Tue, 16 Oct 2007

Little Old Ladies

If asked to think of the defenders of democracy, you might think of Marines and a Navy corpsman raising the flag on Mount Suribachi. It's a very stirring image, but no, you'd be wrong. Think, instead, of the little old ladies who are present when you vote. They are the true bastions of liberty, the heros who save our elections from corruption.

How do they do this? Well, understand first that they aren't buddy-buddies. They're poll watchers; present to ensure that the vote is accurately recorded. They're Democrats and they're Republicans. Their loyalties are not to each other, or to their knitting. They're making sure that neither of the major parties corrupts the vote.

They do this by understanding how the votes are recorded in the voting machines, and by how the voting machines count the votes, and how the counts are removed from the machines and recorded and reported. They have sufficient experience with the machines and the process to be able to recognize when things don't work right.

This isn't true with electronic voting machines. The ways that they can be corrupted are too foreign to them. They don't have years of experience with the $FOOBAR model of electronic voting machine. And I'm not sure that open source software running on the machines is all that much of a help. Maybe after the women graduating from MIT and Harvard and CMU become little old ladies, open source will be a source of trust for them.

The solution is in the poll watcher system, not in the software. Software is too blind and uncertain, too soft. We need a machine which works a certain way, and which always works that same way. We need software without bugs, so it doesn't need to be changed. Ever. Once we have that, then the poll watcher system can learn to trust the operation of the machines.

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