Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Voting blues

So now both California and Florida have certified electronic voting machines -- as being crap. Even World Nut Daily (R-Nuttsville) has expressed alarm, mostly because they're concerned that those nasty Demon-craps are gonna hack an election (they don't figure Republicans are smart enough to hack an election apparently), but still, it seems that the general consensus everywhere outside of local bribed elections official's offices and the offices of ES&S/Diebold/etc. is that electronic voting machines are crap.

So how did we get into this situation? Well, the deal is that local elections officers really aren't very knowledgeable about fundamental accounting principles. By and large they got their jobs by being elected or appointed based on political leanings, not on whether they knew how to account for money or for votes. As a result, when the voting machine companies came around with these new electronic voting machines, they had not the foggiest notion that they were supposed to demand that the same standards used to account for money also be used to account for votes. Audit trails, paper trails, none of those things were on their priority lists because they just plain didn't understand that those things are important in order to have any confidence in any accounting system, whether for votes or for money. Furthermore, none of these people are technologists. So what you had was people ignorant of technology, ignorant of fundamental accounting systems, who were charged with purchasing multi-million dollar amounts of voting machines. You had people who had no idea that a voting machine written in Visual BASIC on Windows with no paper audit trail was inherently a Bad Idea(tm) making the decision as to what machines to buy.

The results... well, we know the results. The machines don't work worth a shit. But boy, they sure look cool! And man, those presentations! And hey, wasn't that conference that ES&S flew us to in Hawaii great? What? Diebold wants to fly us to Bermuda for a conference there? Whoa! Uhm, do the machines work? Who the fuck knows, so we'll just buy the coolest looking machine whose maker flys us to the neatest places!

So how do we get out of this situation? Well, first we need national standards. Real national standards, that require voting machines to meet the same accounting standards when accounting for votes that their business counterparts are required to meet when accounting for dollars. I don't care if the dimwit Registrar of Voters in Palm Beach County makes the decision to buy a particular machine, as long as the machine is guaranteed to work properly via some national body that has full authority to audit the thing. Secondly, we need to educate local voter registrars that just because it's a computer doesn't make it great. You'd think that anybody who had regularly experienced the Blue Screen of Death under Windows would have been cured of the notion that technology is necessarily a good thing, but a lot of these people still think technology is magic, not a bunch of cranky machines that humans programmed and often mis-programmed that do stupid things like, say, crash and lose votes, which is why you need that paper trail. And finally we need more folks like in Florida and California who are willing to stand up to powerful forces and say "We aren't gonna buy stuff that doesn't meet our standards, and if your stuff doesn't meet our standards, you either fix it or you're out of here."

Is it going to happen? Well, given that World Nut Daily (the voice of the right-wingnut ranks) is as worried as the civil libertarians and lefties... maybe. But we're up against big money here. We'll see. We'll see.


  1. Well, it's just a monkeys game. :-)

  2. In Australia the whole thing was open source and they held a hackers competition before anything was certified.

    If the only thing the terminals are used for is to print a human/machine readable ballot [including write-ins], you get all of the supposed benefits for the handicapped, and accountability, plus you save on printing costs.

  3. Yeah, well, you know, "the market" is this magic fairy dust that, like, if you just sprinkle it on everything, magically the good machines rise to the top and the crappy ones sink to the bottom 'cause, like, everybody is perfectly qualified to evaluate the machines that "the market" produces.

    Of course, in real life it don't work like that, in real life machines get bought not on how well they work (because nobody has any idea) but rather by how glitzy they look and how much bakeesh the companies pay the local voter registrars, but in Libertarian La La Land, well...

    - Badtux the Market Penguin

  4. Evil Spock thinks that they should do it like American Idol. Phone them in whilst the candidates are singing.

  5. Hmm, if it requires the candidates to get up in front of an audience and actually answer their questions (I hope you didn't *LITERALLY* mean singing, you evil Vulcan!), and the voters call in their votes as the candidates "sing", hmm, I can go for that. Can't be any worse than the current system, which is all about who can get their proxies to tell the most lies about the other candidates...

    - Badtux the Elections Penguin

  6. I like that Australian method.

    In fact, the more I think about it, the more I like Evil Spock's method.
    But God help me if one of those @$&#* warbles out "Stairway to Heaven"....


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