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Friday 12 December 2003

Voting by Machine

Robert X. Cringely has written an article arguing in favor of paper ballots, much as I did last November. Cringely writes:

We don’t seem to do a very good job of running elections in this country.  Our answer is to throw more technology at the problem, and last week, I suspected that our proposed solutions would just make the problems worse, not better. […]

My model for smart voting is Canada.  The Canadians are watching our election problems and laughing their butts off.  They think we are crazy, and they are right.

Forget touch screens and electronic voting. In Canadian Federal elections, two barely-paid representatives of each party, known as “scrutineers,” are present all day at the voting place.  If there are more political parties, there are more scrutineers.  To vote, you write an “X” with a pencil in a one centimeter circle beside the candidate’s name, fold the ballot up and stuff it into a box.  Later, the scrutineers AND ANY VOTER WHO WANTS TO WATCH all sit at a table for about half an hour and count every ballot, keeping a tally for each candidate.  If the counts agree at the end of the process, the results are phoned-in and everyone goes home.  If they don’t, you do it again.  Fairness is achieved by balanced self-interest, not by technology.  The population of Canada is about the same as California, so the elections are of comparable scale.  In the last Canadian Federal election the entire vote was counted in four hours.  Why does it take us 30 days or more?

Yet nobody in the government seems to be making this argument.

Posted by tino at 14:09 12.12.03
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For starters, I might suggest that most Californians can’t count that high, but that would be too snarky.

The voting process in the U.S. seems to be constantly evolving in an effort to save stupid people from themselves. But that shouldn’t surprise any of us, since that’s what the general trend overall in the U.S. is these days. Warning lables to save stupid people from doing things like riding on the handlebars of bikes or using a hairdryer in the bathtub. Voting machines that don’t involve hanging or dangling or pregnant chads, because it’s so darn difficult to poke that sharp object through a thin piece of card stock. And, of course, law suits because people don’t realize that eating a Big Mac every day is bad.

Sadly, I don’t think there’s an end in sight.

Posted by: Sue at December 13, 2003 11:13 PM

Proposed Warning Label for Voting Machines:

WARNING: The Federal Election Commission has determined that by using this machine, you are in danger of getting exactly the government you deserve.

Posted by: Twonk at December 15, 2003 10:32 AM

No fat contract for big donors to Bush.

Having to admit that Florida was stolen.

Simplification of the election process would be required.

All not very American.

Posted by: Stirling S Newberry at December 29, 2003 11:50 AM

Ahh, of course. It’s all Bush’s fault! He stole the election! Et cetera!

I don’t see what Florida has to do with this at all, to begin with. The main technical problem there was that the voting machines had not been cleaned out in something like twenty years: two decades’ accumulation of ‘chad’ in the hopper below the ballot resulted in ‘pregnant’ and ‘hanging’ chad. It’s wasn’t a problem of design, but one of operation: and now the plan is to replace the machines with something that’s more complicated to operate? God help us.

And as far as big contracts for donors go: This is hardly a problem unique to the Republican party, and frankly a lot of the criticism I hear recently just doesn’t make sense. You want to build a small, self-contained, secure machine for recording transactions and later reporting on them? Diebold turns these things out, in the guise of ATMs, on an assembly line. That they’ve made donations to the GOP doesn’t seem to be relevant. That their machines and software appear to be crap does.

You finally start to make sense when you mention ‘simplifying the election process’. The U.S. has grown a permanent political class, two parties very interested in maintaining their duopoly over the country’s politics. It’s in their interest to have elections be as complex and as costly as possible.

Posted by: Tino at December 29, 2003 04:05 PM