Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Can Someone Explain This To Me?

So I was reading this little article from the Post-Gazette. It describes the dogged efforts of a local woman to rid the state of electronic voting machines, and also that way that more state and local governments are leaning toward optically-scanned paper voting systems. And that's cool. I can vote on anything that you throw in front of me. Granted, I'm not going to enjoy having SAT flashbacks when I'm forced to deal with one of those "bubble forms" again. I'm not anxious to recall the astonishing number of #2 pencils that I wore down to nubs in filling out my application to Annapolis in 1986 (no, I didn't get in; my local congressman was a dickhead). But I'm going to vote, no matter method I have to use.

But here's the thing that's always had me truly puzzled about this inherent distrust of electronic voting machines. Why is it that the same people who can't trust this new method were perfectly happy voting on those 860-pound lever machines that we had for all those years? How in the hell could anyone know that their votes were being recorded properly on those things? Would it be so impossible to believe that the old machines were manipulated in some way to suppress the counting of one party's votes over another's? Admittedly, one would have to have been some kind of mechanical genius to figure out who rig one of those ancient behemoths in that manner. But it certainly seems possible. I certainly was never 100% confident that all the dials inside that machine were really turning in the directions needed to reflect my actual vote.

How is an electronic machine any worse than the the old lever ones? I'm not asking this question in a rhetorical or an accusatory way. I really want someone to explain it to me. I don't have enormous confidence in the electronic machines, either. But why weren't these same people raising hell over the old lever machines?

If anyone could enlighten me, I would be most appreciative. It's a question that I've had for a while, but it never seems to get answered in any of the articles I've read. Thanks!


Nicko McDave said...

You're preaching gospel now, Admiral. This is the truth.

The best thing about the old machines was that it was fun to flick switches. I sometimes wondered if my vote was being accurately recorded but had no way of knowing how to go about questioning it. I just liked flicking the switches; even when I voted straight party, I made my selections individually.

The touch screens are even better because of the ease of casting a write-in. I have an option other than not voting when it comes to uncontested races.

There's a part of me that says all races are fixed no matter how I vote...but I try to keep that part supressed.

EdHeath said...

So I was an election official for a few elections a few years ago. I stopped when I changed jobs and found it pretty inconvenient to take those particular days off. I miss it now.

I sort of look at the difference between the old election machines and the new ones as the difference between a baseball bat and a Trident sub (just watched Jericho, nukes on my mind). You can ruin someone’s day with a baseball bat, even a whole lot of someone’s depending on your upper body strength and ambition. But the Louisville Slugger can’t hold a candle to the sub. It can ruin a lot of people’s day.

You could twitch a manual voting machine if you are, as you say, a mechanical genius. But one of those people who work at the polling place might well notice skewed results. Actually, the thing to do is intercept the person who takes the suitcase with the results at 11 at night to the central location.

I don’t know how they record the votes with the computers at the end of the election day, whether the poll workers even see the results now. The computers may just be folded up and taken to the central location. Or a card may be pulled out and taken to the central location. The old machines actually had a big piece of paper we pored over and recorded the votes. As we all know, the new machines have no printers. They could report one result to the poll workers and then report another to the central office. Or the memory card could be swapped with one with better results.

I don’t know if the new computer voting machines have a wireless interface or not. How could any of us know? But I suppose it would be possible to link a particular vote to a particular voter (with survailance, biometrics or just by looking at the books were they record who voted when, and the results from the machines). With careful work, The city could identify, with pinpoint accuracy, which streets to plow and salt.

My point is that it used to take a fair bit of effort to really steal an election. It was certainly possible, but it was the sort of thing that people avoided because of the stink that would be raised (its usually that obvious). Now, with our votes being “recorded” electronically, there are several points where one person or a few people could change votes without anyone being the wiser. If the voting machines have a wireless interface someone could access machines, individually or multiply, from nearby. Or someone inside or outside the County elections department thingie could access the database where the votes are tallied and simply change the numbers. Anyone who spends time around computers knows how vulnerable and easily changeable they are. Of course, the voting results were probably always typed into a computer. The difference is that all those paper results were stored somewhere, at least for a while, so the threat of recount was always in the background. Now, there is no recount. The computer voting machines will be stored somewhere, but all someone has to do is reset them and there goes any recount. Heck, if Diebold wants it, we might end up with fourteen more years of Dubbya.

Bram said...

I don't know. Time tested? Mother approved?

I actually suspect that the ability to tinker and create foul play is easier to pull off by inserting a CD, than it is by getting a piano tuner. Those old machines produce physical evidence. Widespread tampering would be hard (outside of where you warehouse the data!) But still ... a CD from Diebold?

Diebold? Sure they may be on the up and up ... but oughtn't they quit such conspicuous support for one political party?

I'm not saying I'm down with Hugo Chavez either.

Maria said...

I think the real problem is no paper trail. The old machines had one (and a HUGE friggin' piece of paper it was!), the new touchscreen ones do not.

There's literally nothing to recount in a recount.

Richmond K. Turner said...

There was paper hidden within those blasted things? Seriously, I never had any idea that there was paper in there. At least things are starting to make some sense to me.

But if I read that P-G article correctly, isn't Onorato worried about a paper backup on the new machines making our votes less of a secret? How was this same problem addressed with the lever machines, then. Could somebody have gone in, compared which votes were cast in which order, and thus deduced that I -- as the 112th voter to use the machine that day -- had voted for [insert name of candidate here]?

If there was a paper backup on the old machines, how can it be a problem to have a similar one on the new ones?

Maria said...

You would best direct your questions to someone like Richard King of PA Verified Voting.

Mark Rauterkus said...

Yes, there was a paper trail within those old machines. The paper was on a roll.

The old machines worked, expect for those with special needs. Even then, there were a few different utilities and techniques that could have been put into place as a work around.

I like the baseball bat:sub example above.

Dan Onorato messed up the trust of the voting public in the county by his lame decisions.