Ignorance, it turns out, isn't bliss.
The Texas Tribune has a fascinating (although not in a good way) story about the interest of many county-level Republican officials in Texas to hand-count the 2024 primaries: Texas Republicans in one rural county will hand count ballots. Experts say it’s “a recipe for disaster.” While, as the headline notes, it appears that only one county will do so, the piece details how a number of county-level GOP operations were seriously considering the option, including in Dallas and Travis (i.e., Austin) counties.
When Gillespie County Republicans conduct their primary in March, they will count votes in an ill-advised way: by hand, using scores of volunteers, without any machines.
Even if they can pull off their expensive, labor-intensive plan, they risk being sued by losing candidates or reprimanded by the state. And they may run up a huge bill of unnecessary costs.
“Hand-counting is a recipe for disaster,” said Bob Stein, a political science professor at Rice University and election administration expert. He and most other experts agree on this, and studies back them up: The method is time-consuming, costly, less accurate, and less secure than using machines to tally votes.
Party leadership in larger counties have, so far, resisted a full hand count. In Dallas County, leadership determined it would be impossible with present resources. In Travis County, the local GOP decided on a significantly watered-down hand-counting plan, focusing on a small percentage of primary ballots cast.
Anyone who has dropped a deck of playing cards and then counted to make sure there were 52 knows that it is insanely easy to make a mistake on a hand count. And we are talking about far mroe than 52 ballots.
Gillespie County Republicans, though, must now recruit and train 100 additional election workers to do the election day tasks that normally fall to county election workers.
Then there’s the enormous job of manually tallying the votes in the roughly dozens of races on the more than 3,000 ballots expected to be cast in the primary, racing against the clock to finish before the state’s 24-hour deadline for reporting results.
But party official David Treibs, a precinct chair who’s been leading the hand-count planning, doesn’t think it will be much of a hassle.
“It’s not anything that’s really complicated. If you go ‘1, 2, 3, 4, 5’ then you can do it,” Treibs, who has no experience hand-counting ballots, told Votebeat. “So it’s not like calculus, you know? If you have a good attention span, then I think most people can do it.”
This is a great illustration wherein “common sense” approached by non-experts leads to very poor choices.
Ben Adida, executive director for VotingWorks, a nonprofit voting system vendor, which helped the state of Georgia perform a hand-counted audit of the state’s 2020 presidential results, agreed that hand-counting was nothing like calculus. But, he said, it was also nothing like counting to five.
“Imagine being asked to count the number of sheets in a large ream of paper, the kind you get from Staples,” he said. Mistakes aren’t allowed, nor are programs like Excel. Plus, “You have to do it 80 times, because there are 40 contests with 2 candidates each.”
Adida said he understands why hand-counting sounds easy, but once you’ve done it, you quickly realize it’s a daunting process with dozens of steps.
And, of course, you aren’t just counting the individual sheets, but are tallying multiple marks on the pages. Further, as the story notes, there are legal deadlines that must be met by this process putting additional pressure on human volunteers, which will almost certainly increase error rates.
There is also cost involved (hand-counting is not the fiscally conservative option):
At an Austin gathering of more than 500 local party chairs in September, Christina Adkins, the state’s elections division director, warned the costs might quickly spiral out of control.
“It is entirely possible that your costs may exceed our ability to pay for the primary election,” she said, standing behind a podium inside a large hotel ballroom. For over an hour, Adkins went through slide after slide of a presentation detailing rules, procedures, and logistical requirements of a hand count. “If everybody in the state goes to hand-counting, we may not have the funds to pay for everything.”
Adkins directed every party chair in the room considering a hand count to take a look at how much a previous similar election cost them and to consider the fact that additional workers, additional hours, and additional supplies would be required.
She also did not waver on one point: No county will get a pass on following the law because of the logistical difficulties of hand-counting.
The entire notion that hand-counting is a good idea stems from poisoned logic that we have an electoral fraud problem in this country (spoiler: we do not) and specifically that voting machines are rigged (ask Fox News’s bank account about that one). It is further exacerbated by (again) “common sense” reasoning that machines can (in theory) be manipulated while good ol’ people can count!
Side note: I guarantee that the scantron machine that I used to grade multiple choice exams did a far more accurate job of grading a stack of exams than had I done them manually. (And that machine was one helluva a lot faster!).
This entire situation is a great illustration of how false narratives (such as the one that we have a serious electoral fraud problem in this country) lead to poor understanding on a mass level and therefore to truly stupid public policy decisions being made. All of this truly is an example of Republican activists making their supporters dumber over time.
Please note that this is not the kind of assessment I tend to like to make, but it is empirically true and not a normative judgment. Organizations like the Heritage Foundation have been very specifically and actively pushing the electoral fraud narrative for some time. I wrote about their “database” here some time ago with a follow-up post that further discussed the “database” and demonstrated how that “information” was used at CPAC (by a writer for the National Review) to bolder the Big Lie narrative about 2020. Beyond those specifics, the reality is that an overwhelming majority of the party has been either directly endorsing the Big Lie or, at a minimum, being utter weasels about it. Consider the obvious signal that was sent on January 6, 2021, when 147 Republicans voted against certifying the election.
You reap what you sow, and the GOP has been sowing distrust in elections and democracy for quite some time. The adage of “garbage in, garbage out” is about programming a computer, but it is supremely true about human beings. Supposed obvious, easy, common sense answers (” If you go ‘1, 2, 3, 4, 5’ then you can do it”) oh so rarely are what they are cracked up to be.
I will conclude by noting that the grandest irony of the whole notion of hand-counting instead of using machines is that it opens the door to a higher probability of massive fraud than sticking with the machines. It unequivocally will introduce more errors into the results.