Representative Holt's OWN WORDS [Re: OVC-discuss Digest, Vol 36, Issue 9]

From: Hamilton Richards <hrichrds_at_swbell_dot_net>
Date: Tue Oct 30 2007 - 16:49:01 CDT

A few thoughts after watching the YouTube video of Rush Holt, which
is actually at <>.

Code inspection is a sideshow
Rush Holt is quite right--the integrity of elections can be assured
not by inspecting source code but by auditing paper records. Auditing
amounts to an end run around any possible shenanigans in the software.

If the video's unsourced claim that "up to 10% of the
electronically-generated paper records allowed by HR811 are damaged,
unreadable, and unusable for audits" is based on anything, it's based
on early implementations produced by manufacturers who have an
interest in seeing them rejected. Electronically generated
voter-verified paper ballots can be far more reliable than
hand-marked ones, and far less vulnerable to ballot-box stuffing and
spurious rejection by crooked election officials.

Concerning code inspection, it's universally accepted in computing
science that code cannot be validated by inspection. You can inspect
a piece of software all you like, and when you finally quit, you
cannot know whether there's a flaw--innocent or deliberate--that you
missed. Therefore the arguments about "full disclosure" of election
software are at best a sideshow. Requiring inspectors of proprietary
software to sign NDAs is no more than one would expect from
commercial software vendors, who habitually commit the accounting
error of booking lines of code under Investment, rather than Expense.

The video's contention that "The committee changed the bill when they
heard from Microsoft ... so ordinary American citizens can never know
how their votes are being counted" is disingenuous. Microsoft could
publish its entire inventory of software on the web, and "ordinary
Americans" would still never know how their votes were being counted.

Open source is a good thing
Discounting the importance of software disclosure is not to say that
open-source software for elections wouldn't be a great step forward,
but the reason is not that it would guarantee election integrity.

One reason in favor of open source is that truly open software would
be of higher quality initially than proprietary software (there's
nothing quite like knowing that your work will be viewed critically
by hundreds of your peers), and it could be expected to continue to
improve in response to scrutiny and contributions from the
open-software community.

Another reason is that election officials choosing open-source
software would be free from enslavement to a particular vendor. A
vendor that charged too much or failed to perform could be replaced
by another vendor, since all would have access to the same software.

Some proponents of open source, always looking for more arguments in
its favor, claim that open source is less insecure than undisclosed
source. That claim may have some merit, but it's of no practical use
("less insecure" is like "less pregnant")--unless the software is
known to be completely secure, other security measures such as
voter-verified paper ballots are still essential.

The mythical golden age
The video makes the claim that "we already have 'verifiable'
elections. They're called hand counted, paper ballot elections. We
don't need a federal bill...". The colorful history of election fraud
in the days before computers is so widely known that this can only be
another disingenuous claim. Its author's antipathy to the use of
computers in elections is evident, but since it is unsupported by any
logical arguments, it's far from persuasive.

Profits are evil?
The video ends by asserting that no one should make a profit from
elections. Does that mean that election officials should not be paid?
That the suppliers of printed paper ballots should provide them at
cost? How about the printers' suppliers of paper and ink? This smells
like a religious argument more than a logical one, and the thing
about religion is that you either get it or you don't. Brandishing
religious arguments at nonbelievers is famously counterproductive.

The bottom line
Your mileage may differ, but for me HR811, imperfect as it is,
represents a worthwhile step forward, and I'm grateful to Rep. Holt
for introducing it and for putting up with all the flak.



At 12:00 PM -0700 2007/10/30, wrote:
>Message: 1
>Date: Tue, 30 Oct 2007 10:34:35 -0400
>From: "Nancy Tobi" <>
>Subject: Re: [OVC-discuss] [FWD: RE: [vote-technology] Booted out of
> the Hotel at the 2007 Post-Election Auditing Summit]
>To: "Open Voting Consortium discussion list"
> <>
>But most interesting to you may be Representative Holt's OWN WORDS on the
>subject. You can see those here:
>Nancy Tobi

Hamilton Richards, PhD           Department of Computer Sciences
Senior Lecturer (retired)        The University of Texas at Austin      
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Received on Wed Oct 31 23:17:03 2007

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