Tuesday, January 25, 2005

John Hollins: e-voting is already decided

Does voting by any method other than traditional polling booths and paper ballots jeopardize either voters' right to privacy or their guarantee that their vote will be counted fairly? Not only has it been debated, but the issue has been settled for several municipalities right here in Canada.

Talk to John Hollins, the chief electoral officer for the Province of Ontario, and he'll give you the story. "It started back in 1976 when East York and Mississauga brought in punch card voting and evolved in the eighties with the optical scan in places like Etobicoke and Scarborough. At the time they used a centralized optical scan where you brought all the ballots into one place and the machine scanned them."

By the 1988 elections Toronto and North York went with the optical scan at the polling level because they didn't like the idea of ballots travelling from the polling locations. "They started with one machine for every three or four polls, but they ran into a few problems, so by 1991 they brough in scanners to all the polls."

By 1996 the experiment was working well enough to encourage the Ontario government to advance things... During the voting on Metro Toronto's amalgamation the City of North York used telephone voting. They had so much success that other municipalities followed suit."

but wait, it gets better

Why did Ontario decide to forsake the tried and true for something that, almost by defintion, has a margin of error? ... Elections -- at least the operational side -- are about credibility. So why did Ontario municipalities opt for systems which were, if only slightly, less credible?

According to Hollins, the quality of the people who were staffing the polling stations was not what it had been, or what it should be

That's right. John Hollins believes that unverifiable machines are BETTER than people. And apparently would rather buy machines, than try to fix people problems (if indeed any such exist). And so we continue

The feeling was that by introducing new voting techniques and technology into the mix they could weed out incompetent staff, thereby increasing the quality and accuracy. In addition, voting by mail or phone would improve accessibility. Finally, it would be more efficient.

I try to remain fairly objective about what I report, but this is bulls--t.

(All emphasis in above extracts is mine.)

in Summit "Canada's magazine on public sector purchasing" (in annoying locked PDF format) October 2004

Special: Focus on IT section
More on e-voting - Coming soon to an election near you - David Eadie
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