Friday, December 01, 2006

This Just In: E-Voting is Bad!

Big shock to those of us who have been following the issue: The National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST) has examined voting machines, and preliminary reports say that they come up lacking (PDF).

The standard they apply, and which I like, is "software independence":
A voting system is software-independent if an undetected change or error in its software cannot cause an undetectable change or error in an election outcome.
Essentially, that means that the ability of election officials to tally and audit election results cannot depend solely on the reliability of the programming of the voting machine.

News reports after the November elections indicated that some jurisdictions had issues when they went to verify results, like sometimes the machines reported different numbers.

Clearly, this is no way to run a democracy. A vote is a vote, and no matter how many times you count it, the vote should still come out the same way. I realize that in some cases (as we all learned in the aftermath of the 2000 presidential election, dimpled chads and all), there are ambiguities, and reasonable people might interpret the same data differently. But in those cases, humans should be able to examine the evidence and make a ruling, not just accept the "judgement" of a technological system.

I like this quote from the end of the Washington Post's story today:
"Why are we doing this at all? is the question people are asking," said Warren Stewart, policy director of VoteTrustUSA, a group critical of electronic voting systems. "We have a perfectly good system -- the paper-ballot optical-scan system."
Anyway, enough ranting for the moment. More to come, obviously.

4 comments:

Steve said...

Actually, optical scanning machines are probably just as easy to attack as are the voting machines themselves. In fact, it's more efficient to mess with the machines that tally the vote than to mess with the machines that take the vote in the first place.

The only answer is to make sure that whatever system we use is 100% auditable. That means paper trails and major jail time for anyone tampering with or disposing of the paper trail. And, oh yeah, we need to randomly audit some percentage of the vote for every election, just to make sure everything's on the up and up.

But even we've fixed THAT problem, we'll still have problems with Democrats voting dead people and Republicans preventing people from voting altogether. Uff-da! It's all enough to make me want to go live in a rusty single-wide somewhere in the desert and drink heavily for the rest of my days.

(By the way, we don't live in a Democracy, we live in a Representative Republic. But I'm sure you already knew that...)

sueinsacca said...

Whatever the hell we call it, we all grew up believing that our vote would count, and we have an obligation to do everything in our power to make that a reality. I wouldn't mind reverting to paper ballots marked in ink and hand counted, and I'd even volunteer to help count.

dragonfly said...

I don't think there is or ever will be a system that will be completely accurate, so I like the idea of auditing regularly, if nothing else, it will keep everyone aware. I also agree that we live in a Representative Republic; a true Democracy is only possible with very small numbers.

I'd also volunteer to help count. I want to volunteer at the polls at least once in my life, see if I could come up with some gimmic that would get more people to just show up and vote.

Chard said...

I read somewhere today (http://www.sacbee.com/static/weblogs/insider/archives/2006_12_01.html) that Senator Feinstein is going to push for legislation requiring paper trails and audits.

Gotta love those "San Francisco values."

And I realize that ours is a representative form of democracy, but it relies on fair and accurate elections of those representatives. So instead of "democracy," I should have said "democratic system" or something similar.