Wednesday, September 13, 2006

I presume a lot of people are dreading the election because of all the complaints and accusations they anticipate from the losers. Most of us expect the machines to mess up. You can say they're secure enough, but can you say you don't expect allegations of fraud? The past two elections have had plenty, and millions of us are just dying for someone to get caught red-handed.


Now, as firmly as I believe that the elections of 2000 and 04 were rigged, I have to admit that there may be enough safeguards in place, and enough public vigilance, to identify all fraud attempts and manage to count every vote. Still, I am certain that there will be a fiasco or twenty in the weeks after the election involving disputed results, unrecoverable votes, and statistical anomalies. Elections are still being stolen in the internet age; don't think for a second that we're beyond that. It happened in Mexico, our most volatile neighbor, and we just let it slip into the wrong hands (well maybe that one's still salvagable, I don't really know). It happened here, and we paid the price. And I think it almost happened in Italy. Probably other spots as well! With so many hotshot programmers on the globe now, sophisticated fraud is inevitable. And this election is the crown jewel. Stakes is high.


And you must admit this. Even the more scrupulous people you know would be tempted if they knew they could choose the winners. Myself, for example. I know that the Democratic party needs to take power right now. If the Dems came to me to ask for my blessing before they deployed technology that assured them victories in the key races, I'd think about it for ten seconds. Then I'd say they could do it if they promised to listen to what I had to say and, you know, dignify me with responses.


But even if we say hypothetically that there won't be any fraud this time, the elections will go more or less like the polls are going, and the machines won't malfunction, I would still anticipate plenty of people to make a fuss over certain elections being stolen, maliciously and negligently. I probably won't hesitate to count myself among them if the stats look fishy. After all, some of these machines probably still have the same software they were running in 2004. Me no trusty. The point is not that I don't want to have this happen. When you feel like the less popular candidate pulled a fast one, and hold out hope that your man will get back, you can develop disdain that makes you less able to make anything positive occur. Even if you let go of it eventually, the sadness that you feel when you're around the winner will weaken your chance to make a good impression on him, or form a really great alliance or even a friendship. And with such tight races all over the place, lots of people are going to be sure of a victory... only to lose in overtime. In fact, these people will make up almost exactly half our population, at least in 2008. May the best men and women win. May we all vote. And may we heal the wounds.


Now, there is an easy way to make sure all three of those things happen, in this and all elections. It's a piece of voting software which will work on the machines that counties have already purchased with HAVA cashflow. Money that came out of your middle-class pockets, that is. Lots of money for Diebold and a couple other playas who were in with the right at the right time. This software encrypts each vote and posts it online right as it is cast. This dataset is then open for anyone to analyze. The machines that have printers can print receipts for voters to take home, so they can see that their very own vote was counted properly. Yet the encryption will prevent anyone from knowing who others voted for. No votes will be lost late in the day, because they'll already be tabulated on the net. And auditors can watch them come in steadily, and notice irregularities as they happen in some more sophisticated ways as well. And best of all, no need to be uberwatchful of those paper ballots and go through those painful recounts time after time. With detailed data, one paper recount is the most you'll need to be sure, if it even comes to that. The software is trustworthy because it's open source: anyone could read the code and tell anyone else how it works. And running our count this way would save so much money compared to what we've got planned currently. A lot less officials would be needed, saving that many generous souls from the scrutiny of being thought a fraud. And the day after the election, we could all just get back to our lives without feeling guilty for not filing challenges of voting irregularities. Or feeling a different type of guilt by thinking that even if they were filed, they wouldn't be fairly settled. Or couldn't.


When we lay extensive cynicism on our government, it doesn't work very well. And each public servant's career starts with an election. If we can eliminate the cynicism surrounding elections, we can have a much better attitude towards our government, which will give us better control over it. And more people would vote! No one could ever say again that American Idol gets more votes.


There's not a ton of time until the 06 election. But technically there is still enough time to install VoteHere on all of the voting machines in the nation. It's the smart move. Is our nation mature enough to accept this?

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