If it is it doesn't matter

Saturday, July 15, 2006

HAVA Problem?

HAVA -- the Help America Vote Act -- was a good idea, in theory. And I don't believe there is any evidence to suggest that the people who wrote it or voted for it had any bad intentions. Florida 2000 was a black-eye for America. NOBODY wanted to hear the words 'hanging chads' or 'butterfly ballot' anywhere but in history classes. It made perfect sense to encourage states to get rid of the sort of voting systems that made them possible. (And while, as a New Yorker, I disagree with the idea of replacing the clunky old mechanical systems that I have voted on all my life, which are messy and 'old-fashioned' but which are also safe and checkable, the company that made them is out of business, and when they break down it is hard to fix them or get replacement parts.)

And these days the first thought is always towards doing something electronically. Touch screens, computer counts, these were the obvious way to go, if done right.

Unfortunately, short-sightedness, stupidity, haste, and the idea to 'get it done fast, and we'll fix it in the implimentation,' as usual, created as much chaos as pure malevolence could have.

The important thing was not just that the systems created should BE efficient, honest, and secure, but that they would APPEAR so as well. After the Florida Follies, nobody wanted a system that was vulnerable, where the only guarantee of integrity was to trust election officials.

There would seem to be some simple basics here that should be musts in any electronic voting system.

There has to be a REAL paper trail -- an honest one that would include a copy for the voter and a copy of each individual vote for a possible recount. (To ensure voter confidentiality, each vote should be numbered, but the numbers should be assigned randomly and secretly, so only the voter would know the number he was assigned.)

The machine operating code should be open to a non-partisan group of computer experts before the machine was accepted, and the machine needs some form of device to that would set off bells, whistles, and alarms at any tampering with the code, rendering the machine unusable.

Some sort of barrier should be in place when individual machines link up to a central counting device -- is one is absolutely needed, so that if, despite precautions, some tampering is done with an individual machine, it can't affect the whole system.

Any operation of the machine has to be done on a hands on basis, with no wireless ports, no internal wireless modem, etc.

States and cities should be provided with money not just to purchase such machines, but to store them securely, so they would be locked away until the night before the election, brought out, a final test would be run, and then they would be distributed to the polling places. If this cosy extra money, again it should be provided.

Finally, despite the expense, I think that each precint should have four voting machines that could be rotated, for example, primary, general, primary, general, with perhaps a fifth for special elections. That way, the machines could be inspected at any time up to two years after a given election if there are allegations of fraud.

(I would have to ask someone more familiar with technology and costs to answer this, but since the danger seems to me to be the greatest when a machine is reprogrammed for a new election, it might actually be possible to create a 'one-time use' machine that could be used for a given election, be unreprogrammable, be unopenable without rendering it useless, and which could then be stored indefinitely for the use of historians and social scientists.)

None of these seem to be brilliant ideas, merely obvious ones, They must be the sort of ideas that are implimented in current electronic voting machines, the ones that are being used in more and more states. Right?

Unfortunately...

It Oughta Be Simple

In a democracy, if you vote for somebody, your vote is counted for that person, right. Oh, sure, there has been a lot of election trickery throughout the years. A lot of cemetery residents have voted more regularly in death than they ever did in life. And a lot of people have been discouraged from voting with long lines, threats, and even legal prohibitions if they were expected to vote the 'wrong way.' And twice a Supreme Court justice has been the decider in a Presidential election -- not just Bush v Gore but in the Hayes-Tilden election where the deciding vote in the Electoral Commission was Justice Davis -- and in both cases most people who have studied it viewed the result as wrong.

But the votes we actually cast have been sacrosanct, if they ever reached the counting table -- ballot boxes have been 'lost'. So, when the DEAD ZONE had its main villain discussing electronic voting machines in June, 2004 as follows:

STILLSON
Let me ask a stupid question.
Does it even matter which one I
pick?
RESUME SCENE
The men laugh.
MAN ONE/TRUAX
Of course it matters. Every vote
counts...
STILLSON
...some just count more than
others.
MAN ONE/TRUAX
In a close election like yours,
it all comes down to margin of
error. The digital equivalent of
a hanging Chad.
STILLSON
And there's no paper trail?
MAN ONE/TRUAX
Only one we generate...
Stillson touches the screen next to his name, registering
a vote for himself. He stares at the screen, transfixed.
MAN TWO
Better than sex isn't it?
Stillson throws a look to Man Two.
STILLSON
You, my friend, need to get out
more.
The men all laugh.

(It's from Finding Rachel, Pt.1. You can find the script here)

I thought they were 'going over the top' again. (I keep on underestimating the show. For example, when Stillson is involved in a corrupt deal with a lobbyist, it involves Indian casinos -- Hello, Jack Abramoff -- and this one was shown long before any of the scandals broke.) There are security measures obvious even to me -- and I've declared myself 'technologically declined' and my lack of a 'blogroll' keeps proving it -- that could be taken to prevent something like this from happening.

Unfortunately...

Friday, July 14, 2006

Here we go again, better (I hope)

Yes, I'm getting started again. After that last long post on the 'gay gene' -- and my apologies to Kewenay and Mumbo Jumbo for not getting back to them -- I realized I couldn't get through my own posts without falling asleep. Now I'm not the one to judge my own writing, but I KNOW I can write better than that. (I couldn't even write a good cat post.)

So I decided to take a bit of time away from blogging, and see if I wanted to try again -- meanwhile, I've been scattering coments around different blogs.

But I realized that there were a lot of important topics that needed discussion, and maybe if I worked hard and didn't find that my writing skills had left on my 60th Birthday, I might be able to say some things worth saying on them in a way that anyone could listen to.

Most of these are political, as my next few posts will be showing. I think that America is in the greatest danger I've ever seen in my lifetime and my reading of history. The actions of the Bush administration, the reworking of political dialogue by Republican commentators such as Coulter, Malkin, Limbaugh, and others -- combined with the Rovicization of politics -- the recurrence of the truly fascist end of the radical right -- and I use the term 'fascist' VERY sparingly -- all need to be watched. But these aren't new dangers, though they are perhaps more prominent than i can remember.

The really scary one though is the growth of electronic voting devices that are hackable and manipulable. The basis of democracy STARTS with 'the vote you cast gets counted for the person you choose.' But, unless action is taken, legal, political, and in the press, that may no longer be true. And that is why i rank the present time as dangerous for democracy and the ideals that America at its best stands for -- and that George W. Bush has no concept of -- as the Civil War, the Depression, the McCarthy Era, and Vietnam.

I'll be posting on all of these things over the next week or so. And yes, I WILL get back to the 'gay gene' controversy, and even talk about baseball, tv, mystery stories and CATS -- one of mine is looking over my shoulder, hence the capitals.

And I'll always be long-winded -- I have been since the third grade -- but if I get too stuffy, pompous, or boring, yell at me, willya?