America Votes – Counting The Ballots

As a concession to the pandemic and coronavirus transmission, voters in Canada re allowed to bring their own pencils into the polling station.

Americans take note: we use pencils, not voting machines. You should too.

The world wonders why the USA couldn’t count all its ballots on election night. Yes, there was a huge turnout and an unprecedented number of mail-in ballots, but couldn’t electoral officials have planned for that? After all, you knew how many people were eligible to vote.

Canada, the UK and other countries manage to get their votes counted on election night. There may be recounts, and the tally isn’t official, but people know the outcome, more or less. How come the USA, supposedly the most advanced society on the planet, couldn’t manage to do that?

Here’s a suggestion for the US. Scrap your system.

I don’t mean get rid of the Electoral College. It is an antiquated system, but, as much as I dislike it, I can see some ways to make it work. Perhaps that is a topic for another day. I mean, change the way you count the ballots.

First of all, get rid of the machines. Go back to paper and pencil.  Much less likely to have problems (remember 2000’s “hanging chads”? Mark the ballots with an X and count them manually. You will be surprised at how fast that goes.

Count the ballots where they are cast. You already have poll clerks there. They should do the count. Don’t truck them to a counting location.

The candidates can (and should) have scrutineers at each station to ensure the count is honest. It works very efficiently in Canada. Yes, the US has more ballots to count – but it also has more poll clerks.

That doesn’t address the issue of mail-in votes, which slowed the 2020 count. But once again, this is a matter of logistics. If you aren’t going to count the votes until election day, you need to ensure you have enough people to count them. It isn’t rocket science; it is basic math.

At this point an American is likely to interject: “But what about the ballot. There are too many things on it to count manually.” That is right.

Americans vote for everything from dogcatcher to President, all on the same ballot. Most just check off the box that says Republican or Democrat, they don’t consider each office. Maybe they should.

Separate ballots for each position would mean a lot more paper to be handled. But it would make the manual count easier. Different colored ballots would make sorting easier, or you could have separate ballot boxes.  Not to mention that electronic voting is a hacker’s dream. Paper is much safer if you care about the integrity of the system.

Of course such a simple refinement is impossible without a structural change in the way the US conducts an election. To continue to allow each state to set its own rules on how the president is elected seems silly to most of the world. It also seems somewhat unfair to those who are running.

Yesterday I suggested the US needs a non-partisan national election commission if it wants to be taken seriously as a democracy again. Is there a national will for such a change?

I don’t think so. If there was a real desire to improve the system it would have happened after the 2000 election, which saw George W. Bush win the presidency under highly questionable circumstances. That was an embarrassment to America, but the political class didn’t seem to notice.

Now, 20 years later, another presidential election has the world laughing at how the USA, supposedly a bastion of democracy, conducts its business.

You could say it is an internal affair, and if the people of the US want democracy in their country to continue to devolve, that is their choice.

It just seems such a pity.



  1. Everyone knew the mail-in ballots would be counted later right? And it is uniform throughout the province. In the US some states count them on election day, others before, others after.

    I suspect you’ll have official results in BC long before the US does. Still no winner on Saturday morning, four days since the last state was called for one candidate or another. There is no way the count should take that long.

  2. Neil Remington Abramson · · Reply

    You know in British Columbia we had a provincial election a couple weeks ago. There were about 700,000 mail in votes. BC law says mail in votes aren’t counted until two weeks after Election Night so they’re just starting now, even though our premier has been declared the winner, and the leader of the Official Opposition resigned more than a week ago. 700,000 is probably at least a quarter of all those eligible to vote.
    The Americans seem to be doing better than us. Biden may know he’s won before we know how well Mr Horgan, our premier, really did.

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