Sunday, June 15, 2008

Why we should be worried about our voting systems (continued)

As I noted back in December 2006 (Is there really hope that we might start to fix our voting system?):
Among the many urgent problems facing us in the US, let us not lose sight of the fact that our voting system is a dangerous mess--somewhere between Rube Goldberg and banana republic (I don't mean the clothing store).
So far, the most optimistic thing one can say is that the news has been mixed ... and it's hard to be very happy about it. Here's an update about the technological dimension of the problem, in two versions.

=> For a sober, earnest, non-fiction version, you can listen to a clear, informative, and alarming exposition in an interview with a certified expert, Princeton's Edward Felten. Felten is a Professor of Computer Science and Public Affairs and the founding Director of Princeton’s Center for Information Technology Policy (which has a useful group blog connected to it, Freedom to Tinker).

The issues discussed in this brief but illuminating interview include the susceptibility of computerized voting systems to hacking, fraud, and malfunction--which are difficult or impossible to detect and correct unless they are backed up by visible and verifiable paper voting records--and the astounding and indefensible lack of accountability of voting-machine manufacturers.

One small highlight: After the Super Tuesday primary elections this year, Felten was alerted to strange vote tallies by a voting machine in Union County, New Jersey manufactured by a company called Sequoia AVC Advantage. Felton was asked by Union County to carry out an independent assessment of the problem, but Sequoia threatened to sue him if he investigated the malfunction, even at the request of county clerks--and, for good measure, threatened to sue Union County as well. The county backed down, and there was no investigation.

Does that story sound worrisome to you? It should ... and the really bad news is that there's nothing unusual or surprising about it.

Felton also brings up the potential threats that increased use of electronic voting might pose to the principle of the secret ballot (a problem that's already becoming apparent with the excessively promiscuous use of voting-by-mail.)

Here's the VIDEO.

=> Then there's the satirical version from the Onion a few months back, which may cut to the heart of the matter even more effectively. See Diebold Accidentally Leaks Results Of 2008 Election Early.

Yours for democracy,
Jeff Weintraub