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Re: [school-discuss] License for an open-source voting system?

I voted last week (Aug. 5th, 2008) in an important
primary runoff election here in the State of Georgia,
the State that, since 2002, has been the global poster
child for large scale, zero-evidence computerized
election fraud.

Unlike the vast, sorry majority of my fellow Georgians,
I have a high degree of certainty that the votes I cast
were counted because, being an informed voting rights
activist and computer professional who understands
the insanity of entrusting our votes to the manipulations
of programmers and invisible computer software, I made
certain that I voted on a PAPER Ballot.  I'm certain my
votes were counted because I played the voting rules
of the State so that my ballot was not only PAPER, it
was PROVISIONAL -- not only is there verifiable,
human readable, document evidence of my votes,
but the State is required by law to inform me if they
fail to process and tabulate my ballot.

Because my ballot of record exists in the form of
physical evidence, the processes of handling and
counting my votes CAN be openly monitored, CAN
be easily understood and CAN be totally transparent
to myself and all of my fellow citizens. The fact that
the "can be's" AREN'T is a related issue of proper
chain of custody procedures, but the point here is
that, because they CAN be processed in full public
view, physical ballots provide the most simple and
direct path to legitimate elections. The tragic reality
for all the voters who don't demand paper ballots is
that any real transparency or justifiable confidence
in the system is impossible regardless of other
voting procedures.

Unfortunately, in a nation obsessed with both technology
and convenience, we seem to want to convince ourselves
that increasingly complex technology will help us create
increasingly convenient voting systems. The big problem
is that the goals here are not convenience but accuracy
and accountability.  We go out of our way to ignore the
obvious, common sense truth that the more complex the
technology, then the more obfuscated the processes, the
higher the costs, the more numerous the vulnerabilities
and the more likely the failures. My 25 cent ball point pen
and 3 cent paper ballot comes with a 100% guarantee
of winning any contest of voting system reliability,
accountability and transparency, even if one tries to
ignore their massive advantages in total cost of

The Open Source status of the voting machine software
is completely irrelevant when the technology is being
so clearly misapplied.  Any electronic voting system
that is not strictly relegated to producing physical,
permanent, human readable documentation as the
means of conveying the intent of the voter to the
tabulation processes will be incompetent in meeting
the most basic requirements of an election system.

The voting transaction is unique from most other forms
of exchange. The balloting process must provide total
transparency while also maintaining total privacy for
the voter's choices. There can be no receipts issued,
nothing that connects any vote to the person who
cast it, in order to avoid vote buying and other voter
coercions that destroy election integrity. To achieve
this and maintain transparency, the ballot box and
the tabulation processes must remain open to public
scrutiny at all times.  In this environment, Direct
Recording Electronic systems present a massive
and dangerous black hole in the chain of custody
between voter, ballot box and tabulation.  Voters
should never be expected to entrust their ballot
decisions to invisible software manipulations of
any computerized vote collection or tabulating
system. Whether running Open Source Software
or not, and regardless of encryption schemes and
security protections, electronic systems employing
intangible balloting will invariably fail the essential
transparency test.

Note, however, that I am a Linux fan and not a
Luddite, so I'm not saying that the factual necessities
of election transparency should preclude employing
the practical advantages of computer technology
in the polling place. Though totally inappropriate for
storing and tabulating the actual votes, electronic
interfaces can effectively address many of the
challenges of voter accessibility and can help
reduce voter balloting errors when properly confined
to the roll of producing human readable, voter
verifiable ballot documents. This application of
computer technology meets the transparency
and verification requirements since, for every
voter and with every use,  the system either
succeeds in producing an accurate ballot
document or it is removed from service. The use
of Open Source software in such systems would
be highly recommended in order to enhance their
transparency, but it is not essential when the voter
can clearly determine when the ballot printing
machines are malfunctioning..

The caution to remember for bringing computers into
the polling place is that any electronic election system
that is not limited to generating a voter verified physical
document of the voters intent as the ballot of record
do not just invite election fraud, the ARE election fraud.
The sources for electronic election results can never
be externally validated or audited under the open
scrutiny of the human beings who generated them.
Large scale election fraud and failure for voting
systems that rely on physical evidence requires a
proportionally large number of corrupt or incompetent
conspirators with an exponentially increasing
probability that their cheats or mistakes will be
discovered by public scrutiny.  Election fraud and
failure on a Global scale becomes possible with
election systems that only store votes as invisible,
zero-evidence electronic chads. Massive fraud and
failures can be caused by a single corrupt or
incompetent programmer, and there is a very limited
probability of discovering cheats and errors because
there is nothing of substance for the public to scrutinize.


PS:  I think the real educational value of this
would be in sparking a civics dialog on what's
needed to eventually establish a legitimate U.S.
democracy.  One could also look at the history
of Diebold's fraudulent actions in monopolizing
Georgia's voting systems as a civics lesson in
government corruption and the deadly dangers
of privatizing essential government operations
in concession to the corporate welfare state.

On Monday 04 August 2008 06:20, Joel Kahn wrote:
> Here's an angle on FLOSS principles
> applied to electronic voting systems:
> http://www.freedom-to-tinker.com/?p=1305
> Be sure to look at the responses; this
> posting really brought lots of analytical
> nerds out of the woodwork.
> I'm thinking the topic might have educational
> value at the college level--maybe even high
> school? Any ideas for ways to fit this into
> a curriculum somehow?
> Joel