Voting Machines: Thank Heavens for Academia

vote buttonOften times it is said that the purpose of academic research is to seek the truth, no matter where it leads.  The purpose of industry representatives is often to obscure the truths they do not like.  Such apparently was the case at a recent hearing of the Texas House of Representatives’ Committee on Elections.  These are the guys who are nominally supposed to ensure that each citizen of Texas gets an opportunity to vote, and that his or her vote is counted.  The committee provides oversight and legislation for electronic voting.

How secure is your electronic vote, compared to a paper ballet?  Can you have an electronic hanging chad?  A group of researchers have spent a fair amount of time answering that very question.  Drs Ed Felton & Dan Wallach, as well as others, have looked at numerous different voting systems, and found all sorts of little problems.  For instance, some voting machines are susceptible to virii, and if they get it they can give it to their peers.  That’s not a problem, according to the manufacturers’ spokesmen.  But who are we to believe?  An academician whose purpose is to advance the state of the art and find truths, or a spokesman, whose purpose is to obscure them?

There are mistakes made in many, if not all elections and surveys.  Here are just a few questions:

  • What is an acceptable rate of error?  As 2000 demonstrated, even a hand count of paper ballots can have problem.
  • Rather than prevaricate, why shouldn’t the vendors of these voting machines fix the problems that have been reported?
  • What sort of regulations are appropriate?  The spokesmen all but demanded a common standard in as much as they complained that there was none.

Conveniently Dr. Wallach has an answer to that last question.  His testimony recommends just that.

For what it’s worth, as an expatriate I do not expect to use a voting machine for quite some time, but rather a paper ballot.

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