Monday, October 25, 2004

who shall inspect the counters

The problem with using machines is that there is a huge cascade of problems that you then have to solve.

First, everyone needs to be able to see the software.
Enough people with enough knowledge need to inspect it so that you can be reasonably sure there are no major bugs.

Keep in mind, NASA launches multi-million dollar probes that can't communicate, or have parts installed backwards. Getting complex systems right is EXTREMELY HARD.

Second, you need to be sure that the software you inspected is actually running on the machine during the election. I would argue that this is almost impossible to do.

Slashdot reports NY Times Endorses Open-Source Election Software

In Florida, voter registrations are being thrown out on pointless technicalities. Missouri is telling soldiers to send nonsecret ballots by e-mail through a Pentagon contractor with a troubling past. Nationwide, eligible voters are being removed from the rolls by flawed felon purges. And nearly a third of this year's votes will be cast on highly questionable electronic voting machines. No wonder a large percentage of Americans doubt that their votes will count. The election system is crying out for reform.


One of the greatest sources of voter cynicism this year is electronic voting. There has been a steady stream of reports of manufacturers taking sides in the elections in which they are also counting votes, of machines malfunctioning during elections and of computer scientists showing how easy it would be for these machines to produce false vote totals, accidentally or intentionally. There is a desperate need for strong federal standards, including a requirement for a voter-verifiable paper record, so voters can be sure that the vote recorded by the machine is the one they cast. States like California, Ohio, Illinois and Nevada have been in the lead in mandating voter-verified paper trails. Congress should make it a national requirement.

The online New York Times has a section with quite a few articles on electronic voting and US election topics: nytimes.com/makingvotescount
Check out the November '04 Wired magazine feature, "Found, Artifacts from the future" on page 230. It's a vote tracking ticket from an imaginary secure voting system. They did a pretty good job of guessing, but looking over the ticket I can still see problems.
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