Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Whitewashing voting problems

Problems with e-voting? Blame the humans

Technology industry group says no problems with voting machines

By Paul Roberts, IDG News Service

The article refers to an press kit released by the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) that attempts to explain possible causes for problems with voting machines.

The press kit is here:

As the Infoworld article claims, the site basically whitewashes over technical problems and tries to pin most of the problems on us poor humans.

Well, gee, since when do we have to bend over backwards to kowtow to the limitations of the machines? We're building these machines for our use, to help us, so why shouldn't we expect the machines to be an aid to us rather than a hindrance?

In this case we have to consider what it means to hold an election, and how we can have mechanical assistance that helps us run the elections the way we need them to be run.

For example: votes must be anonymous, votes must be recountable, the system must be reliable, we the people must be able to trust the result, therefore the system must be resistant to tampering, the system must represent the peoples will, etc

Those are a few requirements that come off the top of my head.

A system that does not produce a paper trail is not trustworthy. This is because the bits stored in a computer can be tampered with, but paper is not tamperable.

Here's how I would like to see voting machines be: You'd have a touch screen system designed by human-computer-interface specialists who are given freedom to properly design the user interface for understandability. The voters use the touch screen system, and select their votes. In addition there is ample opportunity for them to "write-in" candidates of their choosing. Next, when the vote is finished, what's produced is a sheet of paper out of a laser printer. The voting machine doesn't tabulate into a central database, instead it's kept standalone. The sheet of paper has the voters vote written in words on the paper, but they formatted for easy scanability. The paper ballot is turned into the election official. At the end of the day the ballots are trucked to a central location, and scanned in.

Such a system should be more reliable than the punch-card systems that have been used, and still preserve recountability as well as the other requirements I listed above.