Re: Respose to Joe Hall: Transparency and Access to Source Code in Electronic Voting

From: Ron Crane <voting_at_lastland_dot_net>
Date: Fri Jul 28 2006 - 18:04:05 CDT

Alan Dechert wrote:
> Joe, I read your paper titled Transparency and Access to Source Code in
> Electronic Voting [1]. I'm glad you wrote this. You explore several issues
> that need discussion but aren't covered anywhere. My response follows ....
> -----------------
> I think you can do better, and I hope you will....
You make many good points, but don't take the need for transparency
seriously enough. The open source paradigm assumes that a small group of
computer security professionals can and will "stand in" for the general
public in the supervision of voting systems -- and that this form of
supervision is adequate. For a variety of reasons, I believe that it is
not adequate.

For example, you mention that insiders might cheat using malicious
firmware (e.g., BIOS) and hardware. You're right about that. Yet the
analysis required to detect such cheats is extensive, time-consuming,
expensive, and occasionally destructive of the hardware under analysis.
Even were we so fortunate as to gain the enactment of laws requiring
this kind of analysis (fat chance), its expense and clumsiness would
provide a ready-made excuse for reluctant elections officials and
vendors. And the public would perceive it as unnecessary and wasteful,
since "the machines worked fine when I used them." Over time, this kind
of analysis would, practically speaking, disappear from use. Then the
real cheating would begin.

For another thing, if, as you say, the general public has "a right to
know exactly how votes are processed," I believe that it is
inappropriate and unhealthy for the public to delegate the exercise of
that right to "the experts." Voting is unlike the great variety of
activities that we -- of necessity -- delegate to experts. Voting is
foundational of our Liberty. As such, it deserves a special kind of
respect. It should not be viewed as yet another activity to be addressed
by market-based solutions, and, in particular, the protection of
existing market interests should not enter into the calculations
surrounding voting system security or transparency. While the "invisible
hand" works wonders between buyers and sellers possessing roughly
similar amounts of knowledge and bargaining power, it serves those
lacking the requisite knowledge (e.g., most elections officials) and
third-party beneficiaries represented by those lacking the requisite
knowledge (such as citizens who use voting systems) much less well.

And it is unnecessary to delegate the supervision of voting to the
experts: with but a modest input of statistical knowledge, any citizen
of ordinary training and intelligence can supervise a hand-filled paper
ballot voting system from beginning to end. Why should not an ordinary
citizen exercise her "right to know exactly how votes are processed"
directly in this fashion? Why should an impenetrable layer of technology
prevent her from doing so, and require her to delegate her right --
indeed, her responsibility -- to someone else? What does it gain us? Is
it worth the costs? I don't think so.

I'd also note that public supervision tends to wane over time as
perceived threats recede into the past. This can lead to critical
lapses, particularly if the threat is global in nature (i.e., a small
group of individuals can threaten a large number of votes) and if the
cadre of potential supervisors is small. That's exactly the case with

If this sounds like an argument for hand-filled paper ballots, counted
either by hand or by machine with appropriate sampling hand recounts.
that's exactly what it is. We need to restore real supervision and
accountability to the voting process. While open source e-voting systems
would represent something of an improvement on what we've got now,
they're not enough. We've got to ditch e-voting, and ditch it permanently.

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Received on Mon Jul 31 23:17:08 2006

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