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How Can We Prevent Financial or Election Fraud?

Both contexts come down to an accounting problem, keeping track of money or votes over time.

Here’s an idea from Expensivity, a blog about money and a lot of other things. Let’s take two people, the famous Alice and Bob, used to demonstrate many propositions in math and science:

In an electoral context, we think of Alice and Bob as candidates running against each other for the same office. Alice’s ledger indicates votes that have been added or subtracted over time (with dates and times of the additions and subtractions), as well as her current vote total. Similarly for Bob. The vote total in each ledger starts at zero and can never drop below zero. If only legitimate votes are added to Alice’s ledger, there should be no need for votes ever to be subtracted from her ledger. But if there are mistakes and the mistakes are confirmed, then votes can be subtracted, either by invalidating the votes so that neither Alice nor Bob sees their benefit, or by transferring them to the other candidate because they were misassigned. It is the job of the election commission to secure, maintain, and update Alice’s and Bob’s ledger. The election commission for electoral Alice and Bob therefore corresponds to the bank for financial Alice and Bob. In both the financial and the electoral context, there exists what may be called a true state of affairs. Financial Alice, for instance, after she started her bank account, has deposited funds in and disbursed funds from that account. Leaving aside attempted deposits from other accounts with insufficient funds (which therefore never got deposited with Alice) and disbursements that would overdraw her account (which therefore never got withdrawn from Alice — let’s assume no overdraft protection), the total amount of money in her account is and can only equate to one value. That value will correspond to a true state of affairs, and any other value will not, indicating accounting errors and/or fraud. Ditto for financial Bob.

Electoral Alice likewise has a total amount of votes that should be credited to her. Given all the registered voters in a position to vote for Alice and Bob, some of those will have cast votes for Alice. Those ballots that have been unambiguously filled out in favor of Alice and that have been submitted to the election commission with proper proof of identity from registered voters deserve to counted in Alice’s ledger. These are the total amount of votes to her credit and they can equate to only one value. That value will correspond to a true state of affairs, and any other value will not, indicating vote-counting errors and/or fraud. Ditto for electoral Bob.

The parallelism in these financial and electoral contexts is therefore evident. Sure, there are some crucial differences, which we’ll consider in the next section. But both contexts come down to an accounting problem, keeping track of money or votes over time. One further parallel in keeping with this accounting perspective is, in either context, the irrelevance of intention to the true state of affairs. That is to say, it doesn’t matter if someone didn’t mean to deposit a certain sum in financial Alice’s account. If Alice’s routing and account number was used, the money will get deposited and therefore rightly credited to Alice. Likewise, if someone meant to vote for Bob but inadvertently checked Alice’s name on the ballot, then Alice will rightly get credited with a vote.

Bernard Fickser, “Financial Fraud vs. Election Fraud: Similarities, Differences, and Security” at Expensivity (December 11, 2020)

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How Can We Prevent Financial or Election Fraud?