Re: What the voting experts think of barcodes

From: David Mertz <voting-project_at_gnosis_dot_cx>
Date: Wed Jun 02 2004 - 14:05:17 CDT

On Jun 2, 2004, at 2:35 PM, Alan Dechert wrote:
>> If [experts] distrust a barcode they cannot read without special
>> equipment, such skepticism is likely to be even more widespread among
>> typical voters.

> What evidence is there for that? This is an interesting conjecture,
> but
> should be investigated with surveys and such.

I admit it could go either way on experts vs. average voters.

A certain number of average voters won't give it any thought at all
(assuming barcodes are used). They'll just unconsciously think, "My
food has barcodes, my mail has barcodes, so what if they're on a

But some other voters are likely IMO to distrust authority, without
really having the means of understanding the encoding issues, or the
procedures of running an election. Does the average person REALLY know
that the barcode doesn't have her name nested in it? Trying to explain
that barcode decoding to digit strings is embedded in firmware,
therefore not subject to Windows viruses is not an easy thing to do.
Few people really understand just how much information is an is not
encoded in a barcode (I didn't have had any good sense of it a few
months ago, and I'm a "computer expert"). A barcode, to an ordinary
voter who maybe leans a little in the black-helicopter direction, looks
a lot like likely mischief.

Btw. I think the above helps explain why I myself have been somewhat
reluctant to move from 1-D to 2-D barcodes. Someone like Karl Auerbach
or Arthur Keller love the idea of having plenty of breathing room for
extra information: more contests, cryptographic codes, etc. Karl
helped design the internet, which is now suffering a squeeze on
available IP addresses. But I *LIKE* the idea of a barcode that simply
doesn't have the ROOM to encode anything extraneous. Sure, I don't
think Karl is going to insert a list of all my friends, enemies,
shopping habits, and past votes into the expansive data space of a 2-D
barcode. But if he wanted to, there's plenty of data available for
mischievous purposes.

The number of dangerous things you can put in a jewelry box is less
than the number of dangerous things you can fit in a truck trailer.

>> Blind people can very easily insert a sheet of paper into a sheet-fed
>> scanner
> Not as easily as having the barcode scanned while still in the folder.
> I've
> said the OCR *might* be workable but we'd have to set up trials and
> see.
> OCR might be slower, more expensive, and more cumbersome for voters and
> election administrators. As always, there are tradeoffs to be looked
> at.

Agreed. It might be slower and more expensive. And those are bad
parts. I guess I just didn't think of those as making it into the "big
problems" category, just to the "little problems."

> If one blind voter in 100 drops his ballot on the floor trying to
> insert it into the scanner, would
> that be acceptable? Maybe not.

Right. Of course, would someone be looking while the blind voter
picked it up? Well, maybe; or maybe not. I'm also not sure what the
parameters are.

Then again, some percentage of sighted voters will pull their ballots
out of the privacy folders, walk up to a poll worker, show the face,
and ask if it printed properly. Obviously, that's a "little problem"
that we'd like to minimize... but I'm not sure it's a "big problem."
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Received on Wed Jun 30 23:17:02 2004

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