Thursday, February 10, 2005

Electronic Vote Validation and Consumer-based technology

"Americans deserve to know that their votes will count - and will be counted. I signed up as a citizen co-sponsor of the Count Every Vote Act of 2005. Please visit:
Friends of Hillary
and sign the petition"

I received this email yesterday from a dear friend in Fairfax, VA. There seems to be a continuing debate about the integrity of our electoral system in the United States. As a citizen of what is known as the richest or strongest country in the world, I am perplexed about why we are not presenting any creative solutions on a public stage. I can think of a very simple solution to this problem that should be quite affordable as well. The question is: what do we as a nation, cherish and put first in our lives?

Here is the deal: Some people do not trust that their votes are being properly tabulated and that our election process doesn’t allow us to be reassured that our vote has been counted properly. To the extent that we find it fitting to invest in printers that can produce machine-scannable coupons at the grocery store check-out, we could very easily invest in the same technology and apply it to the voting process.

I envision a proposal in which two separate companies are selected to develop 1) a first-line electronic touch-screen voting machine and tabulation system with a bar code printer attached, and 2) a separate machine that can read bar-coded information from a coupon and separately tabulate the electoral returns. . The candidates for any particular race would be assigned a bar-code as would a voter-id number to reference back to a registration process. Each eligible citizen could then cast his or her ballots, receive a receipt for their selections, review their receipt for needed corrections and scan it for validation of totals by a separate bar-code reading vote tabulator. If they did happen to find after checking their receipt that they had improperly selected a candidate, they could present the error for correction on the spot and receive a corrected bar-coded receipt of their ballot before scanning for validation.

Since each voter could verify his or her selections on the spot, the question of errors made due to ballot design can be put to rest. Having a tabulation from the first machine, we can then compare to the second machine for a validation of the vote totals. At the moment that a discrepancy in the vote totals from either machine is noticed, an electronic warning could be generated to signal the need for review by an impartial team of human eyes.

By using machines developed independently by independent companies, we could, in effect, provide more of a sense of certification of the results than we currently receive. We would have a paper-trail as well.

This is nothing new. Grocers have been using the bar-code scanning system for inventory control and product-pricing for quite some time. Additionally, the pharmaceutical industry has been well aware of the need for a paper trail to document the collection and management of data. In effect, voter tabulations are nothing more than the management of data relating to a consumer, the consumer’s choices, and an overall inventory of consumers’ choices at that particular polling station. If we are going to be a consumerist nation, then let us at least apply the technology of consumerism to help our citizenry.

If we can value our voting process as dearly as we can the sale of produce or the cashing-in of a 10¢-off coupon on ice-cream in November, we could install the hardware needed in each of our polling places. If there is a concern that cost of implementation would be prohibitive, we have to ask ourselves what our integrity is worth. Far too much of our national energy has been spent on the belief of scandal in the election process. Interestingly, no one seems to have come forward with a solution. Where have we put our thinking caps, America? We can hardly sit back in the comfort of North America and dictate to the rest of the world how to run their elections. Well, I could not. At least, not while maintaining any self-respect. The cornerstone of conscience is the basis of a country’s values for honesty and integrity. Our national integrity is at dire risk.

So, what have I missed? I hope that someone can explain to me why this issues is so complex that we can’t seem to figure it out. Consider this just one more item to go on a list of issues with my government that I would like to see solved by creative thought and not dogma.



Blogger Neil Craig said...

Electronic voting is, as you say, perfectly feasible if the desire among political leaders is there. The programming & results would have to be made very public so that other programmers could tell there was no chicanery but if that was done ballot stuffing should be less possible than with paper ballots.

More important to me is that the US & UK both have the First Past The Post vote whereas Europe, Iraq & indeed everybody else has Proportional Representation. This is an example of being an early adopter of democracy. The FPTP system almost ensures that only 2 parties can get established since a 3rd party gets squeezed out, that political debate revolves purely around the 5% in the "middle" & that power remains in the hands of the leaders of the established parties. The latter is, of course, why it doesn't get reformed.

2/14/2005 04:26:00 PM  

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