Monday, April 19, 2004

Machine Voting

Faking Democracy: Americans Don't Vote, Machines Do, & Ballot Printers Can't Fix That, by Lynn Landes.

Landes makes an important point:

In Bush v. Gore, the Supreme Court said that a "legal vote" is one in which there is a "clear indication of the intent of the voter." Voting machines (lever, optical scan, touchscreen, the Internet, etc.) produce circumstantial evidence of the voter's intent, at best.Think of voting as a three-step process: marking, casting, and counting ballots. Once a machine is involved in any one of those steps, the result is hard evidence of the machine's output and circumstantial evidence of the voter's input.

I'm not sure we can 'step back', once so large a group of officials have committed to moving 'forward', and that unconscious feeling may be why scholars and and political scientists aren't debating this question.

But is it true that "the only fix that will give Americans back their constitutional right to vote is to ditch the machines", due to the need for voting process transparancy?

I disagree -- any scenario we can construct where the voter, at the time of placing the vote, can confirm that this is the vote I meant to cast, and the person, process, or machine counting that vote can effectively reconstruct the vote the voter meant to cast, is a workable scenario.

The real question is, what is the best way to achieve that scenario? No technologist I've spoken with believes electronic voting machines in use in America are sufficiently robust to meet this criterion.

None. Yet we've voted with some accuracy and precision in the past. In science, accuracy means "the correct value", and precise means "reproducible". Voting with paper ballots may not be 100% accurate, but we know and can measure how inaccurate it is.

As long as we cannot do that with machines, they are not a step forward, but in fact, a step back. So, for now, though Landes and I disagree in means, we agree in ends -- we should return to using paper ballots, because the machines don't do the job.

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