Meaningful Distinction:

Patrick S. Lasswell Look outward for something to accomplish, not inward for something to despise.
pslblog at gmail dot com
Tuesday, November 02, 2004
Observing the Election from a Tester's Perspective

Yesterday I learned that I trust my vote to clear eyed ladies who cast their first vote for Wendell Wilkie more than I do young lawyers in short skirts who cast their first vote for Bill Clinton. I also learned how to scare young lawyers in short skirts from the room with an even tone and a reasonable statement. I spent election eve at the Multnomah County Elections office observing the process and doing my part to maintain healthy stress on the system, and keep an eye on the lawyers trying to screw it up. While there I got to see the entire process, and the hash Democratic lawyers have made out of the system of observing it.

For those of you who don't know me, I'm a systems tester currently between contracts who grew up in a fiercely partisan Democratic family. I did eight years in the Navy and left during the Clinton administration after a couple of pretty hard tours on tin cans. As a civilian, I leveraged my self-taught PC skills into a series of testing jobs at Intel and Microsoft. I've found enough bugs and written enough test plans to be able to spot deficiencies (bugs) in a process almost instantly.

After the election I will discuss the biggest single potential bug I saw, but the biggest existing bug in the election process I saw yesterday was the presence of lawyers as observers. Any test will affect the process being tested to a greater of lesser extent, but some testing methods are so invasive as to invalidate the results. Before the 2000 debacle, retired persons from across the political spectrum acted like tribal elders in preserving the traditions of the vote; in Oregon that system worked for generations. One thing good testers learn is that working systems rarely need to be messed around with.

Regrettably, this year Oregon became a swing state, and the tremendous amount of money flooding into the election economy resulted in the presence of lawyers from the Democratic Party showing up to observe the vote count. Oregon votes by mail and the ballots have been collecting for weeks and observers have been present watching the process to ensure that everything stayed above board. The observers from the Republican Party are predominantly mature ladies with clear eyes and a firm commitment to democracy. One lady I met yesterday was born before women got the vote and cast her first vote in the 1940 election. The observers from the Democratic Party are mostly young lawyers who have spent some time in DC. Because the Republicans showed up early with plenty number of people, the opposition lawyers made their presence felt by establishing boundaries where observers could and could not be and in what numbers and what representations.

The notion that democracy exists at the sufferance of injunctive relief is a new one that doesn't sit well with the sharp eyed ladies who have been watching the process for generations. One of the problems created by the lawyers is that many of the places where ballots are handled cannot possibly be observed from the newly defined observation locations, and the observers can only see one small set of the available ballot handling boards. In Oregon the mailed in ballots are contained within a secrecy envelope inside an envelope signed by the voter. At tables called "Boards" four people, predominantly retired ladies, from different political affiliations open the secrecy envelopes, review the ballots for quality of marking, and order the ballots for machine counting. If necessary, the ballots are enhanced, in accordance with state law supporting voter intent, by these people. As observers, our job was to count the ballots we can see being enhanced in order to note any particular trends and to help keep things honest. At the elections office, there are more than thirty Boards, and the observers can now only keep their eyes on at most eight of them from their newly imposed observation locations. In the interest of "fairness" we have lost transparency.

After watching the Boards for a while I went upstairs and relieved the fellow watching the front. Out front the people who had problems with their signature or their ballot were obtaining a ballot and voting. At one in the afternoon of the eve of the election, people were lined up halfway down the block with no shelter from the rain. Observing this process, I realized that the people engaged in voter fraud were most likely to be caught right at this stage. As a systems tester, I figured that the bugs in the registration system should be caught right at this point, and that the bad people bent on distorting the system should be rolled up by the police. Instead of a law enforcement problem, this was being handled as a bureaucratic function, however.

When the Democratic Party types surrounding me were gushing about the willingness of people to stand in line in the rain to vote, I let slip that I would feel better about the process if sometime in the next 20 hours somebody was hauled out of the building in handcuffs. It appears the notion that voter fraud should be punished acts upon Democratic lawyers like garlic does to vampires. If you are ever surrounded by Democratic lawyers, say in a clear voice your belief that voter fraud should be treated as a crime.

The great realization from yesterday's experience was that for the political operatives, reality was established only at elections. Those of us who test systems and methods more frequently, who are confronted with a more harsh reality than a malleable electorate, make political types distinctly uncomfortable. The central threat of non-activist bloggers discussing political matters from a variety of perspectives is that we are not accountable to that electorate and so we can make uncomfortable statements without fear of refutation. We can risk offending voters by arresting them for fraud because we have nothing to lose; in fact, we have a lot to gain from this behavior.

I hope that we have a clear decision tonight because the legalistic imposition of fairness has diminished transparency in Oregon, and probably elsewhere. They have muddied the water in an attempt to control the vote and the best result free people can hope for is that this effort was futile. I hope this election establishes a reality that lawyers cannot control the will of the people. A decisive win by Bush will re-establish the notion that power flows from the people to the government, without the consent of the trial lawyer's bar.
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