Thursday, October 30, 2008

thursday. I went to dinner with Ryan and Jamie last night and then hung out for awhile and watched some Ghost Hunters. Cassidy was extremely happy to get a chance to hang out with the cousin dogs, Mel and Lucy.

And here's what's bugging me at the moment: voting machines. There seems to be no end to the reports of problems with them, and yet the people in charge of running the elections seem resolutely determined not to acknowledge the problems or to make corrections. Standing in line at the Subway restaurant near my house the other night, I struck up a conversation with a woman wearing a Travis County Elections Volunteer badge, and she told me that the people monitoring the elections in Travis County had already received a number of reports that the machines in Travis County were screwing up- in particular, that there had been cases where people were trying to vote straight ticket Democrat, but when they selected the straight ticket option on the voting machine, the machine was selecting McCain/Palin for the presidential choice (all of the other choices were the appropriate Democratic picks).
So I have questions about how often these machines are recording votes incorrectly or how often software glitches are changing votes.
I also continue to find it absolutely amazing and ridiculous that voters aren't given a paper receipt or print out showing the votes that they had cast. Such a system would be one of the only truly reliable ways to provide for a recount and to allow people to provide proof of how their votes were actually cast.
In addition to simple computer and software malfunctions, which could influence the outcome of an election, computerized voting machines allow for tampering and fraud on a massive scale, and in the absence of a paper trail there's absolutely no way to demonstrate how people actually voted. Literally, for all we know, our votes may never be recorded at all, and some kid in a darkened room somewhere, employed by one party or the other, may be sitting in front of his computer, working to create realistic-looking election results which validate the outcome which his employers have ordered him to produce.
Granted, that scenario may sound a bit paranoid, but at the same time, for the life of me I can't figure out why they won't just provide hard copy receipts of our votes! The failure to incorporate hard copy proof into the voting system is such an obviously simple fundamental omission in the system that its absence is almost enough to make one prone to speculation in the direction of conspiracy theory.
As one of my friends who is a former programmer said, everyone who works with computers for a living (or even just in a personal context) knows that computers are prone to malfunctions and easily susceptible to manipulation by anyone with any degree of technical know how. One of the fundamental goals of any voting system needs to be reliability and a capacity to instill confidence in the voters/users. Anyone who has ever used a computer will know that a vote recorded in only an electronic medium may be altered or erased the moment that it is cast, so the only reasonable way to instill confidence in an electronic voting system is to create a paper trail that the voter can take with them, that can be verified and recounted by hand if the need to do so arises later (people could collect these receipts later, if the need arose, and compare them to the voting record reported by the electronic machines). Without a paper record, the first and most primary goal of the system isn't going to be met- instilling confidence in the voting public.
The only reason I've heard given for not giving voter receipts is that it would use too much paper and create additional costs.
This response seems ludicrous in the face of all of the government paperwork that we receive in the mail on a regular basis regarding taxes, voter registration, vehicle registration, trash collection, and a host of other subjects, any one of which seems less important than protecting the accurate results of our elections (and how much paper would be required, really? a small printout the size of a shopping or restaurant receipt for each voter? I get a large, mutlicolored cardboard notecard every year in my mail reminding me of my watering schedule) I'm telling you people- there's something very suspicious and strange about the very fact that there's resistance to the idea of paper voting records from the election machines.
Anyway, end of today's rant. This voting machine thing has been bugging me for about ten years or more now, but I thought things would have changed by now. If they're waiting for me to get used to the idea of a completely unverifiable election system- it ain't gonna happen. I'm always gonna find the voting process to be one of the few areas of life/business/government where a completely computerized system is unsatisfactory.

1 comment:

The League said...

I don't think you sound paranoid. Why would I think hitting "submit vote" and seeing the graphic of a waving flag that looks like it was rendered for a Commodore 64 make me think ANYTHING happened after I hit the button?

These days information security is a key part of many people's jobs, as well as a working knowledge of database management, etc... We aren't stupid. The stakes, being what they are, suggest that absolutely someone will try to hack the system. (Universities get literally thousands of attempted hacks everyday of people just looking to see what they can find).

I don't know if we ever knew that our ballots were really counted. You have to have some faith in the matter that the person who was counting hand ballots wasn't crooked. But now the opportunity for manipulation seems astronomically higher.

It just seems if we can check our encrypted credit card information online, we should be able to also check not just our votes online, but usage statistics for our precincts.