Seattle Times Article -- now we're talking!

From: Alan Dechert <alan_at_openvotingconsortium_dot_org>
Date: Mon Mar 22 2004 - 04:05:10 CST

This is the type of stuff we want to hear:

'So far, the momentum behind "black-box voting" is strong, but it's still
early. Solutions such as the Open Voting Consortium prove that e-voting,
properly executed, can offer reassurances of its accuracy. That's all any
voter in a democracy really wants. '

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/businesstechnology/2001884976_paul22.html

Monday, March 22, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

E-conomy / Paul Andrews
E-voting is inevitable, despite flaws

Imagine if your grocery store told you it wasn't giving out receipts any
more because everything is scanned and the computer is never wrong.
Or what if your bank decided to quit giving you statements with the
reassurance that "the computer's keeping track of everything, so don't
worry."

It sounds preposterous, given the current state of technological
reliability. Yet there's one significant part of our lives where we're being
told no receipt is necessary, just trust the computer.

I'm talking about touch-screen voting. Because of the Help America Vote Act
passed in 2002 after the presidential election debacle in Florida, a
sweeping conversion to electronic voting is under way. In most cases,
e-voting involves using a touch screen with no printed confirmation.

About 50 million voters are expected to use touch screens in the November
election. But concerns have led most Washington state elections officials to
hold off on their adoption, although Snohomish County moved to them
exclusively in fall 2002.

To put the discussion in context, it should be noted that we hear a lot more
about e-voting's perils than its successes. In a recent round of primaries,
news reports focused on glitches at polls in Georgia, Maryland, New York and
Ohio. California seemed particularly star-crossed, with 7,000 Orange County
voters experiencing some kind of problem, the Los Angeles Times reported.

In Snohomish County, though, preparedness, training and voter education have
enabled officials to conduct several elections electronically without a
hitch, noted County Auditor Bob Terwilliger. Surveys show voters like
touch-screen voting, and Terwilliger said he has received only a handful of
e-mails expressing concern. Adding printed ballots to the process would be
expensive for a county with a tight elections budget, he added.

Whatever the breakdown rate, two things are clear: E-voting is inevitable,
simply because it is so much more efficient. More significant, it's a system
that generally works and whose flaws can be fixed.

Most e-voting today is done on proprietary systems supplied by four major
vendors - systems that Renton-based e-voting activist Bev Harris calls
"black-box voting." One promising solution, offering a paper audit and
mechanisms for independent review, ironically would "open up" e-voting,
using free, easily inspected, open-source software.

I say "ironically" because the approach seems counterintuitive. With voting
being a sensitive procedure, wouldn't we want the most untouchable,
locked-up system available?

The answer seems to be no. An open-software approach goes on the theory that
the more eyes watching, the more secure the process.

"With paperless e-voting, over time people will see where the holes are, and
there will be an opportunity to literally steal an election," warned Alan
Dechert, a California elections-software activist whose nonprofit Open
Voting Consortium plans to demonstrate a step-by-step, secure
electronic-voting procedure April 1 in San Jose.

The ambitious concept behind the consortium is to rent computer equipment to
counties for election use. The open-source software would be free, keeping
costs down. The approach would save counties maintenance and storage fees
associated with voting equipment, which can be sizable. There are 200,000
polling precincts in the country, each averaging 500 ballots. Optimally, one
computer is required for each 70 ballots cast, Dechert said.

Besides security, the consortium's approach would provide a paper audit
trail. Upon completion of entries, each voter would be given a printed-out
ballot and a privacy folder. The voter could then check for accuracy and
submit the ballot. The folder would cover the text, showing only a bar-code
readout for tabulation.

So far, the momentum behind "black-box voting" is strong, but it's still
early. Solutions such as the Open Voting Consortium prove that e-voting,
properly executed, can offer reassurances of its accuracy. That's all any
voter in a democracy really wants.

Paul Andrews is a freelance technology writer and co-author of "Gates." He
can be reached at pandrews@seattletimes.com.

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Received on Wed Mar 31 23:17:08 2004

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