Monday, November 29, 2004

Looking Forward to Election Voting 2.0

See James Fallows' opinion piece in this week's Sunday New York Times ("Electronic Voting 1.0, and No Time to Upgrade"). Fallows discusses two tests that all technologies must pass before they can earn the public trust: (1) a substantial upgrade beyond the first version, and (2) accountability. The current electronic voting system fails both tests, but Fallows trusts that the system is correctable. Regarding Election 1.0, here's what he says:

Virtually all systems provide some sort of confirmation of transactions. You have the slip from the A.T.M., the receipt for your credit card charge, the printout of your e-ticket reservation. If your e-mail message doesn't go through, there is still the copy in your "Sent" folder. This is the technology world's counterpart to the check-and-balance principle in the United States government. The first concept, robust testing, protects against unintended flaws. The second, accountability, guards against purposeful distortions.

Which brings us back to electronic voting. On the available evidence, I don't believe that voting-machine irregularities, or other problems on Election Day, determined who would be the next president. The apparent margins for President Bush were too large, in Ohio and nationwide. But if the race had been any closer, we could not have said for sure that the machines hadn't made the difference. That is because many electronic systems violate the two basic rules of trustworthy computing.

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