Sorry for the quickie today, but my lease is up and it's final move-out time.

I'd like to call the world's attention to this SF Gate story about the ironclad security of electronic voting machines. It appears that in a recent simulated exercise, state-sponsored teams of hackers (CS professors, private citizens, etc) were able to infiltrate, take control of, and alter data in the electronic voting machines used in many California counties.

I tell my students the following about EVMs: imagine that I gave an oral final exam. I read the questions, and the students gave me a verbal answer. When the test ended, I'd tell them "OK, that was a C-". No additional information, no record of what they did right or wrong, no way to review or re-evaluate the answers. Just an outcome. That's electronic voting in a nutshell. I may have to update the anecdote, however, to include the possibility that random computer hackers could infiltrate me (!!!) and dictate the mysterious grade at which I'd arrive.

What explains the fascination with switching over to EVMs? They're not cheap. They're not reliable. They're not secure from manipulation by outside parties. They don't reduce the number of poll workers required. There's just no compelling argument for them beyond "There are some problems with paper ballots" and a 1950s-ish awe at the wonders of technology that assumes anything with a plug to be superior to its non-electrical counterparts.

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  1. Mike Says:

    if you haven't all ready, you should check out this book on electronic voting by Aviel Rubin


  2. J. Dryden Says:

    Shudder-inducing. Though on the other hand, yet another excuse to break out the old chestnuts of "Clearly the reason we're so determined to export democracy is that it's an unconsumed domestic resource." Which would be darkly funny except that we've pretty much given ourselves over to a system the mechanics of which 99.999% of us cannot understand, and which therefore leaves us completely at the mercy of those who do–and involuntarily, I might add–I mean, *I* wasn't consulted as to this change, and I don't recall a ballot measure in which We The People approved of it. Seems to me that the cornerstone of democracy is a consensus as to how votes are to be taken and tallied. (And yes, I realize that that statement will undoubtedly make the semi-finals in the upcoming "Well, DUH" competition. Sadly, though, such statements seem more and more necessary to make.)

    But, hey, I'm sure the proto-Morlocks who run the machines all have our best interests at heart.