Congress Moving Towards Banning Touchscreen Voting

Ugh. I weep for the future whenever Congress votes on anything remotely resembling technology. Down swoop the special interests, the 529s and the yahoos, filled with well-meaning yet preposterous intentions, armed with pitchforks and waving fire brands. And witness the mob rule in action right now in Congress.

It looks like Congress is moving towards banning touchscreen voting. And Noah T. Winer, Political Action for MoveOn.Org, lifts his cherry juice stained face, his gap-toothed grin shining in the torchlight, to say, “we got them fancy fellers on the run, now, boys!”

Touchscreen voting, secure digital transactions and a nationally-connected network of voting machines could have ushered in an era of unprecedented electoral responsiveness and accuracy, but because a few bad-apple Republican scumbags seem to have decided to use them for political gain, we need to destroy the monster.

I wonder what objections these people who so fear and so resent electronic voting have with using their local ATM machines? Probably none at all, nor do they object to ordering thousands of dollars of merchandise annually online or swiping their credit cards at Wegmans or whatever is their local equivalent. Nope. Those things are fine, but voting – a process less than half of us even do in the first place – is beyond the pale. Simply unacceptable.

Yet the truth is, every single one of the above transactions is at least as secure or insecure as electronic voting, in a conceptual bubble. The problem was never the computers or the technology, it was political opportunists who at minimum allowed companies like Diebold produce machines which were twenty years out of date and seemingly intentionally designed for tampering. I’ll not seek to interpret these people’s actions or motives: their motives do not matter, our response does.

And our response has so far been reprehensible.

All the technology we require to make electronic voting easy, cheap and secure is already freely available and ready for the implementation.  All that is required is a decent set of standards to be applied at the Federal level, to be implemented in whole or not at all at the State level.  Or perhaps more correctly, all that is required is the will to get something done in Congress that is of genuine use to the American people.  The same standards requirements were laid out for Internet banking and ATM technology years ago because banks wanted it.  Since those people with the money and the influence wanted it, the thing was done, but now we have a silly witch-hunt on our hands.

I wonder when the switch was made from MoveOn demanding paper receipts to demanding an end to electronic voting altogether?  Probably when they realized that paper ballots are just silly, because you can write whatever you want on a piece of paper and it proves not a thing.

And in five years – if it even takes that long – you will see this same group clammoring for “safe, secure electronic voting,” because of the underserved needs of this group or that.  And they’ll be right: allowing electronic voting would open the doors of electoral process to the bed-ridden, those who live in remote locations and many others.  You could use your computer and enter either your Social Security number, your driver’s license number or your credit card number, thereby verifying your identity, and vote from the comfort of your own home.  No more waiting in line, no more complaining about the lack of machines.

Why not cut to the chase and get something reasonable on the books now?

By Tommy Belknap

Owner, developer, editor of DragonFlyEye.Net, Tom Belknap is also a freelance journalist for The 585 lifestyle magazine. He lives in the Rochester area with his wife and son.

7 replies on “Congress Moving Towards Banning Touchscreen Voting”

You must not be a implementor of these great technologies.

Those who actually build systems, connect them in networks, and make transactions flow are generally understand that there things are hard to get right, and that post-election auditability is important. Ed Felten, for instance (see http://www.freedom-to-tinker.com/?p=1195). Without voter-verified paper ballots, there’s too much opportunity for fraud that’s instant then undetectable. Now that’s a rosy picture, isn’t it? (Note the track record of system builders is pretty bad so far.)

It doesn’t appear that HR 811 rules out optical scan. It does rule out optical scan without a paper trail. Why is that a problem?

So, tell me how, exactly, having a piece of paper that says you voted this way or that proves that this is the way your vote was cast? Tell me how often you suppose people will use those receipts to write down some chick’s number at a bar then leave them in a puddle of Tanqueray and tonic?

How many transactions do you suppose happen via credit card every day? You’re telling me they don’t have a way to track that information. You’re telling me there isn’t a way to verify it in a most iron-clad way.

I say you need to try to work with the new technology, not shut it down because a few opportunists took advantage. You don’t have any more assurance with a mechanical voting machine than you do anywhere else, or did you forget all those Florida ballots they found voting officials throwing in the dumpster days after the 2004 election?

Actually voting machine integrity is an area where I think there is hope for bipartisan agreement, considering that both parties feel victimized by fraud and rumors of fraud. I think that HR 811 looks like a step in the right direction. A continuing rollout of substandard new machines is an investment in the wrong direction and creates awful inertia.

A continuing rollout of substandard new machines is an investment in the wrong direction and creates awful inertia.

Agreed 100%. I don’t advocate giving Diebold free-range to create whatsoever they wish. I do advocate Congress begin gathering hearings with experts and coming up with some amalgamation of open standards that can be proven out to be effective and move forward with case-hardened systems.

I do understand when you say that making such a system is not easy: I know just enough about networking and security with my measly A+, Net+ and Security+ to know I wouldn’t want to be the one to do it! But hard is not impossible, and I really believe its perfectly a possible and worthy goal. Especially since there is little to no chance that we won’t get there soon, anyway.

Actually voting machine integrity is an area where I think there is hope for bipartisan agreement, considering that both parties feel victimized by fraud and rumors of fraud.

An interesting question, actually. I think that, with a Democratic majority and a coalition of northern and western Republicans, that might be possible. But in the south especially, Republicans and Conservatives of every stripe (they’ve been Democrats in years past) have used prison roles and other dirty tricks to keep minorities out of the polling stations as a matter of course.

I followed up with my own post at http://l.bukys.org/2007/09/07/vote-but-verify/ but let me summarize by saying that I don’t think HR 811 bans electronic voting, it enables the building of robust infrastructure for voting by ruling out the poorest choices and requiring a common-sense auditability requirement. Don’t let the use of a durable record on paper spook you into thinking that the rest of the system isn’t electronic.

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