Cringely on E-Voting
Today Cringely is piling on the e-voting issue. He puts his finger right on what I think is the Really Big Question in this whole debacle:
One of the key issues in touch screen voting is the presence or absence of a so-called paper trail. There doesn’t seem to be any way in these systems to verify that the numbers coming out are the numbers that went in. There is no print-out from the machine, no receipt given to the voter, no way of auditing the election at all. This is what bugs the conspiracy theorists, that we just have to trust the voting machine developers — folks whose actions strongly suggest that they haven’t been worthy of our trust.
So who decided that these voting machines wouldn’t create a paper trail and so couldn’t be audited? Did the U.S. Elections Commission or some other government agency specifically require that the machines NOT be auditable? Or did the vendors come up with that wrinkle all by themselves? The answer to this question is crucial, so crucial that I am eager for one of my readers to enlighten me. If you know the answer for a fact, please get in touch.
Having the voting machines not be auditable seems to have been a bad move on somebody’s part, whoever that somebody is.
Now here’s the really interesting part. Forgetting for a moment Diebold’s voting machines, let’s look at the other equipment they make. Diebold makes a lot of ATM machines. They make machines that sell tickets for trains and subways. They make store checkout scanners, including self-service scanners. They make machines that allow access to buildings for people with magnetic cards. They make machines that use magnetic cards for payment in closed systems like university dining rooms. All of these are machines that involve data input that results in a transaction, just like a voting machine. But unlike a voting machine, every one of these other kinds of Diebold machines — EVERY ONE — creates a paper trail and can be audited. Would Citibank have it any other way? Would Home Depot? Would the CIA? Of course not. These machines affect the livelihood of their owners. If they can’t be audited they can’t be trusted. If they can’t be trusted they won’t be used.
Now back to those voting machines. If EVERY OTHER kind of machine you make includes an auditable paper trail, wouldn’t it seem logical to include such a capability in the voting machines, too? Given that what you are doing is adapting existing technology to a new purpose, wouldn’t it be logical to carry over to voting machines this capability that is so important in every other kind of transaction device?
This confuses me. I’d love to know who said to leave the feature out and why?
And then he leaves us with this little tease:
Next week: the answer.
Oh, this oughta be interesting!