"Trust, but verify"

8:09 AM

We've heard elected officials and candidates speak routinely of "trust, but verify." The adage, invoked by many, including Ronald Reagan, recommends that while a source of information might be considered reliable, one should perform additional research to verify that such information is accurate, or trustworthy.

Amid concerns about the impact of big money in political campaigns, at the heart of democracy is a trust in the veracity of elections. We need to trust that the published outcomes are legitimate, accurate, and fair. We also know that democracy will not survive if the electorate is not vigilant.

Dr. Beth Clarkson
Hence, Dr. Beth Clarkson raises some troubling issues. I should preface by noting that Dr. Clarkson is a statistician, a professional mathematician. She is Chief Statistician at the National Institute for Aviation Research (NIAR); Senior Research Engineer and Chief Statistician for the National Center for Advanced Materials Performance (NCAMP); and Co-Chair of the Statistics Working Group and founding board member of the Composite Materials Handbook (CMH-17). Also, now an independent, Dr. Clarkson has been a registered Republican, until the 2013 government shutdown. Dr. Clarkson tells her story of the numbers not in a partisan outlet but via the United Kingdom's Royal Statistical Society in an article entitled: How trustworthy are electronic voting systems in the US? 

Yesterday, Dr. Clarkson shared her findings and concerns with a little over 100 people in Salina at Kansas State Polytechnic (link to Salina Journal article covering the event). She began with the chart below, a chart which repeats itself in numerous elections.
I am not a statistician. I am not great at helping numbers tell a story, but Dr. Clarkson is very curious about the story behind the numbers in the graph. The green line is what is expected. The green line shows manual inspection of paper ballots. The gradual trend-lines upwards in the other colors are befuddling. There is no ready explanation in mathematics or statistics for why they should differ from the green line.

Dr. Clarkson said, "I feel like a crazy nerd who can't let this go."
The problem is this: the upward tick of those lines suggests election fraud. It suggests that machine counting in larger precincts provides outcomes that favor certain candidates. Dr. Clarkson has found that these upward ticks occur in Red states as well as Blue. Perhaps it is machine error. Perhaps it is something more nefarious. She is clear: the data suggests that there may be election fraud happening in voting machines, but only an audit of those machines can prove it and restore trust in the fairness of elections.

So, Dr. Clarkson has tried to get the data to audit. Barriers have been thrown up. She has had to sue to seek access to the data. Her website, showmethevotes.org, tells the story of her work. The numbers tell an alarming story, and the election data, for the good of democracy and public trust, needs to be made available to the public for analysis.

I would summarize her main recommendations in the following way:
  1. Voting machine results must be audited. Apparently, Kansas has never cracked open the box to examine if the digital results correspond to the paper recording of the votes within one particular type of machine.
  2. All voting machines must provide a record for recounts. Ideally, the scanning machines that read a paper ballot are preferred. Thus, an audit or a recount is possible.
  3. The voting machines must use open source software. Currently, all the machines use proprietary software that independent persons cannot evaluate.
Thank goodness that Dr. Clarkson "can't let this go." She does a great service on behalf of citizens in raising these questions. This is not partisan. This is about the trustworthiness of democracy in the United States. Hopefully, it is a question that that will stir the hearts of voters such that elected officials must take the necessary steps to assure us that our elections results are transparent, trustworthy, and fair.

Dr. Clarkson receives no remuneration for her work. She does this work in her "free time." Out of her own pocket, she has funded her legal challenge to get access to the data. If the legal challenge is successful, she will be charged to examine the data. All of this incurs expense. Dr. Clarkson has a Go Fund Me campaign, and I highly recommend donating to her efforts.

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