November 04, 2003
The Aussies Do It Right

Via Joanne McNeil comes this Wired article about electronic voting in Australia and why their system is more robust, more secure, and way less controversial.

Although a private Australian company designed the system, it was based on specifications set by independent election officials, who posted the code on the Internet for all to see and evaluate. What's more, it was accomplished from concept to product in six months. It went through a trial run in a state election in 2001.

Be still my heart. How nice to know that fair elections is something that trumps private profitmaking.

"Why on earth should (voters) have to trust me -- someone with a vested interest in the project's success?" he said. "A voter-verified audit trail is the only way to 'prove' the system's integrity to the vast majority of electors, who after all, own the democracy."

As for the costs of securing and storing such receipts, [software engineer Mark] Quinn said, "Did anyone ever say that democracy was meant to be cheap?"

Quinn also believes that voting systems must use open-source software.

"The keystone of democracy is information," he said. "You have a big problem when people don't have enough information to make up their minds or, even worse, they have misleading information and make up their minds in a way that would be contrary to what they would decide if they had the full story.

"Any transparency you can add to that process is going to enhance the democracy and, conversely, any information you remove from that process is going to undermine your democracy."


Quinn, who was working in Chicago for Motorola during the 2000 presidential election, says he is "gob smacked" by what he sees happening among U.S. electronic voting machine makers, whom he says have too much control over the democratic process.

It has been widely reported that Ohio-based Diebold Election Systems, one of the biggest U.S. voting-machine makers, purposely disabled some of the security features in its software. According to reports the move left a backdoor in the system through which someone could enter and manipulate data. In addition, Walden O'Dell, Diebold Election System's chief executive, is a leading fundraiser for the Republican Party. He stated recently that he was "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year.''

"The only possible motive I can see for disabling some of the security mechanisms and features in their system is to be able to rig elections," Quinn said. "It is, at best, bad programming; at worst, the system has been designed to rig an election."

"I can't imagine what it must be like to be an American in the midst of this and watching what's going on," Quinn added. "Democracy is for the voters, not for the companies making the machines.... I would really like to think that when it finally seeps in to the collective American psyche that their sacred Democracy has been so blatantly abused, they will get mad."

Some of us are way ahead of you, big guy. Thanks for the assist.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on November 04, 2003 to Technology, science, and math | TrackBack