Thursday, July 22, 2004

One guy, one laptop, one phoneline

A friend (hi, Ace) asks in email: Why is it that you place such faith in paper ballots as a way to prevent election fraud? Surely you don't believe that all the Chicago elections prior to the invention of computerized voting and mechanical voting machines were "honest". Surely you don't believe that mechanical contraptions can't be "rigged", do you?

It seems to me that honest elections depend on honest election officials. Unfortunately, election officials are usually politicos too. As Willie Shakespeare said, "...there's the rub."

I obviously agree that paper ballots do nothing to ensure an honest election. But let's compare the old Chicago-style election thefts with the potential for election theft from unauditable touchscreen voting machines. In the Good Old Days, to steal an election required the 'disappearing' of armoured cars full of ballot boxes, the scouring of cemetaries and obituaries for names to insert in hardcopy voter registration lists, loyal allies to race from precinct to precinct voting under a variety of names, etc. All easy to do, clearly, but requiring significant manpower, all of whom had to be trusted not to Tell All.

Today, what does it take to steal an election in, say, Georgia, where many new Diebold machines were rolled out for the '02 election (and where the election eve polling differed from the 'actual' vote by as much as sixteen percentage points)? One guy, one laptop, one phoneline. That's all it takes to destroy democracy.

Election officials can be as pure as the driven snow, but if they can't verify that what people are putting into the voting machine is what ultimately gets counted and reported, they can be robbed blind.

One version of the touchscreen voting machines reports its figures to a Microsoft Access Database, one of the least secure DBs available - someone who could gain access to Access can easily alter the contents and alter the 'audit trail' to remove all traces of their activity. Feeling better about the future of democracy yet?

Republicans are amazingly sanguine about the possibility of vote fraud, and with good reason - the Big Three voting machine manufacturers are diehard supporters of the GOP. But they're clearly not thinking this through - nothing in the 'one guy, one laptop' formulation requires that the vote-alterer be a registered Republican. For that matter, since this new technology does not require physical presence, it doesn't even require that the vote-alterer be within the US.

I would like to think that the possibility that the US election could be effected by someone in Singapore, a cave in Afghanistan (if they had a satellite line), or even (gasp) FRANCE, would cause even Republicans to worry about this issue. But so far no sign.

Visit Blackbox Voting for more info.

Also see Krugman here and here.


Post a Comment

<< Home