Re: Is Open Source Enough?

From: Teresa Hommel <tahommel_at_earthlink_dot_net>
Date: Thu Sep 06 2007 - 10:20:47 CDT

Dylan Hirsch-Shell wrote:

> Teresa,
> 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."
> Actually, I totally disagree, and I think the technology community is
> assisting with the destruction of democracy by pushing "ivory tower"
> "scientific" solutions when the needs of democracy are simply that the
> non-technical citizen has to be able to understand and observe the
> vote handling process and be able to attest that it was properly
> conducted and honest. Period. Trust is inappropriate. Observation and
> understanding is appropriate.

> 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.

Actually I have never said this (but you could reasonably infer it from
what I have said). I believe that NY's requirement that test batches be
run through optical scanners periodically during central re-counting of
batches of ballots from pollsites, to ensure that the scanner is
working, seems to me to be a reasonable way to ensure that the scanners
are working.

> However, Brian's points about the counting software not being as
> important as the overall process are just as valid for HCPBs.

How can anyone think it is useful to figure out whether counting
software is as important as the overall process? It is like a bridge. If
a 100 foot section is missing in the middle, the bridge is useless. Is
the section as important as the whole bridge? This is ivory tower
theoretics. Why not stick to the question of how many angels can dance
on the head of a pin?

> 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.

Yes, teams of multipartisan members of the public have to wield the
cameras. Community participation, it's called.

> 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?)

Let them join one of the camera teams.

> 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,
> Dylan
> 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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