Fw: NYTimes.com Article: Techno Files: Electronic Voting 1.0, and No Time to Upgrade

From: Ed Kennedy <ekennedyx_at_yahoo_dot_com>
Date: Sun Nov 28 2004 - 22:41:27 CST

Hello All:

Another interesting news article.

kennedyx@pacbell.net wrote:
> The article below from NYTimes.com
> has been sent to you by kennedyx@pacbell.net.
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> Techno Files: Electronic Voting 1.0, and No Time to Upgrade
> November 28, 2004
> I TRUST computers. When I first used A.T.M.'s, nearly 30
> years ago, I carefully saved receipts in a folder and
> matched them with the bank's monthly statement. Now I
> sometimes stuff the receipts in my wallet, but I almost
> never look at them again. The only banking error I've
> encountered in all those years was when a human teller left
> a final zero off a deposit I had made.
> I still pore over credit card statements, but mainly to see
> whether some person, not some machine, has issued the
> proper refund credit or made an improper charge. I've sent
> e-mail messages to the wrong people by mistyping an address
> or hitting the oh-so-dangerous "Reply All" button, but
> never because the system routes it where it shouldn't go.
> When I travel, I assume that the e-ticket I booked through
> my computer will be valid and that frequent-flier miles
> will show up in my account.
> Yet when I went to my polling place in Washington on
> Election Day, I waited an extra half-hour in line to cast a
> paper ballot, instead of using the computerized
> touch-screen voting machine. Am I irrational? Perhaps, but
> this would not be the evidence.
> A columnist in The Washington Post recently suggested that
> nostalgia for paper ballots, in today's reliably
> computerized world, must reflect a Luddite disdain for
> technology in general or an Oliver Stone-style paranoia
> about the schemings of the political world.
> Not at all. It can also arise from a clear understanding of
> how computers work - and don't. The more you know about the
> operations of today's widely trusted commercial computer
> networks, the more concerned you become about most
> electronic-voting systems.
> The phenomenal reliability of the systems we trust for
> banking, communication, and everything else rests on two
> bedrock principles. One is the universal understanding in
> the technology world that nothing works right the first
> time, and maybe not the first 50 times.
> When I worked briefly on a product design team at
> Microsoft, I was sobered to learn that fully one-fourth of
> the company's typical two-year "product cycle time" was
> devoted to testing. Programmers spend 18 months designing
> and debugging a system. Then testers spend the next six
> months finding the problems they missed. It is no secret
> that even then, the "final" software from Microsoft, or any
> other company, is far from perfect.
> Today's mature systems work as well as they do only because
> they are exposed to nonstop, high-stakes torture testing.
> EBay lists nearly four million new items each day. If a
> problem affects even a tiny fraction of its users, eBay
> will be swamped with reports immediately.
> Millions of data packets are being routed across the
> Internet every second. If servers, domain-name directories
> or other components cannot handle the volume, the problem
> will become apparent quickly. Years ago, bank or airline
> computers would often be "down" because of unforeseen
> problems. Now they're mostly "up," because they've had so
> long for flaws to become exposed.
> The second crucial element in making reliable systems is
> accountability. Users can trust today's systems precisely
> because they don't have to take them on trust. Some
> important computer systems run on open-source software,
> like Linux, in which the code itself can be examined by
> outsiders.
> Virtually all systems provide some sort of confirmation of
> transactions. You have the slip from the A.T.M., the
> receipt for your credit card charge, the printout of your
> e-ticket reservation. If your e-mail message doesn't go
> through, there is still the copy in your "Sent" folder.
> This is the technology world's counterpart to the
> check-and-balance principle in the United States
> government. The first concept, robust testing, protects
> against unintended flaws. The second, accountability,
> guards against purposeful distortions.
> Which brings us back to electronic voting. On the available
> evidence, I don't believe that voting-machine
> irregularities, or other problems on Election Day,
> determined who would be the next president. The apparent
> margins for President Bush were too large, in Ohio and
> nationwide. But if the race had been any closer, we could
> not have said for sure that the machines hadn't made the
> difference. That is because many electronic systems violate
> the two basic rules of trustworthy computing.
> By definition, they have barely been exposed to real-world
> testing. The kind of thorough workout that Visa's or
> Google's systems receive every hour happens for voting
> machines on only a few special days a year. By commercial
> standards, the systems are necessarily still in "beta
> version" - theoretically debugged, but not yet vetted by
> extensive, unpredictable experience - when voters show up
> to choose a president.
> Four years ago, about one-eighth of all votes for president
> were cast electronically. This year, nearly a third were.
> How the system would handle that large increase in scale
> could not have been tested until the presidency was at
> stake. Worse, most of the electronic systems are not
> accountable. When I voted this year, I fed my paper ballot
> through an optical scanner and into a storage box. In a
> recount, those ballots could have been pulled out and run
> through the scanner again. If I had used the touch screen,
> I would have had no tangible evidence that the vote counted
> or was recountable.
> Is that a problem because the chief executive of Diebold,
> the largest maker of such systems, is a prominent
> Republican partisan? No. It's a problem because it defies
> the check-and-balance logic built into every other
> electronic transaction.
> AN inherently untrustworthy voting system might not be the
> worst distortion in modern politics. My nominee for that
> honor would be the structure of the United States Senate,
> where each state has two votes. When it was set up, there
> was a nine-to-one imbalance in voting population between
> the largest state, Virginia, and the smallest, Delaware.
> (Counting slaves, Virginia's edge increased to 12 to 1.)
> Now it's nearly 70 to 1 (California versus Wyoming), making
> the Senate our own equivalent of the United Nations General
> Assembly as a forum for overrepresented small states.
> But the spread of voting systems that further erode
> Americans' faith in their democracy is serious enough. And
> while the Senate isn't going to change anytime soon,
> electronic systems can change - and, for the sake of
> credible democracy, must change - before we choose another
> president. Extensive discussions are under way at sites
> like VerifiedVoting.org, CalVoter.org, and the "news for
> nerds" forum Slashdot.org about inexpensive, practical ways
> to make automated voting as reliable as, say, buying books
> online. Their recommendations make sense. But you don't
> have to trust my opinion. Read them and see.
> James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic
> Monthly. E-mail: tfiles@nytimes.com.
> http://www.nytimes.com/2004/11/28/business/yourmoney/28techno.html?ex=1102702967&ei=1&en=164a3ff84ca0c182
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Received on Tue Nov 30 23:17:41 2004

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