• United States

Rock the ‘Net vote

Feb 23, 20043 mins

I live in Santa Clara County in California. This year we are switching from punch card voting (the stuff which caused all those problems in Florida four years ago) to computerized voting terminals with touch screens. I’ve tried them, and they’re marvelous tools.

I especially like that when you are finished and tell the machine to record your vote, it displays a summary and asks if you’re sure that’s what you want to do. In many ways, it resembles some of the better e-commerce Web sites.

David Dill is a professor of computer science at Stanford University, which also happens to be in Santa Clara County. He knows that computers can be tampered with and is on a mission to be sure the rest of the world also knows that.

But what Dill and others like him, namely Johns Hopkins University computer security expert Aviel Rubin, overlook are two important issues. First, the general press (newspapers, news magazines, ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox and NBC) doesn’t understand computers or security, so they simplify the message, which tends to come out as: “Computers will deal death to democracy!” More importantly, though, is the second issue – while computerized voting isn’t completely secure, it’s more secure and more reliable than any other method we’re currently using.

Dill led a movement to force California counties to add printers to the computerized voting terminals so that voters would have a hard copy of their vote. This printout could also be placed in a sealed box to use for a possible recount. We could, I suppose, call these printouts “ballots,” and the sealed receptacles “ballot boxes.”

Politicians learned how to stuff ballot boxes even before there were computers. Why should these be any different? In other words, why is this more reliable than the machine totals themselves? I’m also not aware of any other voting system that includes an alternative back-up system. Certainly punched cards don’t, as we saw in the Florida fiasco in 2000. But neither do paper ballots or totalizator machines – both of which also are easily hacked by a knowledgeable person.

The bottom line is that computerized voting machines – even those running Microsoft operating systems – are more secure and more reliable than any other “secret ballot” vote tabulation method we’ve used in the past. Spread the word.

Tip of the week

According to a number of speakers at the Digital Democracy Teach-in in San Diego a couple of weeks ago, the Howard Dean bubble was caused by folks who thought he was running for “President of the Internet.” It was fun watching the blognoscenti admit they got it wrong!