Re: open-audit elections

From: Ben Adida <ben_at_eecs_dot_harvard_dot_edu>
Date: Wed Dec 13 2006 - 00:34:53 CST

Ronald,

I fully agree with your goal, but you're mistaken regarding what
open-audit techniques achieve.

Cryptography is specifically the science of *not* delegating power or
trust to anyone. The experts that verify an open-audit system do not
need to be government-certified like FDA experts. They can be your local
computer science teacher, or the smart teenager down the street. They
just need to look at the published election results and run their own
verification program on it. They don't need to ask anyone for permission
and, if they find evidence or fraud, it's as incontrovertible as 2 + 2 = 4.

With paper-based voting systems, you are, whether you like it or not,
delegating power to election officials. That goes exactly against the
goal you state. Joe, Jane, and Sigourney cannot be there to guarantee
the full chain of custody of the ballot box and ballots. That's why the
end-to-end verification techniques provided by crypto are useful:
because you can't be there for the whole chain, so it would be nice to
have mathematical proof that, from beginning to end, things were done
correctly.

-Ben

Ronald Crane wrote:
> Apropos my previous message, I have another motive for preferring
> paper voting systems to computerized ones. And that has to do with
> maintaining (and, if possible, increasing) citizen participation in
> government. As America has grown, our governments have become not just
> larger, but more distant [1]. We have, by and large, replaced citizen
> government with an expert administrative state. In some subject areas,
> this is substantially (or even overwhelmingly) justified, e.g., the FDA.
> But citizens need to be careful about the kinds of powers they delegate
> to government. In particular they need to be careful about delegating
> powers that can be used to determine the government's nature and
> policies. Thus we should, for example, jealously guard our freedom of
> the press, lest the press become a government organ used to perpetuate
> government policies irrespective of our views (or, worse, to
> propagandize us into loving a government that says, "Four legs good, two
> legs better!").
>
> And primary among the powers we should not blithely delegate to
> government is the administration of elections. I view direct citizen
> audits, that can effectively be conducted using only citizens' native
> intelligence and common sense, as a powerful firewall against runaway
> government. Contrariwise, I view opaque voting systems, or voting
> systems whose auditing requires extensive expert input, as enablers for
> runaway government. I do not want to promote voting systems that can
> securely be used only when subject to a numbing retinue of tests,
> audits, verifications, and expert inquiries. I want voting systems that
> Joe (who barely graduated high school), Jane (who has some college), and
> Sigourney (who understands probability theory reasonably well) can come
> together to effectively audit.
>
> -R
>
> [1] (and yet, paradoxically, more invasive)
>
>
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Received on Sun Dec 31 23:17:12 2006

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