In a free and fair election, each eligible voter votes once in the official system and the votes are counted accurately.
In reality, however:
- Eligible voters can be improperly prevented from voting by an array of voter suppression techniques
Human and machine error can unintentionally alter the vote counts
Bad actors can intentionally rig the vote counting process, causing votes to incorrectly disappear, appear, or be flipped
This can cause the official vote count to differ from the true intention of the voters. Sometimes the discrepancy is so big that the official “winning candidate” is different from the one who would have won in a free and fair election—one in which the will of the people was properly captured. This is unacceptable in a democracy.
Fortunately there’s something we can do about it.
After an election, we compare the unofficial vote count in the parallel system to the official vote count. When no discrepancies are found the voting public can feel greater confidence that their local election was free of major error.
But if a discrepancy is found, it could indicate that voter suppression or vote-counting irregularities have occurred. Now we can provide the data from the parallel voting system to anyone who wants to mount a challenge to the official results. Wanna Vote is designed to produce data that meet the standards for evidence required by courts.
In this way, Wanna Vote serves as an independent check on the official vote count.
Voters can access the Wanna Vote web app at any time on their smartphone, tablet, or computer at the url app.wanna.vote
. It’s structured as a multi-screen survey. The first screen looks like this:
Eligible voters first enter the zip code where they’re registered to vote, their name, and a method of contact. This allows us to confirm their voter registration status and tocontact them later if necessary. This information is necessary for the data to possess legal value
Voters are then asked to make an affirmation:
By separately collecting the data of voters and those who wanted to vote but couldn’t, we not only produce a comparison between demonstrated voter intent and officially reported results, we also identify voters whose voting rights were nullified and the effect the loss of their votes had on the election.
If they did vote in the official system, they affirm that the unofficial vote they’re about to submit will be the same as the vote they cast officially;
If they were eligible to vote in the official system but were prevented from doing so, they affirm that the unofficial vote they’re about to submit will be the same as how they would have voted had they been able to vote
Voters then enter a “virtual voting booth” where they anonymously submit their unofficial vote.
They are also asked if they wish to provide a small amount of demographic information. This gives the Wanna Vote data more evidentiary power by allowing us to spot problems such as racial, ethnic, gender, or geographic irregularities. This information is optional—voters are not required to answer the questions.
If the official count is accurate, the unofficial count in Wanna Vote will closely match the official vote. If the official vote count wasn't accurate, the Wanna Vote count will be off, providing cause for further investigation and possible legal action.
The Wanna Vote web app securely encrypts the voter’s identifying information using industry best practices. This allows us to anonymize the votes. It displays the result as a QR code, like this:
This is where canvassers come in.
Wanna Vote canvassers are trained to help voters use Wanna Vote. First, they talk with voters and direct them to app.wanna.vote
. When the voter is done with the survey and their QR code has appeared on their device, the canvasser scans the QR code for upload to the Wanna Vote database. Here are the details of that operation:
The voter displays their Wanna Vote QR code on their smartphone, tablet, or computer
The canvasser uses the canvasser web app on their own device to scan this QR code
The canvasser is shown only the voter’s name and contact info in plain text, which they verify with the voter as a check that the submission is legitimate. The canvasser has the option of rejecting submissions that seem suspicious. This helps to prevent bots and other bad actors from overwhelming the system. If the canvasser believes that the voter’s name and contact info is correct they click “approve” and the data is uploaded. If the canvasser suspects something they click “decline” and the data is uploaded into a different database for review
If we determine that a particular canvasser was compromised or dishonest, we will exclude submissions that they collected and revisit the actual voters to obtain their information again
The QR code is sent to Democracy Counts’s secure servers
Later, the collected vote and demographic data can be analyzed and aggregated without without de-anonymizing them
If further investigation is warranted, contact information can be decrypted while preserving anonymity of the vote and provided to attorneys bringing legal challenges
QR codes are a great way to transfer Wanna Vote data from voter to canvasser:
- They help preserve safe pandemic distancing
- They assure that users can be remotely validated as registered voters
- They prevent bots from flooding the system
There are many ways a Canvasser can connect with a voter. For example:
Canvassers can be present at a polling location (while socially distancing). The canvassers might even have an extra device to sterilize and hand out to voters who who don’t have devices
Canvassers might do a door-to-door canvass after the election in a particular area
Canvassers might visit a public place (like a church) after the election
Voters can complete the Wanna Vote survey at their convenience and then join a Zoom room staffed by canvassers. A canvasser can then invite the voter to a private break-out room, ask the voter to hold their QR code up to the webcam, and read the QR code off of the Zoom screen. To do this, a voter must have two devices—for example, a smartphone to do the survey and display the QR code and a computer to join the Zoom room and connect with a canvasser
Alternatively, the voter can dial into the Zoom room with the device they completed Wanna Vote on and share their screen with the canvasser, who will then scan the QR code
Voters without internet/digital devices
If an eligible voter lacks a computer, smartphone, or internet access and wants to participate in Wanna Vote, they can contact the local Wanna Vote team (or contact Democracy Counts for a referral to the team in their area, who will make suitable arrangements)
It’s critical that Wanna Vote be secure, trustworthy, and anonymous. This is why we can’t simply have voters send us their QR code over the web app or email the information to Democracy Counts—these methods are too insecure. Instead, we designed the slightly-more-complex process of storing a voter’s Wanna Vote responses in a QR code and having a trusted canvasser scan the code. This process is secure, and ensures that the data we collect will constitute high-quality evidence of voter intent.
When the canvassing process in a given precinct or district is complete, the vote counts from Wanna Vote are tabulated and compared to the official election results for that area. Here are the main possible conclusions:
If the Wanna Vote canvass somehow reached all eligible voters, the Wanna Vote results should exactly match the official results. Of course, it’s quite unlikely that we would reach all eligible voters
If the Wanna Vote canvass reaches less than 100% of eligible voters in the area...
...and Candidate X receives more official votes than unofficial votes in Wanna Vote, it’s not an indication of a discrepancy, because Wanna Vote didn’t reach all eligible voters
...and Candidate X receives more unofficial votes in Wanna Vote than official votes, that’s a cause for suspicion—the official system would seem to be missing valid votes, which could indicate vote counting irregularities
In any discrepancy scenario we would attempt to determine whether the discrepancy was caused on our system, e.g., by voters lying about how they voted in the official system. If we find insufficient evidence of error in our system, then error in the official system is likely
If the Wanna Vote analysis uncovers a discrepancy that cannot be reconciled, or significant evidence of voter suppression, then that is cause for investigation and possibly legal challenge.
Over time, as more and more people use the system, our results and the official results should tend to converge, and we will know that we can have confidence in our elections. If they don’t converge then that will be an indication that there is something very wrong.