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Saturday, January 12, 2008

e-voting was a bad idea and is reaping the whirlwind

The basic premise of e-voting went something like this:

1) Electronics makes things "efficient" and will save money.
2) Elections are a government service just like any other.

Underlying this was an extraordinarily naive concept of elections as uncontroversial events that would never be challenged, and that no one would ever make a serious attempt to commit election fraud. There would never be close races. In essence, a disdain for the whole voting process, because it implies that a single vote will never make a difference.

This is simply demonstrably untrue, as elections with contested results have been a worldwide problem, with accusations flying, often with violent repercussions. Time and time again we have seen incredibly close elections.

The reality is: the more complicated and indirect you make the voting process and the vote counting process, the more you open the system to suspicions of fraud, and associated loss of confidence in the results of the election.

As I've said before, voting is an incredible act of civic alchemy, in which the will of the many is transmuted into tremendous power for a very few (e.g. in the US, a few hundred people leading a nation of 300 million). WITHOUT COMPLETE CONFIDENCE, this cannot work; a million people are not going to hand over power to a single politician unless they are confident s/he was actually selected by a fair vote.

In a partisan environment with close-fought elections, this means that now

EVERY SINGLE ELECTION WILL BE CHALLENGED


Oh, brilliant cost savings there, you idiot technocrats. Instead of pen and paper and election results in hours with full confidence of the electorate, elections will now turn into endless recounts, court challenges, and code examinations. Since it is almost impossible to prove that machines weren't hacked, any case where there is not a full paper trail will end up basically unresolvable.

Hand counted paper ballots were never broken,
the only way to fix this problem is to go back to them.

New Hampshire is lucky they have optical scan (the least-worst of the electronic options) so that confidence can be restored by a manual recount.

For a taste of what's to come, see ArsTechnica - Analysis: Why the "Hillary hacked NH?" story is important (Updated)

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