are selected by the Prime Minister. Worst of all is the "parliamentary supremacy" - the rule of men ra

  • by ajdlinux ( 913987 ) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @12:34PM (#41280561) Homepage Journal

    In Australia, for most purposes we still use paper ballots. (There are a few exceptions - ACT territory elections have *optional* computer-based voting, and NSW state elections have an *optional* online voting system for some absentee or disabled voters.)

    On election night, officials at every polling place - who are required to sign a declaration, under penalty, that they are not politically active - do an initial hand count of first-preference votes (yes, we have IRV and STV ballots here) and the votes for the top two front runners. These are the numbers that make their way to the internet in a matter of minutes and are used for the election night media coverage - but they actually have no legal significance at all, they're basically purely for the media coverage.

    The real counting happens the week after election day, when all ballots are transported to the local electoral office for counting. For elections that use IRV ballots (e.g. the federal House of Representatives), the ballots are all hand counted. For STV ballots (e.g. the federal Senate), they do use computer based counting, however the paper ballots are retained and a hand count can be done if necessary. If there are any issues that arise, the Returning Officer has the discretion to order a recount as necessary, without necessarily needing court orders or anything like that.

    The *entire process* - opening the polls, conducting the polling, closing the polls, the first count, the second count, and any recounts - takes place in front of candidate-appointed scrutineers (not quite as good as being public, but it's close enough). Every candidate can appoint scrutineers to witness the whole process and make objections.

    And this is how Australia has elections that are virtually unchallengeable - for a typical federal election, there will usually be at most one serious dispute, and only in districts with the tiniest of margins where they need a judge to make the final decision. Heck, we're experimenting with computer-based and internet-based voting systems, and no-one's raising concerns because the Electoral Commission has such a high reputation for integrity and accuracy.

  • German elections (Score:4, Interesting)

    by prefec2 ( 875483 ) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @12:38PM (#41280591)

    In Germany, we had a long discussion about voting machines in recent years. In the end the Bundesverfassungsgericht (Supreme Court) decided, that present voting machines are not able to provide the necessities for a democratic elections, as it has to be anonymous, equal, and verifiable by any person. A computer counting votes, does not allow any verification. A computer with a paper trail, is hard to evaluate, as the log must be visible to the voter and if there went something wrong it must be changeable. Even though, it must be ensured that the machine is not printing extra votes, which would require someone standing beside the machine all time. Therefore, they ruled them inadequate for any election in Germany.

    Beside that, they are still able to present exit polls, right after closing of the polling stations, and the preliminary results, are presented on the same evening. This is fast enough for my taste. The verified result is presented some days later. But, all elections can be recounted at a later time, by anyone if he or she is not satisfied by the results.

    • by gb ( 8474 )

      One has to be careful about exit polls. In the 1992 UK general election, an exit poll of 10% of the voters turned out to predict the wrong result by more than could be explained by pure statistical chance. It turned out that a significant proportion of the electorate had "forgotten" which way they voted and said that they'd voted for the other party. It was an interesting evening watching the BBC's swingometer swing past the margin of error as the actualy results came in (being a country with a high populat

  • by cashman73 ( 855518 ) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @12:40PM (#41280607) Journal
  • As long as you're using clearly marked ballots, and least you can figure out who one by careful counting even if it takes a few days. It's been 12 years since the 2000 election [] and we still don't *really* know who won.

    Oh, and the Electoral College doesn't help much either - why should it be possible for a candidate to lose the election despite having a majority of the popular vote!?

  • I've done this (Score:5, Informative)

    by Webs 101 ( 798265 ) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @12:47PM (#41280683) Homepage

    I'm in Montreal and I've served as a scrutineer. The system works pretty much as described in the article, but I can add a few details.

    The voting section of the ballot is done with blank/white circles on a black background. This way, there is no confusion about making marks outside the lines. One circle and one circle only must have a mark for it to be a valid vote. The ballot is fairly large, maybe four by five inches or so, and that allows plenty of space between circles.

    The counterfoils are strips that are torn off the ballot with the help of perforations in the paper. The counterfoils are saved in a plastic bag and the number of counterfoils is compared to the number of cast ballots as part of the process of counting votes. It's a simple process, but there is some human error. When I did it, the two numbers didn't match up. We were off by one or two, as I recall.

    The biggest problem we had, and a potential source of fraud the scrutineers can do nothing about, is the list of registered voters. We get a stack of papers stapled together that contain the names and addresses of all voters eligible to vote at our poll (there are several polls at each voting location). This list tells us who has already voted in advance polls. Either some of these are in error or some voters don't remember going to the advance polls, but we had a few cases in which we had to refuse voters because they were marked as having already voted. Some of them got really angry, but there is nothing we at the polls can do about that.

    The voting and counting are open to the public and to party witnesses. Anybody can watch the process take place, but it is absolutely hands off for them.

    The hand-counting doesn't take very long. Each polling station (ballot box) only has to count a few hundred votes, which is then reported to the officer in charge of the voting location, and so on up the chain. The entire station - ballots, papers, counterfoils, etc. - are sealed in the box with special tape and returned, so that any recounts would be easy to accomplish.

    • Re:I've done this (Score:4, Informative)

      by Webs 101 ( 798265 ) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @12:55PM (#41280753) Homepage
      Sorry. I wasn't a scrutineer, of course. I ran the polling station. I may be going a tad senile.
    • by rueger ( 210566 ) *
      Worth noting that it used to be the norm for Elections Canada to do door to door enumeration prior to elections to make sure that the voters' list was up to date and complete.

      Several years back the government of the day eliminated that practice - probably under the guise of saving money - so that now the voters' list is of considerably less use - hence the rules to allow people to register at the polls, and the sometimes questionable practices [] that follow.

      Needless to say, the people who fall off of th
  • by PPH ( 736903 ) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @12:52PM (#41280729)

    The Canadian descriptions of voting procedures are nice. But now we'd have to modify them to account for our (Washington State) and other states 100% vote by mail process. Don't get me wrong, I think it can be done. But the whole mail-in process opens up other cans of worms.

    One thing vote by mail does is to eliminate the whole electronic voting machine fraud issue. There is a paper trail. It can be re-counted. I fear the day we switch to Internet voting. This is the home of Microsoft and I don't want some Russian script kiddie elected as our governor.

  • by wiwa ( 905999 ) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @12:53PM (#41280737)

    Of all the things Canadians can mock about U.S. elections, your difficulty in counting up the votes isn't even the top of the list. The most mind-boggling thing is that your election campaigns take most of a year, ensuring that for about 20% of the election cycle, any given politician (including the president) is basically unable to engage in their actual job of governing the country and is instead campaigning. In Canada, election campaigns typically last about six weeks; before the election is officially called, campaigning is prohibited. The result is that politicians can spend vastly more time doing their jobs and campaigns cost vastly less money.

    Oh, and don't get me started on how incredibly bad an idea it is to have elected judges, prosecutors, sheriffs, etc. Here (Ontario) I think there are only five officials we actually vote for: representatives in federal and provincial legislatures, city councilor, mayor, and school board trustee. Everyone else is appointed, usually de facto by committee.

    • by Strider- ( 39683 )

      Here in lotusland, we also elect the park board. :) That said, in BC at least, I don't know why they still bother with school boards. The province has basically tied the hands of the school boards in terms of curriculum, negotiating with teachers, etc... so I really don't see why it's an elected thing any more.

  • If it's that close that it's difficult to count, does it really matter who wins?

    Every election the candidates adjust their position in various issues in order to pickup different demographics of voters. Both of them compete by slicing up the American public based on different categories of group think, and picking a side on each issue. It's a like a complex game of Go where both competitors give up ground in some areas to take ground in others. And like in most Go games, the result is a near 50% split of ca

  • As a person fairly knowledgeable about technology and what can go wrong during its implementation and use, I am somewhat dubious about the use of unauditable unverifiable, proprietary computer systems for voting. However, many discussions of this issue are based on an underlying assumption that paper ballots and hand counting have an error rate of zero and a margin of error of 0%, and that is not the case. With the best will and good intentions in the world human beings handling 120 million pieces of pape

  • The US situation (Score:4, Informative)

    by dskoll ( 99328 ) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @01:00PM (#41280785) Homepage

    I've spoken to some Americans about this, and they say one problem with US elections is that the ballots are humongous. Many states allow voters to vote on propositions during election time, so when it comes time to vote you really have to cast tens of votes for all kinds of different things. (Any Americans want to confirm this?)

    So obviously the solution to this is: Don't do that. Simplify things and get rid of the whole "Proposition X" nonsense. It certainly does nothing to improve democracy, but it's excellent at dividing communities and driving state and local governments into bankruptcy.

    • You can do that by color coding the paperballots in different colors so you dont get them confused and can put them in the right box of votes. For example blue paper ballots for presidental race, red for senate, white for house of reprasentatives, green for local elections and yellow, pink etc for propositions.

  • I just did my stint for the Quebec elections, and there's plenty of room for error. The people that work at the tables are basically paid volunteers. People can apply for the job, get a phone call and go to a training session. The first problem is that there's no IQ test, and the second problem is the training itself is the usual extremely boring and overly-detailed yet useless bureaucratic affair.

    Each voting "office" is basically a cafeteria table with 3 to 4 people sitting at it, and a voting booth with a privacy screen.

    The jobs are:

    1) The scrutineer that hands the ballot to the elector

    2) The secretary that checks voter ID and addresses

    3) The electoral clerk that simply compiles the voter ID by line number. He compiles the list hourly as the voters come in.

    4) Optional, a representative from one of the parties to act as a monitor.

    The voting is held in specially designated buildings like school gyms, church basements, whatever. There are obviously more than one of these tables per building, usually 10 tables to cover a decent area. The voter list has about 300-400 names, so each building can handle at least 3000 voters over the 10.5 hours they're open.

    There are also a bunch of other people that monitor the overall proceedings and help voters as they come in.

    It's pretty straightforward until you realize that at the amount of people they hire, there are different interpretations and personalities at work. At my table, the scrutineer was an idiot. I seriously thought she was retarded. The ballot is torn off a block of paper, folded three times and initialed by the scrutineer. The ballot is handed to the voter, he votes, folds it back, hands it to the scrutineer who is supposed to check that his initals are still there, tears off a stub and hands the ballot back to the voter who then puts it in the sealed box.

    Easy, right? Nope, the scrutineer was unable to make a coherent sentence and the voters thought THEY had to put THEIR initials on the ballot. Of course not, the vote is secret, but people vote every few years, how do they know? The scrutineer also managed to tear off more than one ballot at a time.

    I know we lost a few votes that way.

    Anyways, the training would have been better if it were hands-on, since most of this stuff is motor memory stuff. Just sitting at a session two weeks before the real thing is not enough. There should also be a dry run before we let electors in.

    The next problem is that the workers can't really leave the building for the duration of the voting. It was hot and stuffy in my building, and I got a headache. I used to work in warehouses in the summer unloading 18 wheelers and never got a headache.

    I only stayed 11.5 hours, but the people opening the ballot boxes and counting them stay even longer.

  • by kawabago ( 551139 ) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @01:29PM (#41281005)
    We still manage to elect assholes like Stephen Harper.
    • by n3r0.m4dski11z ( 447312 ) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @01:56PM (#41281235) Homepage Journal

      There is quite a bit of evidence that he stole this election though. Even though we had a great system, when you have harper's people calling people and telling them that their poll location has changed, only calling NDP and liberal voters. Well he should be strung up for fraud and treason. No poll locations had ever changed.

      So in short, things can still go wrong.

    • The ballot counting system is very good, but the voting system could use improvement.

      Though the current system is so entrenched that we'll need an incentive to throw ALL the bums out, like New Zealand in 1992.

  • by EmperorOfCanada ( 1332175 ) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @06:28PM (#41283321)
    In Halifax they have gone to a whole new level of insanity. A private company with no open auditing does telephone voting for municipal elections. The turnover of politicians has dropped to nearly zero since they implemented the new system.

    Also the local parties such as the liberals have various electronic voting schemes. One blew up years ago with completely nonsense numbers. If the numbers had not been total nonsense and instead reasonable yet very wrong they probably would have gone with the numbers.

    They keep blah blahing about increasing voter participation. If they want more voter participation then have referendums on important issues. In our area I can see some real big issues that would get people voting in droves: a referendum for each section of the city to remain in the amalgamated city; a vote to significantly reduce the pay of the councilors; a vote to cut city staff way back; a vote on the crazy rules that have basically turned the left turn indicator into a stop sign on metro buses; getting a light rail system; a massive crackdown on the 3 crime ridden areas of the city.

    These are issues that aren't touched but would get people voting. So if the choice is between one failed real-estate agent and a failed lawyer then oddly enough people don't bother voting. When the choice is something that matters then people will vote. Using low voter turnout to justify throwing away our open voting system is insane.

    Any electronic voting system must print a ballot which is clear and is also the final measure of an election. The electronically gathered numbers should only be used as a temporary tally. The only benefit of electronic voting machines is that they prevent "hanging chads" and keep people from accidentally voting both sides of an issue or for more than a single politician.

    Another area of election reform that electronic voting could help with would be ordered voting. This way you don't end up with 6 people running and one person somehow winning with only 20% of the vote with 80% of people voting anybody but the person who wins. Happened last time.

    I might sound like I am 5 but the moron who our city has hired to run things name is Dick Butts and doesn't even really live in our city (Halifax). (Lives in Toronto.) Any good voting system would have these bums thrown out in a second.
  • by Yvanhoe ( 564877 ) on Monday September 10, 2012 @03:43AM (#41285595) Journal
    Here when you vote, they ask you "do you have time to help us count tonight?" If so we are then paired with someone we don't know, get ~500 ballots to count, have to agree on the final count. The total is then quickly made.

    Voluntary work, every thing is done in one hour. Really, US, ditch the voting machines.

"I prefer the blunted cudgels of the followers of the Serpent God." -- Sean Doran the Younger