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A Primer on Switching to Paper Balloting & Manual Counting in Your County

Updated: May 5, 2023

The following does not constitute legal advice.

This guide is a work-in-progress, so expect to see changes as more information becomes available from those forging a path forward.

Paper balloting and manual counting can be more transparent, secure, and reliable than electronic voting systems. This primer will guide you through the steps needed to convince your county board of supervisors to make the switch.

1. Research the benefits of paper balloting and manual counting

Begin by gathering information on the advantages of paper ballots and manual counting methods. This may include increased security, transparency, and the ability to conduct audits. Be prepared to address potential concerns, such as cost, time, and staffing requirements. Someone from the Lex Rex Institute or Cause of America can help you out here, but there are plenty of other resources, too. Check out this video from Tom Scott, which is 12 minutes long and entertaining — a rarity when it comes to complex topics like secure balloting! If you’re looking for an easy link to share with others who have no clue what you’re talking about, this video is likely the best you’ll find. There are also other resources available from the National Election Defense Coalition and similar groups. If you’re going to convince others, you have to know the facts. Unfortunately, this step is where all too many concerned citizens stop. It’s easy to become engrossed in learning and for information to fail to produce action. Don’t let this happen. Spend a week or two reading up on the advantages, then get going!

2. Understand your county's current voting system

Research the voting methods used in your county and the reasons behind their adoption. This will help you make a stronger case for change and counter any arguments supporting the status quo. There are a huge number of voting systems employed throughout the United States, and unfortunately chances are, no one has prepared a special dossier on your county’s eccentricities. You can be this person! It’s not as hard as you might think. The good news is that most of these systems boil down to a dozen or so options, with scattered variations. Election law tends to be a combination of county law and state law. Start with your state’s elections code (or similar law) if you’re not sure where to look. You can also likely look at the website for your county’s Registrar of Voters (oftentimes also called the “County Clerk”) for information about your specific county. There are also trained attorneys with the Lex Rex Institute who can help you with this and make sure what you find is correct, once you’ve prepared that dossier. Cause of America has chapters in most states with representatives that can help you with the specifics of your county’s laws. Again, other resources are also great. Get a team together to help with this, if it sounds daunting. We’re also working on building templates and outlines that concerned citizens can follow for the different systems, so if you’d like to help out with that, please let us know. But please don’t wait until they’re finished to start. Time is always of the essence.

3. Attend county board meetings

Attend your county board of supervisors' meetings to better understand their concerns and priorities. Most states require county boards to allow comments from the public. Use this. Be prepared to share your thoughts and present information on the benefits of paper balloting and manual counting. If you go with a group, don’t sit together. Sit around the room, and it looks like you came independently, suggesting a broader base of support. Make sure that not everyone who attends mentions the group. You can find information about your county board meetings on the county’s website. Most states require agendas for meetings to be posted several days in advance of the meeting, and you can find the time, place, and information about public comment there. Don’t stop. This might seem like a simple step, but it’s the most important one. Chances are, unless you live in the world’s most open-minded county, attending one board meeting is unlikely to change anything immediately. Keep going. Keep presenting facts and keep gathering more. Don’t let the board’s stubbornness wear you down. It might take years. Keep going, keep politely presenting the truth, and don’t give up. When you DO start getting traction, take it and run with it.

4. Build a coalition of support

Reach out to like-minded individuals, organizations, and community groups to build a network of support. This coalition can help you present a united front when advocating for change. If you follow Step 3, you’ll likely find that people start to approach you about building a coalition, so you may not even need to search for people. At this stage, it’s extremely important to avoid forming factions. Not everyone in your coalition needs to agree with all your politics. In fact, it’s better if they don’t. People from every part of the political spectrum should advocate for free and fair elections, and we should welcome their help. The last thing we need is to waste our effort fighting against each other instead of promoting the goal of manual elections. In most counties (even very large ones), you can accomplish a great deal with a coalition of about 25 people. But you don’t need that many, so don’t worry if your group is smaller than that.

5. Grow the coalition

Don’t be discouraged if you never get to this step, but if you have the chance to grow your coalition beyond a smaller number, take it. We spoke with someone influential in Shasta County’s successful movement to return to paper balloting and she said that the best way to grow a group is to set it up so that the people you invite can also invite other people. This approach can help to expand the group while ensuring that the members are invested in the cause and can bring new perspectives and ideas. It's essential to avoid making your own personal connections a bottleneck in the growth of your coalition. Instead, using platforms like Signal can help you reach a wider audience and attract new members. Signal is one of the more secure messaging platforms available, ensuring that the group's communications remain private and protected. Additionally, while traditional group text messages top out at around 30 members, Signal allows you to create messaging groups of up to 1000 people. This makes it an ideal platform for building a large coalition, particularly for a cause that requires a broad base of support.

6. Figure out the best approach

In most states, you’ll only have two options here. You can start either with your county’s Board of Supervisors or with the county’s Registrar of Voters/Clerk. The board has the ultimate say (in most states), but the ROV can be a powerful voice in getting the board on your side. Talk to people to get an idea of who is the most interested in helping. In lots of counties, the ROV is going to be in the pocket of the Secretary of State and will be your biggest obstacle, rather than an ally. If they can instead be an ally, they’ll make everything that follows far easier. If you can get the ROV on board, involve them as much as possible from this point forward. Make sure that the plans you’re proposing work for them and can be implemented. They’ll be a valuable resource in telling you what’s feasible and what’s not. In the event that you can’t access the ROV directly, maybe someone knows a person working in their office. The next steps are in no particular order, and can be done in any order, depending on the demands of the circumstances and the availability of resources.

7. Develop a proposal

Prepare a detailed proposal outlining the benefits of paper balloting and manual counting, the costs and resources required, and a plan for implementation. Address potential concerns and provide examples of other jurisdictions that have successfully made the switch. There are organizations that can provide you with examples of what this should look like, but you can see one example of a proposal to remove paperless voting machines here. Make sure to be specific and make sure your proposal is compliant with state law. To our knowledge, no state in the United States has laws that make paper balloting and manual counting impossible. That being said, even if you’re extremely careful to comply with state law, there’s a very good chance someone on your county board or someone in the community will tell you that your proposal breaks the law. It’s easy for county boards to get cold feet at this stage, so bringing along an elections lawyer with knowledge about your state’s laws is never a mistake. You’ll want to be sure to show the board of supervisors that what you’re proposing is not radical and that it can be accomplished consistently with your state’s existing laws. If you present your information to the board about switching voting systems and they don’t do anything with it, that’s fine. Don’t let the board’s inaction be an excuse for YOUR inaction. A successful group that we spoke to in Shasta County was comprised of over fifty devoted people who had banded together as vote canvassers in their county. Because of this group of volunteer canvassers, their group was able to collect more and more information of the fraud occurring in their county right under the board’s nose. The evidence mounted… and the pressure on the board grew.

8. Engage with the media

You don’t always need media support, and it can often be extremely difficult to come by, but it definitely helps where it’s available. Utilize local media outlets to raise awareness about the benefits of paper balloting and manual counting. Write op-eds, letters to the editor, or even appear on local radio or television programs to discuss the issue. It can often be difficult to find the contact information for members of the media, and harder still to get their attention. Sometimes you get lucky, but it helps to have someone who has preexisting media contacts. The best reporters are reporters who already know you. If you’ve found an attorney, they likely have at least a few media contacts they can get in touch with. Organizations often have connections to the media as well. Persistence and relationships are key here. If you don’t have the relationships, you will obviously need to be more persistent (and vice versa, but let’s hope we don’t have that problem).

9. Meet with your county board members

Request meetings with individual board members to discuss your proposal. Present your research, answer any questions, and address concerns. This personal approach can help build rapport and establish you as a credible resource on the topic. When talking to anyone in government about the advantages of paper balloting and manual counting, it’s best to speak from a nonpartisan angle and avoid conspiracy theories. Try not to focus on how we should switch because existing systems are corrupt, but because paper balloting and manual counting are better. If you do focus on the flaws of existing systems, try to couch what you say: the systems are “corruptible” and “prone to manipulation.” Regrettably, some perceive election integrity as a partisan issue, and have a knee-jerk reaction to anyone who claims that an election has been “rigged.” The beauty is that paper balloting and manual counting are better systems even when this isn’t true, so focus on that. In general, it’s best not to name-drop organizations or individuals when speaking with board members. You’re always a “concerned citizen” from a group of “concerned citizens.”

10. Present your proposal at a county board meeting

Request an opportunity to present your proposal during the public comment section of a board meeting. Speak clearly and concisely, and be prepared to answer questions from board members. If you’ve spoken with board members ahead of time, they’re likely to have more follow-up questions. While this can put you on the spot and be nerve-wracking, it’s actually a good thing. It means the board is taking your proposal seriously.

11. Follow up with board members

Following up with county board members after presenting your proposal is crucial to maintaining momentum and addressing any concerns that may arise. Here's how to effectively follow up: Send a thank-you message: After your presentation, send a thank-you email or letter to each board member, expressing gratitude for their time and consideration. This will help reinforce your professionalism and commitment to the issue. Provide additional information: If, during the presentation or individual meetings, board members requested more information or had specific questions, be sure to follow up with the requested data or answers. This demonstrates that you are responsive and reliable. Keep the lines of communication open: Maintain regular contact with board members to keep them informed about any new developments related to paper balloting and manual counting, as well as any progress made by your coalition. Show that you are dedicated to addressing their concerns and working together to find solutions. Offer assistance: Offer to help board members with any tasks related to the evaluation or implementation of paper balloting and manual counting, such as connecting them with experts, organizing demonstrations, or providing logistical support. If you get the chance to speak to a board member one-on-one, an open approach can be helpful: “What can we do for you?” Oftentimes, their answer will be honest and getting them what they need can be the turning point in convincing them to help, moving forward. Demonstrating a willingness to collaborate can strengthen your relationships with board members and encourage them to view you as a valuable resource. Gauge support: Periodically check in with board members to assess their level of support for your proposal. This will allow you to identify any changes in opinion, address concerns, and maintain momentum for your cause. Remember, you can’t win without a majority. Remember that patience and persistence are essential when advocating for change. Continue to engage with board members, offer support, and address concerns to build a strong case for paper balloting and manual counting in your county.

12. Be persistent

Changing policy can take time, so be prepared for setbacks and delays. Stay engaged, keep the pressure on, and continue to build support for your cause. With determination and perseverance, you can help bring about the switch to paper balloting and manual counting in your county.

13. Mobilize the electorate and vote for change

Even if you can’t change the existing system now that doesn’t mean you can’t use that system to change it later. If some board members are steadfastly against switching to paper balloting and manual counting, consider mobilizing the electorate to vote for change. By engaging with voters who share your concerns about election integrity, you can help elect officials who are more supportive of your cause. Depending on your circumstances, this may be something you start doing earlier in the process, but don’t immediately jump to that conclusion just because you live in a county where you think paper balloting is politically unpopular. Believe it or not, a great deal of headway can still be made in these areas and it tends to be best not to assume a board member will dogmatically refuse to change the system until they’ve proven that’s the case. Many of the steps you’ve already followed will help you with mobilizing voters. You’ve already spread awareness and have a coalition of support. Collaborating with local organizations is also key, here. Find local organizations, community groups, and advocacy organizations that share your concerns about election integrity. Their support can help amplify your message and mobilize voters.

15. Volunteer as a poll watcher

This is the important one. Even while working to change the system, it’s still worthwhile to improve the existing one. Monitor election results and hold elected officials accountable. Sign up to poll watch. The Lex Rex Institute offers a poll-watching seminar tailored to California law, but there are similar resources in other states. Watch the count. Even if you do nothing else on this list, we strongly encourage you to watch the polls. Any election process is only as secure as We the People make it, and officials will cheat if there aren’t any people or systems there to stop them. It’s human nature. This is true before paper balloting is implemented, and it’s just as true after. Even after you’ve won, the hard work of protecting our republic is just getting started.

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