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It's Over

| 5 Comments

dilbert2006152711207.GIF

Dilbert is mocking electronic voting. Forget the NIST study, or the election of California Secretary of State Debra Bowen.

5 Comments

As I said f2f last night (good to see you), but in slightly more elaborate form - I'll stand on my track record of nearly 35 years of getting paid for hitech geekery from assembly language to venture capital, and say that I still don't get it. What's broken about paper ballots?

In this last election our polling place (in San Mateo County), had one experimental voting machine while the rest of us used paper 'bedsheet ballots'. On my limited sample, those using the machine were taking about twice a long as those with paper. I don't see any efficiency gained for the end users of the system.

To put in that test machine, they'd taken away an optical mark sense system that used a paper ballot as input, checked for errors immeidately, preserved it for possible hand checking, and always had the county being the first in the Bay Area to report its returns. Just what was broken there?

In spite of the notions that we'd all by now be 'computer literate', in fact 99+% of the population has not much idea about what's inside the boxes, they just use them. That's fine, that's as it should be, it says our industry is slowly doing its job of building a global infrastructure that anyone can use. But that's NOT fine when it comes to something like voting, where the essence that it not only be fair, but be SEEN to be fair. If computers and networks are opaque to 99+% of the population, there's just no way to get there.

If there's one situation where a principle of least necessary technology ought to carry the day, this is it. I don't care if it's Diebold or the open source movement, this is one piece of business that hitech doesn't need, the marginal income is not worth the potential violence to the social contract. Just say no.

If we had totally secure e-voting and if it was connected via heavy encryption linked to seriously secured individual IDs then we might be able to reduce the need to vote in person and allow it to be done remotely.

Not likely for a couple reasons, and perhaps not desireable for several more that I can think of.

OTOH, at least in my area poll volunteers are getting hard to find. Maybe when the boomers all retire, if they ever do, we'll find it easier to staff polling sites again and this potential advantage will evaporate. But seeing up close what hoops the military have to go through to vote in their states of record, I have to say that I could be persuaded that e-voting could be a good thing, if all those caveats held.

#1 from Tim Oren: ... "I still don't get it. What's broken about paper ballots?"

I don't get it either. This is a no brainer. Use paper ballots. It's that simple.

Scott Adams is a freakin' genius. This isn't quite as brilliant as his Mission Impertinent, posing as a consultant to Logitech's executive team wherein:

"My goal is to see if a group of executives will allow somebody who has very few credentials, except for good hair, to come into their meeting and get them to write a mission statement which is so impossibly complicated that it has no real content." - Scott Adams

He succeeded, whereupon the CEO revealed the gag on his executive and had a little chat about groupthink. Adams won an 1998 Orwell Award for that one.

But this strip does show why he deserves the big bucks.

Tim: i'm a poll worker in San Mateo County.

It is not true that the county took away the optical mark sense system in order to put in a test machine. The existing Optech Eagles were decertified by the state, and the county had to switch to something else. They chose to use these eSlate machines -- the ostensible reason is that they can be equipped to be handled by sip+puff devices, and that they can be used to allow blind people to vote without assistance.

The original intent -- in August, when I got my training on eSlates -- was to have all voting done via these machines. However, the machines needed a software upgrade which they didn't have time to do, so they switched to a mixed system: one eSlate in every precinct, plus optical scanner ballots. (The new optical scanners were provided by the same company that provided the eSlates).

Polling places with multiple precinct boards, like mine, had an optical scanner in the center of the room which could take ballots from all of the precincts and keep them seperate in its counting (a MASSIVE improvement over the old system, where each eagle could take a ballot from any precinct but couldn't keep them seperate, meaning in multiple-precinct polling places, the boards had to watch voters to make sure they didn't go in the wrong eagles).

My experience over the course of the day was that (a) most people preferred to use paper, (b) people who used electronic were generally faster than people who came in with them and used paper, and © there were fewer problems than I expected.

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