Sunday, January 06, 2008

Those Darn Voting Machines

This Sunday's lead in the New York Times Magazine is an article by Clive Thompson on Those Darn Electronic Voting Machines, and despite the fact that the opening paragraphs trivialize those of us who've been critical of electronic voting and tabulation for the past few years, the article goes on, at length, to say many of the very same things the so-called scared senseless fringies have been saying all along. Computerized voting has an unacceptably large number serious problems that rise to the level of being show-stoppers.

Even when we're right, they manage to insult us, don't they?

But now that I've gotten that off my chest, the rest of the article is a fairly substantial overview of the technological problems associated with voting and tabulating on unsecured, unreliable, proprietary computer systems, and is worth reading. It's a stronger indictment of DREs than most anything I've read in the corporate media on this issue. It hits many of the high points of the debate, including the fact that we've essentially privatized our election process in our haste to move to electronic voting.

Diebold is the Blackwater of our elections. To his credit, Thompson mentions this essential point that's often overlooked in all the discussion about hacking, transparency and accuracy. Just as we have done with private "security" contractors, we've done the same with our elections....handed so much of the process over to corporations, that the citizenry no longer controls an essential function of our democracy. The process of both war-making and voting have become so privatized they're no longer transparent, accountable or under any kind of verifiable, public authority. Both are steps in a very un-democratic direction.

The article touches on the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), and how it was a response to the Florida debacle in the 2000 presidential election, but in it's focus on the technology, the article underplays the political machinations that were behind the switch to DREs . The article also understates the problem of secret tabulation. Yes, optical scan with a paper trail is a big improvement over touch screen DREs that directly record the entry without a paper ballot, but it's not an end-all and be-all solution. That's why I still advocate hand counted paper ballots at the precinct, as a cross check on the optical scan totals. No one's yet convinced me that we can't do both. The counting of ballots should be nothing but completely transparent to the public. On that, I can't be swayed.

Overall, Can You Count on Voting Machines? is a worthwhile article from a widely read, mainstream publication, and for that, I'm pleased. Two years ago, election integrity advocates were completely dismissed as conspiracy theorists and the lunatic fringe. They might still be calling us names, but at least they're calling us names in the NY Times now. That's much better than being ignored.

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