Thursday, August 31, 2006

Forbes columnist advocates elimination of electronic vote counting

This is fabulous:

Pull the plug
I am a computer scientist. I own seven Macintosh computers, one Windows machine and a Palm Treo 700p with a GPS unit, and I chose my car (Infiniti M35x) because it had the most gadgets of any vehicle in its class. My 7-year-old daughter uses e-mail. So why am I advocating the use of 17th-century technology for voting in the 21st century-as one of my critics puts it?
One problem, though--he says optical scanners are okay, ignoring the fact that optical scanners use computer technology and are therefore vulnerable to most of the same problems he outlines in the preceding paragraphs.**

The main point here, in any case, is that a major conservative magazine has actually printed an op-ed with an anti-DRE viewpoint. This is progress.


**The only advantage of an optical scanner system over a purely electronic system would be the existence of the paper ballots, which would create a verified audit trail. In that situation, though, there would still be some questions. For example, the question of knowing whether or not to actually make use of the audit trail--if the vote is close, but not extremely close, it is likely that a recount would not be called for, and so any electronic tampering in that situation would go undetected. This is why I advocate a paper-all-the-way approach, counted by hand. Expensive, yes. But are we really so cheap that we don't even want to pay for reliable elections? The columnist advocates doing a hand count in a number of randomly selected precincts, to lower the probability of tampering. However, that introduces an additional layer of complexity into the process, and each layer of complexity actually creates more opportunities for fraud. How would we know, for instance, that the "randomly chosen" precincts were really randomly chosen? Wouldn't it be better to just keep it simple and do it the old way? There's no utterly corruption-proof method, but keeping the process as simple and primitive as possible puts a sharp limitation on where and how fraud can be perpetrated, thereby making it easier to detect if it does happen.


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