Re: Is Open Source Enough?

From: Dylan Hirsch-Shell <dylanhs_at_gmail_dot_com>
Date: Thu Sep 06 2007 - 05:25:58 CDT


While I admire your enthusiasm and dedication to the advocacy of the
superiority of hand-counted paper ballots (HCPBs), I can't help but feel
that you're missing the forest for the trees in vehemently opposing the use
of any electronic counting technology. The particular type of ballot we
use, and the openness of the voting process are but a couple of the many
other ways in which our democratic process could stand to improve.

In particular, I think that electronic counting machines will be absolutely
indispensable for facilitating the spread of instant runoff voting (IRV)
throughout the country. This is one simple reform that could bring about a
huge change in our democratic process by eliminating the
candidates-as-race-horses mentality that currently pervades the electorate.
Imagine never having to hear another person say, "Well, I really like
Candidate X, but she hasn't a chance in hell of winning, so I'm voting for
Candidate Y instead." IRV would also help by restoring a sense of "having a
voice" to millions of cynical potential-voters out there who feel that
neither major party actually represents their point of view so why bother
voting at all? And it will make a true multi-party system possible, since
people wouldn't be able to say things like, "Bush wouldn't have gotten into
office if that narcissistic Nader hadn't stolen all those votes from Gore."
Furthermore, IRV should help level the playing field in a way that will
combat in at least a small way another major concern with our current system
-- the fact that it takes huge amounts of money to win an election. This
state of affairs has opened the door for undue influence on the government
by corporate interests willing to funnel millions of dollars to political
candidates and parties through soft money donations. And we have the
unfortunate situation where the mainstream press decides to dictate which
candidates are legitimate "contenders" (another reference to the election as
sport) based solely upon how much money they have managed to raise.

Open source election software systems would give us the necessary
infrastructure for implementing IRV while also dramatically reducing the
costs to state and federal governments of running large elections. Ideally,
it would be nice to see open source introduced in conjunction with sensible
campaign finance reform laws that redirect the funds that are currently
spent on insanely expensive proprietary electronic voting systems to public
campaign funds available to any candidate that meets a set of basic
qualifying criteria.

With regard to the issue of trust, I'm sure you would agree with Brian
Behlendorf's excellent point that, "Trust comes from defining a process with
enough checks to raise the cost of fraud high enough to make [attempting
fraud] completely unattractive."

You have repeatedly made the assertion that the only way to instill complete
trust in election results is with HCPBs, with direct oversight by members of
the public. However, Brian's points about the counting software not being
as important as the overall process are just as valid for HCPBs. You've
made it clear that you're well aware of the history of fraud with paper
ballots, so I don't need to go into all of the possible ways that elections
with HCPBs can still be unfairly influenced despite the apparent existence
of oversight.

You propose as a solution to the problem that we use video to document the
entire counting and certification process. However, this still requires
that the skeptics among the public must trust that the video feeds are of
the actual ballot counting rooms, rather than sham rooms set up in a
conspiracy by somebody or other that will ultimately control the outcome of
the election.

My point in bringing this possibility up is not to suggest that this
election-fixing scenario is actually likely under your proposed process, but
only to point out that what may seem infallible to you may very well seem
dismally flawed to someone else. (After all, there are people who believe
that the moon landing was faked, so what reason do we have to believe that
there wouldn't be people who believed your internet video feeds weren't all
some elaborate hoax?)

Which brings us back to the idea of how to instill trust in the election
process. I think it is a simple consequence of human nature that it will be
impossible to ensure that every citizen has 100% trust in the process. The
key is to recognize this fact and to provide mechanisms by which suspicious
voters can "check it out" for themselves. As long as fraud is detectable,
then we don't need to make an infallible system.

One proposed system for detecting fraud that I think makes a lot of sense,
and which allows the use of any type of local counting process that might be
desired by a precinct, is the seeVote system described at

Best Regards,

On 9/4/07, Teresa Hommel <> wrote:
> Well. actually, I did read "Deliver the Vote" by Tracy Campbell and the
> 68-page fraud chapter in Harris's 1934 book on Election Administration. The
> latter was better in describing the types of fraud conducted with paper.
> Then I wrote a paper on the subject,
> My idea is to use surveillance cameras to watch the ballot boxes, with a
> feed to the internet, so that the whole world can watch any of our thousands
> of local pollsites. And the cameras follow the ballot box to the central
> location and to the warehouse, and watch the boxes and ballots until each
> election is certified.
> The need for citizens to perform the easy and manageable task of watching
> ballots would involve so many people that it would, I predict, revitalize
> our people's faith in our elections. Participation engages people. Telling
> people to come out for 5 minutes and vote, and other than that to mind their
> own business, is part of what is shutting people out of the democratic
> process.
> Teresa
> Arthur Keller wrote:
> Thanks, Teresa, for your message.
> There is a long and dishonorable history of fraud from hand-counted paper
> ballots. So hand-marked, hand-counted paper ballots are NOT a panacea.
> I do believe that it is possible to design a system relying on the proper
> combination of people and computers that is more reliable than one that
> relies on people alone or computers alone. I also believe that it is
> possible to design a system that is more inherently secure and can withstand
> audits better than a hand-counted paper ballot system and far better than
> the systems we have today.
> You, Teresa, cannot be there to count all 100+ millions cast in a
> Presidential election. You have to rely on others to ensure that batches of
> the ballots are counted accurately and that those batches are combined
> accurately. With hand-counted paper ballots, only a small number of people
> in a precinct can ensure that a particular precinct is counted accurately.
> I would like a system in which anyone can audit and recount a precinct.
> Would that be preferable? I think so.
> Best regards,
> Arthur
> At 10:16 PM -0500 9/3/07, Teresa Hommel wrote:
> Remember the "Ain't I a Woman" speech of Sojourner Truth?
> Below is a copy, in case you don't recall it.
> It came to my mind as I read your discussion of members of the public
> inspecting software.
> I thought, ain't I a member of the public? But I don't want to inspect
> software to figure out if elections are honest and properly conducted.
> Elections are about votes and ballots, and I want to observe my own votes
> on my own hand-marked ballot, and observe the handling of the ballots once
> they are cast.
> Instead of spending the rest of my life reading 50,000 lines of bad code,
> which is what it would take me, I would rather spend one or two days per
> election watching the ballots and vote-counting with my neighbors.
> Teresa Hommel
> *Sojourner Truth (1797-1883): Ain't I A Woman?
> Delivered 1851
> Women's Convention, Akron, Ohio
> Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out
> of kilter. I think that 'twixt the negroes of the South and the women at the
> North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon.
> But what's all this here talking about?
> That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and
> lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever
> helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place!
> And ain't I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and
> planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain't I a
> woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man - when I could get it -
> and bear the lash as well! And ain't I a woman? I have borne thirteen
> children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with
> my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain't I a woman?
> Then they talk about this thing in the head; what's this they call it?
> [member of audience whispers, "intellect"] That's it, honey. What's that got
> to do with women's rights or negroes' rights? If my cup won't hold but a
> pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn't you be mean not to let me have my
> little half measure full?
> Then that little man in black there, he says women can't have as much
> rights as men, 'cause Christ wasn't a woman! Where did your Christ come
> from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing
> to do with Him.
> If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world
> upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back
> , and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men
> better let them.*
> *Obliged to you for hearing me, and now old Sojourner ain't got nothing
> more to say.*
> --
> --------------------------------------------------------------------
> -----------
> Arthur M. Keller, Ph.D., 3881 Corina Way, Palo Alto, CA 94303-4507
> tel +1(650)424-0202, fax +1(650)424-0424
> ------------------------------
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Received on Sun Sep 30 23:17:06 2007

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